We wonder if Police Minister Stuart Nash has consulted with Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis on what to do about egregious laxities in our law and order system. They could discuss the merits of new legislation somehow preventing flawed decisions – or carelessness – by the people charged with catching criminals and with safeguarding the public when the baddies have been banged up.
One incident involved prison authorities allowing the man accused of killing 51 people in the Christchurch terrorist attack writing to members of a far-right message board from prison.
The second involved the theft of pistols from a police car in Southland, resulting in Southern police being ordered to stay armed during a hunt for a fellow who – police claim – rammed two police cars, then stole their guns.
Two police Glock pistols were taken but – hey, here’s the good news, folks – two spare magazines were left behind, police said.
The car’s keys were allegedly used to gain access to the car’s weapons lock box.
Deputy police commissioner of district operations John Tims told 1 News the incident was “embarrassing”.
Nash – so far as we can tell after a quick Google search – has had nothing to say.
The public has also been digesting news that Brenton Tarrant – the bloke accused of killing 51 people in the Christchurch terrorist attack – had written to members of a far-right message board from prison.
News of this went around the world.
The South China Morning Post, for example, reported that a day after New Zealand officials apologised for mistakenly allowing an accused terrorist to send a “hateful” letter containing a white supremacist call to arms, the Corrections Department admitted two other objectionable letters should have been withheld.
Corrections said a second letter by mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant containing objectionable content was not caught by mail vetting staff, while a third by Philip Arps – a white supremacist jailed for sharing the mosque shooting video online – also contained messages that should have been withheld, the New Zealand Herald reported.
Both men are held in different prisons, with Tarrant at a maximum-security cell in Auckland, and Arps jailed at Christchurch Men’s Prison.
Christine Stevenson, chief executive of Corrections, said the letter by Arps, addressed to a local news organisation, should not have left prison.
“This is totally unacceptable, it should not have happened, and I apologise for any further distress this has caused,” she said of the second failing by the department.
The South China Morning Post cited a Newshub report that it had received multiple “hate-filled” letters from Arps containing “unhinged ramblings”, threats to harm New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and praises for Norway’s mass killer Anders Brevik.
Arps, a white supremacist, in 2016 left a pig’s head at a mosque in Christchurch, a region in the South Island where white supremacist groups are known to be active.
The public were given typical post-blunder blah by officialdom.
Stevenson said she did not have confidence in current processes for reviewing and assessing prisoners’ mail, and had called for an immediate review, the Herald reported.
“The mail of prisoners who have been identified with extremist ideologies and/or registered victims will be immediately centralised pending a full review carried out by an external party (to be determined),” she said.
“It will remain this way until the review has concluded and I am confident the new process in place will prevent this from ever happening again.”
Kelvin Davis was smartly on the case, agreeing not only that there were clear “deficiencies” in how the department managed mail from high-risk prisoners. He further said:
“The letter is further proof we need to ensure our current laws are fit for purpose. I will discuss the issue with Cabinet on Monday.”
Inciting hatred could become a further reason to withhold a prisoner’s letters, he said.
Yet he agreed it was “quite likely” the prisoner’s letter should have been blocked under the Corrections Act as it is now written on the grounds that it could endanger someone, or encourage an offence.
Other reasons to withhold mail under the Act include threatening or intimidating a person, posing a threat to the security of the prison, and prejudicing the maintenance of the law.
Oh – and let’s not forget that an expert Norwegian team involved in terrorist and murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s imprisonment visited New Zealand months ago to advise Corrections on how to manage the alleged Christchurch terrorist.
This made the failure in vetting the alleged offender’s mail doubly disappointing, Davis acknowledged.
He has demanded a new process – a bureaucratically cumbersome one – whereby all mail to and from Tarrant will have to be signed off by a team of senior prison staff, intelligence staff, Corrections psychologists, partner agencies and the chief custodial officer.
Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson will then have the final say.
The former process called for letters to be reviewed by intelligence staff, and then signed off by the prison director.
“That process let us down,” Davis said.
“There weren’t enough layers of scrutiny for this prisoner. I’ve instructed Corrections to implement a more robust process with more layers of scrutiny, to be signed off at the highest level.”
More layers of scrutiny? Really?
And was it the process that let us down – or the cops and prison officers who were supposed to follow it?
Since Newsroom first reported on the letter sent by Tarrant – it reports in a follow-up – Davis has said he is receiving advice from Corrections on whether or how to amend the Corrections Act 2004 to deal with the unique situation.
“I am considering options on how to strengthen parts of the Corrections Act in regards to correspondence, but decisions are yet to be made,” he said.
Beyond that – Newsroom said – he has gone silent.
His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Newsroom, while Corrections did not provide any response to questions about the legality of its new procedures.
But before legislators prepare to demonstrate their credentials for being tough on law and order issues, let’s pay attention to National Party corrections spokesman David Bennett who said a law change was not needed.
“The reality is, there are already laws in place which should have been used to stop this from happening,” he said.
And according to Newsroom, legal experts agree that the Corrections Act leaves the department well-equipped to deal with any potential problems posed by Tarrant’s detention.
As for Nash’s apparent silence, perhaps nobody has asked him about the Southland incident.
But on April 26 he was demanding an explanation from police about the theft of 11 firearms from the Palmerston North police station.
The guns were not police firearms but were being held as exhibits or had been handed in for destruction.
The embarrassing blunder occurred as gun owners are surrendering military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs) and assault rifles around the country as part of a Government buyback scheme which followed the Christchurch mosque shootings.
Nash said this afternoon that he had “grave concerns” about the alleged burglary.
Perhaps the latest incident will have him, too, musing on the beautiful balm of fresh legislation.