Supreme Court ruling sets 21 prisoners free immediately

A ruling by the Supreme Court, as a result of a case bought by a man who has been wrongfully imprisoned 9 months beyond when he should have been released, will see 21 prisoners released as early as today. Whilst this will understandably be welcome news for those prisoners wrongfully denied their liberty, it also raises concerns that the Ministry of Corrections incorrectly calculates the duration of a jailed prisoners sentence.

There are several ramifications appended to this ruling:

  • These prisoners will need some sort of accommodation to go to when they leave – if no one is ready or able to pick them up
  • They will need some sort of guidance support available to deal with their new found liberty lest they can’t cope
  • They may not have money readily available to them

In addressing the implications of this ruling the Ministry of Corrections and other relevant agencies need to have an idea of how to ensure that prisoners who find themselves having done excess time, are able to safely reintegrate with the community.

It also brings the case of compensation for unlawful detention back into the spotlight. In this case it was a misinterpretation of the Parole Act that led to these prisoners doing excess time in prison. As a result of the Teina Pora case, which highlighted the need to reform how compensation for people wrongfully imprisoned is calculated, the question whether it is currently adequate for those prisoners who completed their sentences but were not released on time, arises. I suspect, given that Mr Pora’s case showed no accounting for inflation in setting the statutory compensation amount – $100,000 for every year imprisoned – any provisions for setting compensation for prisoners who are overdue for release is inadequate as well.

What I would like to see with people who are improperly imprisoned is a written statement in the local newspaper acknowledging the injustice committed, apologizing for it. The effect is two fold. One is to acknowledge the mistake and the other is to notify the public at large that a wrong was done by the State. If we cover court cases where a persons personal life might be on trial as much as they are for the crime/s they are alleged to have committed, with the public interest that we do, surely then a similar sharp focus on the State when it is found to be in the wrong is a good thing.

Hopefully this will help enable that.


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