Joanne HARRISON - 04/10/2017
Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002
Hearing: 4 October 2017
at [withheld] via AVL from [withheld]
Members of the Board:
- Mr N Trendle (Panel Convenor)
- Ms S Driver
- Mr P Elenio
DECISION OF THE BOARD
- Joanne Harrison is making her first appearance before the Board on a sentence of three years seven months’ imprisonment following her conviction on three charges of using a document to gain a pecuniary advantage. She becomes eligible for parole on 15 October 2017 and she has a statutory release date of 4 March 2020.
- Ms Harrison’s offending occurred in the context of a senior management position she held in a Government department. Over a four-year period she misappropriated over $725,000, mainly through the proceeds acquired from the submission to her employer of fictitious invoices that she prepared. There were three separate schemes that allowed here to avoid detection for such a lengthy period. Two of those involved a third party. The proceeds were transferred to accounts that she managed, or over which she had control. [withheld]
- Ms Harrison was represented by her counsel, [withheld], who made submissions in support of her release on parole. Counsel emphasised that Ms Harrison had been assessed as being at a low risk of re-offending and that she had undertaken and successfully completed all counselling opportunities that were available to her. Upon release, she had a suitable address to go to and strong support. He submitted that her offending only occurred when she was engaged in high level management roles. Given the publicity surrounding her circumstances and proposed parole conditions that she would accept as being appropriate, she would not again be in any position where she could re-offend in a similar way. Conditions would sufficiently mitigate the risk to allow the Board to direct her release on parole.
- [withheld] emphasised Ms Harrison’s acknowledgement of the harm that she caused others. In referring to a submission before the Board from the Ministry of Transport disputing that she evidenced any remorse at her offending, Counsel pointed to the comments made by the sentencing Judge who acknowledged her remorse by allowing a reduction in the length of her sentence. He submitted that the Judge’s acceptance of her expression of remorse was consistent with her actions on being apprehended for her offending.
- The Board discussed with Ms Harrison a number of factors related to her offending that took it out of the ordinary. [withheld]
- She separated from her husband, and undertook several working engagements in her present name. She adopted the middle name of her son, rather than her maiden name. She also spent 15 months in Australia. [withheld]
- Ms Harrison readily accepted the premeditated nature of her offending, the deception that she practised on her employers and her ability to manipulate circumstances to meet her own ends. She did not accept that she deliberately disadvantaged other employees in the Ministry of Transport in the ways referred to in the material before us. As she maintained that she had not seen the Beatie report that had been commissioned by the State Services Commission to investigate those allegations, the Board did to pursue that matter. She acknowledged proposing and supporting her ex-husband for several work assignments, but it seemed to us that she was minimising the influence she exercised over the process. While there was an indication that she had denied her relationship on one occasion, she asserted that she had made senior management aware of that relationship in two instances.
- Ms Harrison has participated in the Short Rehabilitation Programme and is due to graduate from that programme shortly. She told us she has been undertaking neuropsychotherapy involving acceptance and commitment therapy to deal with issues that she told us lay deep in her past. For the first time she had been able to confront those issues and free her from what she described as a ”jail constructed in her own head”. Through the intensity of rehabilitation activity, she had engaged in she had come to grips with those matters in her past and was looking to make a fresh start. She evinced an intention to return to the United Kingdom in due course.
- The Board notes her successful completion of the Short Rehabilitation Programme and the counselling that she has been undertaking. We are not satisfied, however, that the work that she has done has been of sufficient depth and intensity to mitigate Ms Harrison’s risk of reoffending to meet the statutory criteria for release on parole. Her deception with respect to her initial offending, which she appears to have been at pains to avoid disclosing to others, and the continuing nature of her offending in her subsequent role, reflect a sophisticated, premeditated and ongoing pattern of deception of numerous people, which, she conceded, also included those closest to her. [withheld]
- We add that we have been unable to accept the submission made by [withheld] that having regard to the strength of her release plan, Ms Harrison’s risk can be managed by way of appropriate release conditions. While we accept it is unlikely she will find herself in a senior management role in New Zealand in the foreseeable future, we do not accept that her risk of her offending is necessarily confined to that type of role. The sustained nature of her offending over almost a decade, her ability to involve others in her fraudulent schemes, the relative sophistication of those schemes, and her apparent ability to avoid detection or deflect suspicion, seem to us to reveal an adaptability that would enable her to offend in different circumstances, if she were of a mind to do so.
- On the basis of the information before us today, we fall well short of being satisfied that Ms Harrison’s release would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community. There are a number of factors associated with her offending, and with her relationship with others, that in our view require specialist assessment and advice before we could be satisfied that she meets the statutory threshold to be released on parole. We have referred to some above. Another relevant piece of information is the psychological report prepared by Dr Armstrong that was before the Court when Ms Harrison was sentenced, which is not presently available to the Board. [withheld]
- Accordingly, we request a psychological assessment as to her risk; the progress made in addressing that risk through the programme and work she has completed to date, and recommendations with respect to any further rehabilitation or reintegration activities that are appropriate to mitigate that risk.
- Parole today is declined. Ms Harrison will be scheduled to return to the Board in five months by 31 March 2018. For that hearing the Board requests the psychological assessment referred to. [withheld] Ms Harrison told us that she has no overseas convictions. As she began offending within two years of her arrival in New Zealand and spent an extended period working in Australia, we request confirmation of that advice through appropriate channels.
Mr N Trendle