Michelle NICHOLSON - 31/05/2017
Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002
Michelle Elizabeth NICHOLSON
Hearing: 31 May 2017 Via AVL from NZPB Head Office, (withheld) to (withheld) Prison
Members of the Board:
- Mr N Trendle (Panel Convenor)
- Ms P Rose
- Ms G Hughes
- Dr J Skipworth
- (withheld - Psychologist)
DECISION OF THE BOARD
1. Michelle Elizabeth Nicholson is serving a life sentence for murder imposed on 24 July 1997. She has been twice released on parole and recalled on both occasions. She was last released on 30 March 2011 but recalled on 5 February 2016.
2. The circumstances of that recall have been referred to in the last three Board decisions. They concerned her involvement with drugs and her undesirable associates. Ms Nicholson vehemently denied using drugs when she was before the Board on the application for her recall. She continued that denial in the subsequent parole hearing, but told us today that by the time of her last hearing in November 2016, she had conceded that she had relapsed. That admission is not apparent from the Board’s decision, though her endeavour to manipulate the situation to her own advantage was referred to. Today, however, Ms Nicholson said that contrary to what she told the Board on earlier occasions, she had resorted to using illicit drugs around the time of her recall. The Board has previously identified her abuse of drugs as an area of risk for her return to the community. Until recently she had denied the evidence of that risk, though she interpolated at one point in the hearing today, that at the time of her recall she shared with a member of her support network that she had been using drugs.
3. Ms Nicholson was represented by her counsel [Withheld] who made submissions in support of her release on parole. [Withheld] referred to the progress and achievements since her recall. She had engaged in some 10 sessions with the psychologist, (withheld) and had gained considerable insight as a result of that intervention. She had a strong release plan and an established and committed support network. [Withheld] told the Board that Ms Nicholson had been doing well on her last release, but that unravelled when her job terminated, and she withdrew from her support people, and used drugs as a means of escape. Her support network would be well placed now to provide her with the necessary challenge, should they suspect a relapse.
4. The Board questioned Mr Nicholson about inconsistencies in what she has told the Board about various matters over time. It was concerned with her mendacity. In explanation, she told us this occurred because she found appearing before the Board intimidating. She was scared to admit wrongdoing. She has emphasised that through her work with (withheld) she had done a lot of soul searching and consolidation. She was now a different person from the one who came to prison in December 2015.
5. There are positive reports of Ms Nicholson’s conduct in prison. She has been in Self Care for some time and just over a month ago commenced release to work at (withheld).
6. The Board acknowledges the breadth and depth of her support network. There is no doubt of the level of support available to her in the community. As the Board noted in its last decision, however, she had solid support when she was last released and chose to conceal issues of risk and to deflect inquiry.
7. In the course of discussion, Ms Nicholson conceded that she was at times devious and manipulative and did not tell the truth. She said that when she was not using drugs, however, she was quite different, though we are bound to observe that assertion was not congruent with the Board’s experience over the last three hearings. Whilst she was adamant that she had changed, and was now equipped to be open and honest with her support network, the Board found it difficult to gain assurance of that from our discussion with her, and with her responses to questions that were often challenging.
8. There is, nevertheless, independent material in the two most recent psychological reports that point to progress. Both report Ms Nicholson’s progress in developing skills with respect to emotional management and interpersonal relationships. She was able to recognise and work on replacing her habitual coping strategies of intellectualising, avoidance and defensive challenging. Moreover, the assessment report records that she appeared to be taking increased responsibility for her own behaviour and engaged more fully with her support group. The reports acknowledge that the progress is recent, relatively untested and likely to require consolidation.
9. We have endeavoured to balance the very large amount of information we have, both historic and current, relevant to Ms Nicholson’s risk. We acknowledge the changes referred to in the psychological reports. They are relevant as having the potential to mitigate Ms Nicholson’s recourse to substance abuse and anti-social associates in periods of stress. Having regard to her lengthy history reflected in detail in the psychological formulation in (withheld) report of, 22 August 2016, the recency of the changes referred to does not allow us to conclude that her risk to the safety of the community has reduced to the point where she meets the statutory test for parole. A period of consolidation and testing is required. The Board needs to see evidence that the change is consistent and sustained. We regard her recent commencement of release to work as providing an opportunity for the changes to be practised and demonstrated. Ongoing contact with her support group over that period is also supported.
10. Parole is declined. Ms Nicholson will be scheduled to return to the Board in nine months, by 9 March 2018. A psychological addendum is requested for that hearing.
Mr N Trendle