Joanne HARRISON - 07/03/2018
Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002
Hearing: 26 February 2018
at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility
Reserved Decision: 7 March 2018
Members of the Board:
- Hon J W Gendall QC
- Ms F Pimm
- Mr B McMurray
Counsel: Mr N Bourke
Support Person: [withheld]
RESERVED DECISION OF THE BOARD
- Joanne Harrison was sentenced on 21 February 2017 to a term of three years and seven months imprisonment for three crimes of fraudulently using documents for pecuniary advantage. Her parole eligibility date was 15 October 2017 and the sentence end date is two years hence, namely 4 March 2020.
- Ms Harrison has served 12 months for her index offending. It involved sophisticated, manipulative and very serious fraudulent actions over an extended period. She was employed in a seniorcapacity by the Ministry of Transport and she was able to obtain large sums of money, with deceptions, denials, plausible explanations and manipulations to the detriment of her employer and fellow employees.
- She was seen for the first time by the Parole Board on 4 October 2017 when parole was declined. In its decision the Board referred to her misappropriation of approximately $725,000 over a period of four years and noted that she had previously been sentenced to community work for similar offending. The Board recorded that she had participated in the Short Rehabilitation Programme (SRP) as well as one-to-one counselling but said it was not satisfied that the work she had done was of sufficient depth and intensity to mitigate her risk to the community.
- The Board said in para 10 that:
“The sustained nature of her offending over almost a decade, [the duration involving other offending], 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”.
- The Board asked that the psychological or psychiatric report of [withheld] that was provided to the sentencing Judge be available if possible. But that has not occurred. Obviously, that could not happen without the consent of Ms Harrison.
- Since then, Ms Harrison has been the subject of a Corrections psychological assessment and opinion, and the Board has a report of 10 January 2018. Further, it has an up to date Parole Assessment Report and counsel’s submissions.
- In addition, Interpol has provided some information about fraud charges brought in Australia against Ms Harrison. We are told there is an outstanding arrest warrant for matters which have not been dealt with. The inquiry of Interpol occurred because, when the Board saw Ms Harrison in October 2017, she told the Board she had no overseas convictions (obviously the Australian charges have not resulted in convictions) but the Board requested information about any overseas history being sought through appropriate channels.
- Apart from the comprehensive written and oral submissions from Ms Harrison’s counsel, the Board engaged in lengthy discussion with her at the hearing.
- Mr Bourke emphasised to us that Ms Harrison has completed the SRP and all maintenance sessions. She has had significant one-to-one psychological counselling. He contended that she is of “low risk of offending”, has a comprehensive release plan and has very positive support from [withheld] with whom she proposes to reside. She is said to be a compliant prisoner who has “done all that is asked of her”; has no further rehabilitation treatment measures required, available to her in prison, and she can undertake any maintenance programmes in the community. Generally, counsel contended that she would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community, if released on parole.
- Ms Harrison has good pro-social support in the community, in particular, from [withheld]. She also has the support of [withheld] although we record that it is said that [withheld] does not appear to consider her offending as especially serious.
Parole Assessment Report
- The Parole Assessment Report refers to a positive attitude and engagement in the SRP. A release to work application was made on her behalf in October 2017 but that was declined. That application for release to work in the community will be reconsidered if she is not granted parole. The report confirms that there are no further rehabilitation programmes waitlisted. This is not unusual, and a common feature for criminal fraudsters in the category into which Ms Harrison falls i.e have psychological counselling, but not be admitted to other programmes.
- The Parole Assessment Report records that:
(a) Although Ms Harrison is minimum security and has no compliance issues, her risk remains at a higher altitude. The Structured Dynamic Risk Assessment (SDAC) identified sense of entitlement, attachment with others and relationship difficulties as key factors that led to her offending.
(b) The recommendation of the psychologist that Ms Harrison engage in a ‘vocational pathway’.
(c) She intends to study for a new occupation.
(d) And, the change in her earlier release proposal from intending to reside in [withheld] with [withheld], and now to live with [withheld] further north.
Background Fraudulent Charges
- We return to mention matters contained in the psychological report later, but first we need to record Ms Harrison’s criminal fraudulent activity, which spans about 10 years. When she was sentenced on the index offending on 21 February 2017, the sentencing Judge did not know of offending in 2008/2009 (two charges of using a document for a pecuniary advantage and obtaining by deception) and the fact of the pending charges of obtaining by deception for which the arrest warrant was issued in Australia in September 2010, (but naturally has not resulted in a conviction). The following is the known chronological history of Ms Harrison’s fraudulent offences, and the allegations made in Australia:
(a) December 2005-February 2007 - forgery, using forged documents, fraud (x2) obtained by deception. She was sentenced to 300 hours community work. We do not have the sentencing notes. Suppression orders as to publication of her name and details of her crimes were made. But they have been referred to by the sentencing Judge for her index offending and otherwise published in February 2017 by the then-opposition Transport spokesperson and in sections of the media. The offending paralleled her index crimes. She no longer uses her then name as since she has used the name Harrison, which is [withheld].
(b) December 2008-February 2009 - two charges of using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage and obtaining by deception. This did not come to light until very recently. She was charged, convicted and sentenced on 6 December 2017. It involved benefit fraud to defraud the Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) in claiming and obtaining financial benefits to which she was not entitled.
(c) She went to Australia after completing the community work sentence, and the Australian allegations are that in September 2010 she defrauded her employers of something between $50,000 and $60,000. She is facing charges of ‘obtaining by deception’ and that was the reason the arrest warrant was issued. She returned to New Zealand and does not intend to return to Australia.
(d) The index offending occurred between November 2012 and November 2015.
- In summary, for a period of perhaps 10 years, Ms Harrison committed frauds in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, is alleged to have committed fraud in Australia on an employer in 2010, and committed the index crimes as from 2012-2015. Whilst in the community she has been a recidivist, manipulative fraudster with a unique ability to persuade, deceive and mislead others.
- However, parole is not part of a sentencing process and must have no punitive element. It requires release, in proper circumstances, of an offender to serve the rest of a sentence in the community, if the risk to the community is not undue. We are always mindful of the section 28 provisions that an offender has no entitlement to be released on parole and the Board may give a direction that that happens “only if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the offender, if released on parole, will not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community”. Regard has to be had to the support and supervision available to the offender and the public interest in reintegration of an offender into society as a law-abiding citizen. The issue comes down to our assessment of Ms Harrison’s risk, which is the unique and specialised function of the Parole Board. Of course, the Board takes into account assessments of prisonauthorities, psychologists, any support available to manage risk, criminogenic propensities and treatment completed to reduce risk, as well as many other factors.
- The Board is aware that for female serious recidivist fraudsters there are very limited specialised risk tools for determining the statistical risk. In any event, the test is overall risk, which will include dynamic factors, and statistical risk levels are not especially helpful. The psychologist properly observes that any final risk band has to be “approached with caution” and it may not be possible to predict quantitative recidivism rate. The psychologist (in para 31) says that “Ms Harrison is considered to represent a low to moderate (not ‘low’ as counsel argued) risk of reoffending with a fraud offence”.
- It records that: “She appears to have shown a reduction in the dynamic risk factors linked to her previous offending. A degree of ongoing vulnerability remains present, reflecting the entrenched nature of the emotional and interpersonal patterns Ms Harrison has described as linked to her offending, and which are likely to require ongoing vigilance and efforts by Ms Harrison to overcome”.
- The psychologist states that Ms Harrison has a comprehensive release plan but “there is some concern that she may be presenting a more robust and positive picture than exists in fact (particularly in terms of her level of openness with supporters)”.
- The psychologist further states in para 40: “A desire to present a competent façade functions as a risk factor, and may also mean that signs of increasing risk are concealed from supporters and those tasked with managing Ms Harrison’s risk”.
These warning signs may include social isolation, financial pressure, low self-esteem, stress, problematical relationships and increasing anxiety, symptoms which maybe concealed from supporters.
Discussion as to Risk/Minimisation and Impression Management
- Judicial authorities make it clear that “low risk” or for that matter “moderate risk”, is not the same as “no risk” and, as is obvious, the test for the Board is whether the risk is undue - that is, unacceptable when balanced against the desirability that prisoners be reintegrated as law-abiding citizens into the community.
- We are concerned that Ms Harrison remains prone to minimising, in order to deflect scrutiny, of her actual criminal propensity. Her presentation to us, and others (Probation, Psychologist) requires her self-reports to be treated with caution. Simply, by way of example:
(a) She endeavoured to provide minimising explanations, and exculpation, to the Board and the psychologist, that the earlier benefit frauds were simply her neglecting to notify WINZ that she had begun work in a managerial role. But the psychologist notes that her offending also involved falsifying wage slips rather than simply omitting to notify the government agency. But she still maintained to the Board that her involvement was more negligent than deliberate dishonesty.
(b) She initially told the psychologist that she had no knowledge of the detail of the active charges in Australia but opined that they may relate to her not disclosing previous convictions to an employer. This explanation did not seem to align with the (unproven) charges. She sought to advance the same explanation to us and to the previous Board on 4 October 2017. That Board (not knowing of the charges) said:
“She separated from her husband, and undertook several working engagements in her present name. She adopted [withheld], rather than her maiden name. She also spent 15 months in Australia. She told us she only applied for positions that did not require her to disclose her convictions for dishonesty. She maintained that she was never asked directly about her conviction history by any of her later employers. While she said that she would have disclosed her record if asked directly, she told us that she also justified its non-disclosure to herself on the basis that her identity had been suppressed and that she would be breaching the court order if she disclosed that offending. She now accepts there was no justification for that approach. She also referred in passing to the provisions of the Clean Slate Act, though its application or relevance was unclear to the Board.” She still proffered the same reasoning to us, which we find implausible.
(c) She attempted to deflect full responsibility for, and minimised her, index crimes by blaming a former employee, who she called a “co-offender”. She is recorded as telling the psychologist that a former employee was involved with her and they began engaging in the same fraudulent process together. She repeated, and enlarged upon that allegation, in her exchanges with the Board. She said this: “I was in partnership with another person … not at the beginning….all three [companies] were set up by the other person ….. I actually did not set it up ….I joined later.”
The “other person” was never charged nor was a “co-offender” in the sense of criminal responsibility, and Ms Harrisons’ stance does not accord with the summaries of fact. It appears that the other person was “hoodwinked” by Ms Harrison (as were other employees), initially used by her as an innocent agent, and ended up ensnared in Ms Harrison’s scheme.
- We record these matters to illustrate her continued attempts at minimisation, illustrates cognitive distortions, and endeavouring, it appears, to deflect her true culpability. Her responses to questions by Board members often provided convoluted, complex, lengthy, confusing, inconsistent, and often obfuscating explanations for a variety of situations involving her offending knowledge and deceptions. Her responses were often tangential or digressive and on important matters not credible and ingenuous. We make allowance for the fact of the nervous tension and stress that is always involved for offenders in facing the Parole Board but her presentation confirms a view that a self-report needed to be regarded with caution, was not always reliable, and cognitive and protective distortions were noticeable.
- We acknowledge what counsel has said and, to her credit, Ms Harrison has done well in prison and is making good progress. But she has fooled many people over a long period in a variety of situations. She needs now to move into the reintegrative phase of her sentence so as to be able to prove herself that she can be trusted in diverse and various circumstances. She has had a very lengthy period of dishonest, deceptive and fraudulent behaviour in the community and requires careful and cautious reintegration measures before the pattern of behaviour adopted by her over that time can be totally put behind her. We are not satisfied that her undue risk to the community has been reduced to a level that, over the remaining two years of her sentence, could be safely managed in the community.
- She is awaiting a determination of the release to work application. That is a matter for prison management and the Advisory Board, but we would support release to work and other activities, such as guided release for shopping, visiting the proposed accommodation and her supporters, [withheld].
- Because of her undue risk, Ms Harrison must follow the usual pathway of displaying her rehabilitation and skills learned in counselling, through consistent progress and behaviour in recognised reintegration activities. We are not satisfied in terms of section 28 that if released now on parole she would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community.
- It follows that parole is declined. She will be seen in 12 months’ time, that is, in the month of February 2019 and in any event, before 28 February 2019.
Hon J W Gendall QC