Michelle Elizabeth Ann NICHOLSON - 21/02/2018
Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002
Michelle Elizabeth Ann NICHOLSON
Hearing: 21 February 2018
at Rimutaka Women’s Prison via AVL from Rimutaka Men’s Prison
Members of the Board:
- Ms K Snook (Panel Convenor)
- Assoc Prof. P Brinded
- Mr N Trendle
Counsel: Ms J Fyfe
In Attendance: [withheld]
DECISION OF THE BOARD
- Michelle Nicholson, 55, appeared for the further consideration of parole in relation to the life sentence she is serving for a murder committed in 1997. Ms Nicholson has been released on parole twice and recalled twice. She was last released on 30 March 2011 and recalled to prison on 5 February 2016.
- Ms Nicholson has a RoC*Rol of 0.49479 and is on a minimum prison security classification.
- The decision of the last Board is dated 31 May 2017 and refers to the circumstances of the last recall which concerned Ms Nicholson’s involvement with drugs and undesirable associates.
- That Board recorded that despite Ms Nicholson’s previous vehement denial that she had used drugs at the time of the recall and to previous Boards she now accepted that she had.
- Ms Nicholson told the Board last time that she was now a different person from the one who came back to prison in December 2015. That Board also referred to the fact that Ms Nicholson was adamant that she had changed.
- That last Board carefully weighed the material before it, including the positive work Ms Nicholson had completed with the psychologist. It concluded that until there had been a period of consistent and sustained change, risk remained undue. It noted that it thought Release to Work would provide the opportunity for that testing.
- In fact, despite Ms Nicholson’s assertions as to change, she had used methamphetamine prior to appearing before the Board in May 2017. She said she used the drug in the week before the hearing and had been tested prior to the hearing as well. A positive result of that test was returned in early June 2017.
- Ms Nicholson talked to the Board today about why she used the methamphetamine. She said she was not in a good place. Part of her explanation appeared to relate to her ongoing resentment and anger about the fact that she had been recalled. She said she blamed others, including the Parole Board and the Department of Corrections, for the recall. She said she was also struggling with shift work and was tired, angry and resentful.
- However, despite Ms Nicholson’s claim to the last Board that she had renewed insight and the ability to seek help, she said nothing about her sense of resentment to either the last Board or, indeed, to some of her supporters. It is also not referred to in the psychological assessment.
- We note, too, that as a result of the drug test, Ms Nicholson’s locker on Release to Work was also searched and she was found to have cigarettes and matches, as well as a miscellaneous letter. Ms Nicholson told the Board today that she had been breaking the rule that she was not to smoke on Release to Work and she had been doing so for around three weeks.
- Ms Fyfe appeared today for Ms Nicholson. She told the Board that her client was seeking a release on parole today. Ms Fyfe urged the Board to base its decision on risk, while accepting that Ms Nicholson has been found to have relapsed into drug use. Ms Fyfe characterised Ms Nicholson’s relapse as part of the process of recovery, which is not linear.
- In support of a release on parole, Ms Fyfe referred to the clear support that is available to Ms Nicholson in the community. We saw strong evidence of that support at the hearing today. Of course we know too that Ms Nicholson has had strong support for release on previous occasions and this has not prevented her risk escalating and/or her drug use.
- We have a psychological assessment dated 30 November 2017. That refers to the various reasons why Ms Nicholson may have relapsed. We are however concerned that the relapse occurred around the time that Ms Nicholson ceased the 19 sessions of one-to-one treatment she had had from 19 July 2016 until 1 May 2017.
- We accept that Ms Nicholson may have been suffering from the stress of the psychological work ceasing and her Release to Work hours. However the way in which Ms Nicholson deals with such stress is precisely the test that the Board considers appropriate for her especially as she is serving a life sentence.
- Ms Nicholson did not succeed in demonstrating that she was able to sustain change in a controlled environment. In fact Ms Nicholson told the Board today that real change has only occurred since she tested positive for methamphetamine. She said that this taught her that she cannot blame others. She told the Board she accepts it is her fault that she used drugs and that as result she has a new self-awareness.
- However if this is true, this change is very recent, and requires further testing given the way in which Ms Nicholson has, over many years, failed to be less than honest about her progress and her behaviour both to her supporters in the community and to the Board.
- Given Ms Nicholson’s use of drugs and other rule breaking behaviour on Release to Work, and the regression which has followed that, we are unable to assess risk as anything other than undue at this time. Parole is declined.
- We ask that consideration be given to whether Ms Nicholson requires any further intervention in prison for her long-standing and serious drug addiction.
- In terms of reintegration, we continue to support Ms Nicholson being offered reintegration opportunities, including Release to Work. That is the testing that is required of what Ms Nicholson now says is her new insight and her renewed commitment to maintain good behaviour and avoid relapse.
- Given the work that is required, and the fact that any Board considering a release for Ms Nicholson would require that to be sustained over a fairly lengthy period of time, we are scheduling Ms Nicholson to be seen again by a Board in May 2019 and no later than the end of that month.
- We ask for an updated psychological assessment for the next Board.
Ms K Snook