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SMITHER - Gareth Lawrence - 30/05/2017

Parole hearing

Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002

Gareth Lawrence SMITHER

Hearing: 30 May 2017
Via AVL from NZPB Head Office, [Withheld] to [Withheld]

Members of the Board:

  • Ms K Snook (Panel Convenor)
  • Ms P Rose
  • Ms G Hughes
  • Dr J Skipworth

Counsel:

  • [Withheld]

In attendance:

  • [Withheld] Psychologist)

Support Persons:

  • [Withheld]

DECISION OF THE BOARD

1. Gareth Lawrence Smither, 45, appeared for a further consideration of parole in relation to the life sentence he is serving for murder.  That sentence was imposed on 8 December 1997.  Mr Smither has been in custody now for 20 years.

2. Since being sentenced Mr Smither has been transferred on several occasions from [Withheld] under the provisions of the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992.

3. Mr Smither saw the Board last on 27 April 2016.  At that time he was still at [Withheld] Hospital but remained there as a voluntary patient under section 46 of the Mental Health Act.

4. In advance of the hearing today we met some of the registered victims.
At the beginning of the hearing we gave Mr Smither a summary of their views.

5. The victims remain unchanged in their view.  They see Mr Smither as continuing to pose a high risk to community safety and they do not support his release.  They are concerned that if Mr Smither is released that he will not take his medication. They also reiterated to the Board the ongoing impact Mr Smither’s offending has had on the whole family.

6. Mr Smither was seen to be at a crossroads when he saw the Board last.  He has now been returned to prison.  A gradual and structured reintegration back into the community is now anticipated to occur from prison rather than from [Withheld] Hospital. This would be under the primary control of the Department of Corrections, but with input from Forensic Services.

7. Mr Smither’s primary diagnosis is now said to be [Withheld].

8. [Withheld] appeared today for Mr Smither.  Representatives of [Withheld] were also at the hearing.

9. [Withheld]’s initial submission was that there be an adjournment of the hearing today.  She asked that the adjournment be for around four to six months.  [Withheld- counsel] told the Board that she had a conversation yesterday with [Withheld] from the [Withheld-facility].  [Withheld] told the Board that [Withheld] has now met Mr Smither and the [Withheld] is willing to work with him to develop a release proposal involving a potential release to that programme.

10. [Withheld]’s  preference is for Mr Smither to participate in day visits over the next three to four months with a view to him being exposed to the environment and staff there and to enable [Withheld]  to get to know Mr Smither better as well.

11. Despite [Withheld]’s request for an adjournment we proceeded with a full hearing today.  It seemed to us that there were other issues that needed to be discussed with Mr Smither in addition to any potential release proposal.

12. Mr Smither told the Board that he found it difficult to adjust to life back in prison.  To his credit there have been no misconducts or IDUs.  He has been on a minimum prison security classification since 14 January 2017.

13. We have been advised that given the intensive and lengthy work Mr Smither has completed with the psychiatrist and psychologists at [Withheld]  he has completed all the required rehabilitation work which would match the equivalent level of treatment which would have been delivered in the Adult Sex Offender Treatment Programme.

14. It is clear from the psychological report dated [Withheld] that Mr Smither will need a robust transition plan given the high potential harm to victims, particularly to future intimate partners, and the need to manage risks associated with Mr Smither’s [Withheld (health issue)].

15. That being the case we were concerned when Mr Smither told the Board today that he has recently been low in mood and, at times, suspicious of others.  This of course represents an early warning sign in relation to a potential relapse of Mr Smither’s mental illness. He told us that he had been experiencing these feelings over the past two months.

16. There has been [Withheld] Mr Smither’s [Withheld] medication.  He told the Board that he has not seen a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist on a regular basis.  He did say however that he saw the forensic psychologist this morning.

17. Mr Smither told the Board that [Withheld].

18. We were concerned about this aspect of Mr Smither’s presentation.  It was somewhat at odds with what he said to the psychologist as recently as 10 April 2017.  At that time he is noted to have told the psychologist that his mental health was “the best I’ve ever been”. While the psychological report records [Withheld], Mr Smither told the psychologist that his experience [Withheld] had reduced as he settled into the prison environment.

19. The officer who attended the hearing told the Board that Mr Smither is compliant, but has been noted to have [Withheld].

20. We note that Mr Smither told the Board today that he has been seeking assistance from the forensic team.  This certainly seems appropriate to us and we support that occurring as a matter of priority.

21. It is clear from the psychological report that Mr Smither has found some aspects of adjusting to life back in prison difficult.  This is not surprising as in many ways he had been on a more established reintegration path when he was at [Withheld] Hospital.

22. However the testing of Mr Smither’s coping strategies and skills is crucial and must continue in the prison environment.  Some of this testing is offered to him by way of his continued participation in work.  He said he does continue to find some aspects of the work he is doing as stressful and that is an important test for him.

23. As the psychologist notes in the latest assessment: “Mr Smither continues to be vulnerable to anxieties that he experiences as distressing and intolerable.  It remains uncertain how he would cope in a less well-supported and supervised environment without a carefully regulated transition.”

24. In our view it is crucial that the cause of Mr Smither’s [Withheld] and a period of stable mental health is attained.  That may take some months. In our view it would not be appropriate for the Board to see Mr Smither again within the timeframe suggested by his counsel.

25. The psychologist supports a potential release to the [Withheld]  at the appropriate time in the future.  He describes it as the “optimal” type of accommodation to support Mr Smither’s successful reintegration as it is well supervised with clear routines and staffed by professionals.

26. We are broadly supportive of the development of a release proposal involving a release to [Withheld]  for that time in the future when the Board determines that Mr Smither does meet the statutory test for a release on parole.  However in our view any supervised day paroles to that facility will only be appropriate when Mr Smither’s mental health is stable.  It appears from the material before us today that this will all take some time.

27. For today risk clearly remains undue and parole is declined.

28. The Board will see Mr Smither again in June 2018 and no later than the end of that month.

29. For the next hearing we ask for an updated psychological assessment of Mr Smither’s risk as well as an updated report from the forensic team regarding Mr Smither’s mental health and medication regime.

Ms K Snook
Panel Convenor