Parole and Postponement hearing
Under section 21(2) and 27(A) of the Parole Act 2002
Hearing: 6 December 2016 at [Withheld]
Decision: 13 December 2016
Members of the Board:
RESERVED DECISION OF THE BOARD
1. We saw Scott Watson on 6 December to consider the dual issues of parole and postponement. At the end of the hearing we reserved our decision.
2. He is serving a sentence of life imprisonment imposed after he was found guilty, following a lengthy jury trial, on two counts of murder. The victims were 17 year old Olivia Hope and 21 year old Ben Smart. These crimes were committed in the Marlborough Sounds on or about New Year’s Day 1998.
3. Mr Watson was sentenced on 11 September 1999 and became eligible to be considered for release on parole on 16 June 2015. This was his second appearance before the Board.
4. Mr Watson has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has gathered a number of supporters, including his partner, family members, friends, journalists and complete strangers, who share the view that he was wrongly convicted.
5. Prior to the hearing we received many written submissions to that effect, and similar views were expressed during the hearing before us.
6. In their decision of 3 July 2015 the Board which saw Mr Watson at his first hearing described, in some detail, the role of the Parole Board and the nature of our powers and duties, as set out in our governing legislation, the Parole Act 2002 (“the Act”).
7. Put simply, the Board does not determine questions of guilt or innocence. Nor do we act as some sort of Court of Appeal from decisions of the criminal justice system.
8. Our role is strictly defined by the terms of the Act.
9. Section 28(2) directs that the Board may only release an offender on parole:
…if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the offender…will not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community or any person or class of persons within the term of the sentence, having regard to –
(a) the support and supervision available to the offender following release; and
(b) the public interest in the reintegration of the offender into society as a law-abiding citizen.
10. Section 7(I) is also relevant. It provides that:
(1) When making decisions about, or in any way relating to, the release of an offender, the paramount consideration for the Board in every case is the safety of the community.
11. Balanced against that are other principles in Section 7 that:
(2) (a) …offenders must not be detained any longer than is consistent with the safety of the community...
and that, when assessing:
(3) whether an offender poses an undue risk [the Board] must consider both –
(a) The likelihood of further offending; and
(b) The nature and seriousness of any likely subsequent offending.
12. Two psychological reports have been prepared by Departmental psychologists to assist the Board in assessing Mr Watson’s risk. They are the report by [Withheld], dated 29 April 2015, and that by [Withheld] of 2 May 2016.
13. On the basis of information available to her, [Withheld] assessed Mr Watson’s risk of violent recidivism as very high. She also concurred with the assessment by [Withheld], who prepared an earlier treatment report for the Department of Corrections, that on the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL:SV) he fell within a group of offenders “who show an elevated rate and speed of recidivism, particularly relative to violence”.
14. While acknowledging that limited information is known about his index offending, she identified:
“perceived sexual rejection, ruminations upon revenge, positive affect associated with inflicting pain and distress, and a disinhibition through alcohol intoxication”
as relevant risk factors.
15. Although [Withheld] did not have the benefit of interviewing Mr Watson, as he was not prepared to attend unless he could audio record the meeting, based on a review of his files and consultation with relevant Department of Corrections staff, [Withheld] found no reason to suggest that:
“the risk factors previously identified [had] substantively altered or that there was reason to alter the prior estimate of recidivism risk offered to the Parole Board”.
16. Mr Watson is highly critical of these, and the earlier assessment by [Withheld], and, in June this year, his then counsel, [Withheld], sought time to enable his client to be assessed by another psychologist, independent of the Department of Corrections.
17. That request was granted, with the result that the last scheduled hearing was adjourned for six months on the understanding that the independent report could be completed in that time and would be made available to [Withheld] for comment.
18. In the event, no such report has been forthcoming. Nor was any explanation given for that omission.
19. [Withheld], who appeared as counsel at the hearing, told us that she was not instructed to seek an independent report.
20. However, it soon became apparent that, since the first hearing, Mr Watson had, in fact, undertaken a series of psychological counselling sessions with a private practitioner, [Withheld], and that [Withheld] had written a report. In the event, Mr Watson provided a copy of that report to the Board, and we took a short break to read it.
21. The report, which is dated 2 November 2015, does not purport to provide an assessment of Mr Watson’s risk. Rather, it outlines the nature of treatment undertaken, comments on Mr Watson’s engagement in that treatment, and makes recommendations for further treatment or management. For present purposes, it is relevant that [Withheld] refers to the reports by [Withheld] and Ms [Withheld] and says that: Given that these estimates of risk were made on the basis of evidence based practice using a combination of actuarial measures and clinical data the writer considers the estimates to be valid.
22. He also expressed the view that: It is likely that as Mr Watson, over time, gains proficiency in the skills he has been introduced to in this current course of treatment his overall risk of re offending will be reduced with a number of dynamic risk factors having been addressed.
23. He noted that Mr Watson had expressed motivation to continue further psychological treatment and that, on the basis that he may well have minimised the degree to which his substance abuse negatively impacted on him during his teen and early adult years, he might also be willing to be reassessed for a prison based DTU course.
24. Although he remains suspicious of the motives of Departmental psychologists and Psychological Services generally, in only offering him individual psychological treatment, as recommended by the previous Board, a few days before the current hearing, Mr Watson confirmed to us that he remains willing to engage in that intervention.
25. Having said that, and that he, in fact, enjoyed the psychological counselling he had with [Withheld], clearly Mr Watson did not see the need to complete further counselling, or any other intervention, before being released into the community.
26. He submitted that he does not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community and asked that we release him on parole now, to live either with [Withheld], whose address in [Withheld], has been deemed suitable for release purposes, or with [Withheld] in [Withheld], also in [Withheld], which Community Corrections do not support.
27. He said that, although he has been in prison for 18 years, he is no stranger to the community. During the year or so he spent in the community as a member of a community gang he was largely supervised by members of the public, rather than Corrections staff, and had ample opportunity to mix with the public.
28. He does not anticipate any trouble gaining employment. He told us that he has acquired a number of practical qualifications which, he believes, will stand him in good stead post release.
29. As well as the accommodation providers noted above, Mr Watson has the ongoing support of his partner and his father, [Withheld], and other family members. Mr Watson said he would be willing to abide by strict parole conditions, including residential restrictions and GPS monitoring. He also said that he would be willing to work with a psychologist in the community.
30. We do not share Mr Watson’s confidence about the nature of his risk. Nor are we prepared to accede to [Withheld] plea to “give him a chance”.
31. As previously noted, we do not have a mandate to do so.
32. Our primary role is to assess risk. In doing so we adopt a structured decision-making process.
33. The starting point in conducting that exercise must be the crime that Mr Watson has been convicted of.
34. The factual details surrounding that are set out in the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
35. One of Mr Watson’s supporters, [Withheld], was particularly vocal in his criticism of the factual findings of that Court. However, Mr Watson has exhausted all avenues of appeal against the jury’s verdicts and the Court of Appeal judgment. We cannot go behind them.
36. The person who committed these crimes was a cold-blooded killer. His victims must have died in terrible circumstances. Mr Watson has been found to be that man beyond reasonable doubt.
37. In order to be a realistic candidate for parole, Mr Watson needs to demonstrate that he has reduced his risk. Static risk factors cannot change. However, as was made clear by one of the panel members and, indeed, has been confirmed by his own psychologist, [Withheld], it is possible for an offender to work on their dynamic risk factors which are amenable to change, and thereby, over time, reduce their risk to a point where it is no longer undue. And [Withheld] suggested that that process had already begun. Nor is it necessary that the offender admit guilt in order to do so.
38. Possible dynamic factors contributing to Mr Watson’s offending, and assessed risk were outlined in [Withheld]’s report. They included his:
“historical use of violence, a criminal personality, criminal attitudes, criminal peers, interpersonal aggression, emotional control, violence during incarceration, weapon use, poor insight into his violence, substance use, stability of relationships with others, engagement in impulsive and reckless behaviour, cognitive distortions, and [problematic] compliance with supervision/sentencing conditions.”
39. If motivated, Mr Watson can address those matters in individual counselling. He could also, if he chose, address them in a group-based programme, such as the STURP. But that is a matter for him.
40. We are clear that Mr Watson has considerably more work to do before he will no longer pose an undue risk. Accordingly, parole is declined.
41. [Withheld] submitted that in the event that the Board made that decision, it should not then go on to make a postponement order. She submitted that the requisite work could be completed and change evidenced within the next two years.
42. We believe that that is being over-optimistic. This is particularly so, having regard to the work which will be required to build the therapeutic relationship necessary to overcome what [Withheld]described as Mr Watson’s:
“unhelpfully suspicious, mistrustful and combative attitude to some persons” which he said
“could well act as a block in him being able to maximise getting what he needs from those who have the resources he could be wanting’”.
43. [Withheld], an experienced Corrections Officer who has known Mr Watson through most of his sentence, [Withheld], confirmed these aspects of Mr Watson’s personality, and went further. He said there are “two Scotts”. One who is “happy go lucky”, “very helpful”, and “not a threat to us in the unit [or] to other prisoners” when everything is going his way; the other, who is “very manipulative”, “withdraws into himself”, is “stand off-ish” and “doesn’t tend to engage unless he has a support person with him”, when he doesn’t get his own way. This Scott is “very untrusting”.
44. If correctly identified and described, these traits suggest the necessary treatment could take considerable time to work through.
45. There is also an issue concerning the availability of resources and the time needed to consolidate gains along the way.
46. We endorse the psychologists’ recommendations that Mr Watson needs intensive treatment to mitigate his assessed very high risk of reoffending. Whether this treatment is delivered in a group based setting, or individually, is for Mr Watson and the Department to discuss and plan. Irrespective of the approach taken, at best there will likely be several years of treatment, followed by a period of testing treatment gains across different settings and time before release on parole is a realistic possibility.
47. In the circumstances we have decided that a four year postponement order is appropriate.
48. Accordingly, Mr Watson’s next hearing must be held before 6 December 2020.
49. He has the right, under section 27(6) of the Parole Act 2002, to apply for an earlier reconsideration of parole if he believes that that there has been a significant change in his circumstances.
Hon. MA Frater