Public protection orders – Collins can’t count

In response to the media hype about Murray Wilson being released in Wanganui, Justice Minister Judith Collins has just introduced a new Bill allowing the imposition of public protection orders on child sex offenders and violent criminals. This will enable authorities to keep them in prison after they’ve finished their sentence – or return them to prison if they’ve already been released.

Section 9 of the new Bill says that for any application to keep someone in prison, there has to be “a very high risk of imminent serious sexual or violent offending by the respondent.” The Corrections Department assesses the risk of reoffending using a mathematical formula known as the RoCRoI (Risk of Conviction x Risk of Imprisonment).  A score on the RoCRoI of .7 or above means the prisoner has a 70% risk of reoffending – which is classified by the Department as ‘high risk’. A score between .3 and .7 (30% to 70%) is considered medium risk and a score of .3 or below is considered low risk (30% or less).

Dubious mathematics

This is where it gets interesting.   Judith Collins, says the proposed legislation will only apply to “a very small number of extremely dangerous people” – between 5 and 12 offenders over a ten year period. Clearly maths is not Ms Collins strong point. Approximately 7,250 inmates are released from prison each year (most after serving only short sentences). In 2011, 28.9% of these prisoners were classified as having a “high risk” of reoffending – that’s a colossal 2,095 “high risk” prisoners released into the street every year. Only 5.3% had a RoCRoI score of .9 or above.  That’s 384 prisoners released each year classified as “very high risk”.

What that means is that over a 10 year period, approximately 3,840 released prisoners will meet the criteria of “very high risk”. However, Murray Wilson is not one of them. Murray Wilson’s lawyer, Andrew McKenzie says Wilson’s RoCRoI is only .48 – which means he is assessed by Corrections as having a 48% risk of reoffending. That puts him in the “medium risk” category.

His true risk may be even lower than that. Victoria University professor, Tony Ward, a clinical psychologist with expertise in sexual offenders says that given Mr Wilson’s age, he was unlikely to reoffend. Prof Ward said: “The reoffending rate for very high risk people over 60 is about six per cent.” That would mean Wilson was in fact “very low risk”.

In other words, a sex offender like Murray Wilson doesn’t even meet the criteria for these protection orders and all the publicity about him being a “high risk” offender is absolute nonsense. What this seems to mean is that if these public protection orders become law,  they can be applied to virtually anyone in prison – even those assessed at low or medium risk.  One has to conclude it’s not crime or prisoners who are out of control in New Zealand, it’s the media and unscrupulous politicians like Judith Collins who will go to almost any length to ramp up public hysteria so government can draft ever more draconian laws.  It won’t be long before we need yet another new prison.

14 thoughts on “Public protection orders – Collins can’t count

  1. Once again Political Expediency in response to overhyped media has Judith Collins on a quest to sure up her platform for being the next PM and winning on a “clean up crime ticket.” A small country like NZ should lead the world in its corrections programs and philosophies, not aspire to beat the USA for the top western rate of incarceration. NZ is turning into a chronic nanny state, where fears are whipped up to control the populace and public perceptions.


  2. George W led the way in the processes of making communities fearful of imaginary outcomes…Judith has clearly learned from the Masters in the US!
    Bill Brislen


  3. We are reaching the point where the only difference between us and some US States is capital punishment. Our prisons are fast becoming business opportunities that will need more inmates for growth.


  4. Sorry – can you please point to the clause in the bill that says the legal test for imprisoning people under it will be a high RoCRoI score calculated by the Department of Corrections? I think your post here is pretty misleading.


    1. There is no clause saying they have to have a high RoCRoI. Section 9(b)(ii) of the Bill says the offender must have “a very high risk of imminent serious sexual or violent offending”. Very high risk is defined by Corrections as a RocRoI score of 0.9 – meaning the offender has a 90% risk of re-offending leading to imprisonment. What’s misleading about that?


      1. I’m sorry Roger but Jane has outwitted you on this occasion. Your title and assessment resemble more of a sensationalised news article than an intellectual argument. If I were you, I would be critical of my own ‘counting’.


  5. I’m not sure it is worth debating this with you as you seem to have made up your mind.

    Your post concludes that “if these public protection orders become law, they can be applied to virtually anyone in prison – even those assessed at low or medium risk”. That is such an inaccurate depiction of the bill, which sets an extremely high bar for its detention regime, that I don’t even know where to start.

    I don’t have anything to “do” with this legislation, I am just a lawyer who finds the public policy process interesting.

    To that end: What we have here is a civil detention regime, which is unique and runs counter to a number of tenets of our justice system. It targets very high risk repeat sexual and violent offenders.

    The whole thing is worth debating.

    But don’t just go taking pot shots. You need to remember that, if you are going to go target shooting, then lawyers like me who have read the bill will look at your arguments and see them for what they are.


    1. I have read the Bill as well. It does not set an extremely high bar. It says offenders must be “very high risk” and also says:

      The court may not make a finding [that there is a very high risk of imminent serious sexual or violent offending by the respondent] unless satisfied that the respondent exhibits a severe disturbance in behavioural functioning established by evidence of the following characteristics to a high level:

      (a) an intense drive or urge to commit a particular form of offending:

      (b) limited self-regulatory capacity, evidenced by general impulsiveness, high emotional reactivity, and inability to cope with, or manage, stress and difficulties:

      (c) absence of understanding or concern for the impact of offending on actual or potential victims:

      (d) poor interpersonal relationships or social isolation or both.

      That description could be applied to half the people in prison. The bar would be a lot higher if it required two independent psychiatrists to say the offender was a psychopath.


      1. Sorry – I have to pull you up on this again. The test you have set out cannot be applied to “half the people in prison”. It can only apply to repeat serious violence or sexual offenders who, in the eyes of two independent clinicians, also meet the abnormal psychological and social profile.

        Let’s be honest. This is a debate about the civil liberties of very high risk sexual and violent offenders who are imminently likely to reoffend and are psychosocially highly dysfunctional.

        Your position appears to favour their right to freedom, over the protection of individuals living in communities who will be harmed if they reoffend.

        And again, being honest, the harm these offenders can inflict is potentially very, very serious – and, if it does not involve a murder, stay with a victim for a lifetime.

        For my part, I find it difficult to believe that two independent psychologists will approach their role under the bill in a way that captures a large number of high risk sexual and violent offenders. In any event, the High Court will ultimately have the role of making detention orders – again, I cannot believe that the court will detain large numbers of individuals using some kind of liberal interpretation of the legislation.

        I think that the opposite is likely – the legislation is likely to apply to very few people indeed, and a call is being made in favour of public safety over their civil liberties. But it is a debate worth having.


  6. If prisoners are to be detained indefintely due to abnormal psychological and social profile and are ” psycho socially highly dysfuntional” I would raise these points of issue:-

    1. Why were they put into a prison and not a mental institution when sentenced? Psychopathic behaviour is a mental problem that should have psychiatric montoring and people as such do not belong in a prison.

    2. If there were a penal system that was beneficial, effective and purposeful, a sentence would be served with a prisoner rehabilitated enabling them to return to the community without being of any risk, threat, or problem to fellow human beings. Let’s be honest this rarely happens because prison fails to do much other than create recividism it rarely corrects behavioural problems and often exacerbates and worsens a persons behavioural problems.Prisoners leave prison and have life long problems due to their criminal records and are treated as lepers with very little support or back up within the community.

    3.The freedom of prisoners who are at risk of being detained indefinitely are human beings with rights. Having a meglamaniac attitude and obessive compulsion to gain political brownie points and cashing in on media hype and the lynch mob attitude of some people over the release of Murray Wilson. Murray Wilson’s lawyer has stated his profile as being of low risk, so which sort of profile would categorise as “high risk”? Murray Wilson served 18 years in prison and should have undergone counselling and had his serious problems addressed by Corrections. Instead he was left to wallow in isolation and expected to understand his wrong and be remorseful.

    4.As a lawyer Jane you would be aware that criminals are also human beings often their rights are limited and overlooked and they do not have a voice and not regarded as credible, therefore when you are passing a judgement on what is effectively a person spending a lifetime in prison, it is quite reasonable that some of us would express concern over this bill, along with the possible breach to human rights of a person.The probability of them actually reoffending and being a high risk to civilians weighed up against the life sentence you seem in favour of giving them. Of course victims that suffer at the hands of heinous crime will live with the ordeal their entire life. But does this mean the perpetrator of this crime has to spend a lifetime in prison as a punishment. This would imply that the judicial system believes a life sentence is exactly that a lifetime in prison.

    5.To rely reports that can contain untrue and unreliable observations written by wardens and corrections staff is also contentious.Even if two independent clinicians or psychologists gave a report this would also be a questionable assessment as to the risk to society a person poses should they be released.

    6. I do not believe there is a necessity to pass a bill that may or may not apply to only a few peoples civil liberties. However I do believe the only benefit to be gained from this bill being passed would be the monetary gain to the legal profession certainly not the tax payer given the fact that it will involve legal representation in the High Court.
    With over 10,500 lawyers in New Zealand and more students graduating each year it defies comprehension why New Zealand with such a small population would require so many laywers, obviously their profession must be lucrative given the number of court cases being heard each day. The number of lawyers in New Zealand ranks third in the world behind the USA and Brazil.


  7. Hmmm, I believe the effect size for the MIRP last year was around 7-8% reduction. Although this might seem small, it is significant – meaning it is not a factor of chance or a one-off event. We can be sure that this reduction in offending (albeit a small one) can be attributed to the MIRP. Incidentally, the global average for programmes using the same treatments as the MIRP is only slightly higher at around 9%. Unlike Straight Thinking, the MIRP is not strictly a cognitive skills programme. In addition to addressing faulty beliefs and problem thinking processes (e.g.,” I’m entitled to the same property that they have” and “Anyway, it’s ok for me to rob them because they’re rich”), the MIRP also addresses emotions or how the offender can better manage anger, jealousy, stress, etc. Furthermore, the MIRP devotes a whole module to substance use/abuse. Alcohol and substance ab/use is an important target for treatment in most correctional programmes because it is an automatic crimonogenic need or dynamic risk factor. I am not sure about Straight Thinking (that was a long time ago….) but the MIRP is designed to target all dynamic risk factors including antisocial attitudes, antisocial associations/criminal associations, anger, impulsivity, AND alcohol/substance abuse – to name a few. The MIRP targets these risk factors because they are dynamic – they can be changed or altered through intensive therapy. Thirty-plus years of research and thousands of studies/experiments show that targeting these dynamic risk factors in high to medium risk offenders reduces the likelihood of them reoffending. So you might ask why are programmes like the MIRP are not more effective? In short, because of the following reasons:

    • Those inmates undertaking them are not medium/ high risk as assessed (e.g., sex offenders)
    • These programmes work most effectively when they target high-risk offenders
    • The treatments may not be getting delivered effectively by sufficiently trained staff
    • An offender need only threaten someone verbally to end up being deemed a re-offender
    • It is not sufficient to measure the success of a programme on the basis of reoffending alone
    • Police and corrections will be waiting for the slightest slip up and BANG
    • Lack of reintegration support

    There is a lot more I can say, and believe me, I know these programmes like the back of my hands. But if you wish to discuss them further, please feel free to email me


  8. If Judith Collins and Garth McVicar weren’t in bed together we would never have suffered her stupidities before Key finally dispatched her to the back benches. Jan’s comments are typical of feminist Crown lawyers whose only interest is securing convictions at any cost hoping like hell TRUTH never enters a jury’s ears during trial. Corrupt politicians running corrupt judicial system overloaded with corrupt lawyers guarantees a corrupt system. Book by by Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton titled: “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison” provides most of the answers those experts in society with no practical experience inside prisons surely need before they open mouths to prove their ignorance.


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