Correctional Services False Imprisonments


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (15:17): Today in question time I asked the Attorney-General about whether he was aware of any cases where people have been falsely imprisoned in our corrections system. He did say that he would get back to the house and to me with specific details, and I am sure he will do that, and I am grateful for the information that he will provide. However, I would like to say how concerned I am about the fact that this could actually happen.

The Attorney told us that this came up because of administrative errors. The hypothetical example that he used was that prison officers might think that a person was due to be released on a certain day and that it might be incorrect and they should have been released sooner than that. I understand that there is one person who in the 2012-13 financial year was mistakenly imprisoned for 20 days.

Now, Mr Speaker, I am sure you would agree with all of us that that is a terrible imposition to place on any person. I think that it is totally separate from the reason that they might have been there. Whether it is for the most minor crime that would lead to imprisonment or for something at the maximum end of the scale, spending an extra 20 days in prison that you are not due to spend in prison is a dreadful penalty for anybody to pay.

The Attorney did say that he would also look into whether any sort of compensation had been made to any of the eight people who, I am led to believe, have been falsely imprisoned within the last financial year. I am not suggesting that for any one of those cases there should be financial compensation paid, because I am not familiar with the details and, with the work I have done with FOI, I do not have enough detail to able to say that, but I think it is a very important question to ask: whether that is appropriate.

What is absolutely critical to this issue for me is that if it could happen to one person it can happen to another person; it could happen to anybody who happened to be in prison. It could happen to a person who was due to be released on one day and was released too late, as the Attorney said he understands can happen. It could happen to a person who perhaps was not meant to go to prison at all. It could happen to a person who might be in the custody of police or the Department for Correctional Services for some reason but was not actually meant to be imprisoned.

So, it can happen at either end of the scale and, at either end of the scale, I think it is terribly important. If we think of any one of our friends or family members who could end up falling foul of the law, I am sure that we would think it was appropriate for them to pay the appropriate penalty, but I am sure that we would all be dreadfully concerned to think that they could pay an inappropriate penalty—that they could be imprisoned inappropriately. We would all be very concerned and worried about the physical and mental impact that that might have on them.

I urge all members of this house to consider this issue very seriously. I look forward to receiving the information that the Attorney will bring back to me and to this house, providing details of the times that it has happened in the last financial year. Of course, and perhaps most importantly, I urge the government and I urge the Department for Correctional Services to do whatever they can to make sure that it does not happen this financial year or next financial year. This is a very important issue that must be taken seriously.


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