Minister of Corrective Services George Maggie Angene is said to have had no legal authority when he allowed prisoners out on work release.
Criminal defence lawyer Norman George, in his weekly column today, claims the minister has signed more than 20 of these work releases in the past 10 months.
He says the prison is still being administered by the Ministry of Justice, under the Minister and Secretary of Justice, and it is they alone who have legal authority to authorise such releases.
George Maggie Angene has previously faced public criticism over personally granting prisoners day release to allow them to work, including around the Tupapa electorate, or to visit their families.
The mother and grandparents of 9-year-old Scorpfield Wichman Anthony spoke publicly of their dismay when the man who killed their little boy was allowed out to work for Angene's chief executive, just six months into his manslaughter sentence.
And Angene apologised to another mum whose son was stabbed, after he repeatedly took the jailed assailant out of prison, for visits home to see his girlfriend.
Clerk of Parliament Tangata Vainerere said a Bill to transfer the administration of prison from the Ministry of Justice back to the Ministry of Corrective Services would be tabled in Parliament next month.
Vainerere said the Act would be retrospective, dated back to July 1, 2019 to “legalise” everything the Ministry of Corrective Services had been doing since then.
The new Bill would also accommodate amendments to the current legislation, the Prisons Act 1967, he added.
Yesterday afternoon, Angene said he believed his actions were lawful, but acknowledged that a law change next month would help clarify matters.
“Parliament is coming up and so we’re going to change everything,” he said.
“Everybody makes mistakes – and I’ve done worse crimes than any inmate on this island. But I’ve done my time.
“I had the right authority to do it. It’s in the Act. Norman George is trying to defend all these criminals and murderers – and then he attacks me!”
He acknowledged conversations he’d had with victims’ families, upset at the release of the offenders who’d attacked their loved ones. And he said he had declined the last two applications for work release.
Yesterday, the stab victim’s mother was concerned to learn that there had never been legal grounds for Maggie to authorise prisoners' temporary release, and that Parliament would be changing the law to make his actions retrospectively legal.
"I know he thinks these guys need help and rehabilitation, that they miss their families, and he understands because he's been in prison too.
"But he has got to consider the victims, the families. He didn't think about us. My son nearly died."
Angene had written to her to apologise, and then later apologised in person. "I said to him, you've got to consider the victims – and what you did should never have happened.
"He was very apologetic – he finally realised what he'd done. And I think now, he's reduced the number of work releases that he's authorised.
"I'm glad that I did get to speak to him, from a mother's point of view. And he did apologise, and I forgave him."
“His intentions are admirable for what he wants to do and I am grateful he apologised, but those who do the crime must have ownership and understand what they did is a crime. As long as they don’t take advantage of what George Maggie is doing.”
In his column today, Norman George says the 1967 Act puts the prison under the administration of the Ministry of Justice, under the Minister and Secretary of Justice. The 1981 Amendment changed the title to Ministry of Corrective Services administered by a Minister of Corrective Services and Director of Corrective Services.
“Then in 1995-96, it was reversed back to being administered by the Minister and Secretary of Justice. There it sits unchanged to this very day.
“Late in 2018, it was announced that the Prison was being split up into separate Ministries with the “operational” part of the prison being transferred to become the Ministry of Corrective Services under Minister George Maggie Angene.
“The actual changes took place in January 2019. No legislation was put in place to give the new ministry a legal status. It therefore became a de facto incoherent set-up.”
Questions on the legality of Angene authorising prison work releases were sent to Justice Secretary Tamatoa Jonassen on Friday. He had not responded by the time this edition went to print.
The newspaper also emailed the queries to Corrective Services secretary Teokotai Joseph and Terry Rangi, Minister Angene’s chief executive officer.