Jailing special needs offenders ‘against the law’, says judge

A Christchurch judge has delivered a stinging rebuke to “the system” for way it holds offenders with special needs in prison.

As she delayed a sentencing, Judge Jane Farish said: “He’s in the ‘too hard basket’. He just goes back into the prison system. That’s appalling and it’s against the law.”

The difficulties around the case of 23-year-old Joshua Lee Brown were highlighted as he was brought to court for sentencing.

Brown – who is subject to a secure care order under the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act – found he was being dealt with by unsworn officers rather than the Corrections staff he knows.

There was an instant reaction as he was being put into a “segregation” cell by himself, instead of going in with other prisoners. Prosecutor Shivani Dayal said he would face additional charges of wilful damage, assaulting a nurse, and threatening to kill police officers.

Those charges haven’t been laid yet, but Judge Farish indicated she may intervene ahead of the delayed sentencing now scheduled for July 26.

Before that date, she wants Corrections to come up with a robust rehabilitation plan for when Brown is released from a likely short term of imprisonment on the 30 charges he already faces.

In June last year, he was found unfit to stand trial on an aggravated robbery charge and Judge Farish issued a secure care order. He has continued to offend and he has ended up in custody twice.

Judge Farish said she had pointed out that under the ID(CCR) Act he could not be held in custody.

She said: “A secure care facility is not a prison. Every time he is taken into custody, the current order is suspended. Corrections don’t know how to deal with this matter, hence why we have the issues we have this morning. What am I supposed to do with this man?”

Corrections wanted his risk status raised to a higher level, because they could not care for him in the current environment. The probation officer in court said a huge amount of work had been done but they wanted time to put a more secure plan together.

“I don’t want to set him up to fail,” said the probation officer.

“He is always being set up to fail at the moment, quite frankly,” said Judge Farish.

Defence counsel Vicki Walsh said the way the prison had dealt with him recently had demonstrated the right approach. He had responded positively when people had gained his trust by speaking to him in the right way.

Increasing security made sense to everyone at first blush, but was actually a catalyst for further offending.

Brown was keen to get going with literacy studies, and any other courses on offer.

She said it might be better to put him into the community with less restrictions but more structure.

Brown absconded from a supervised facility in Christchurch while wearing a monitoring bracelet, and headed for Dunedin, committing offences along the way.

He has admitted unlawfully taking cars, failing to stop for the police several times, reckless driving, recklessly causing injury wilful damage, unlicensed driving, and endangering transport.

Mrs Walsh said Brown had explained that he left to help a friend who was worried that one of their associates was going to be taken for a “boot ride” by another group of people. They tried to find the associate who was being threatened.

Judge Farish remanded Brown in custody for the sentencing on July 26.

She said: “There is this piece of legislation that is there to ensure people like Mr Brown, with all his difficulties, stay out of the prison system.”

But it was not working. “There needs to be a change in the law, and better resourcing all round,” she said.