Week in Review
Terror accused writes to far-right supporter from prison
The man awaiting trial for the slaughter of 51 people in Christchurch has been writing to members of an alt-right discussion board from prison - and the Government may change the law as a result.
Christchurch terror accused Brenton Tarrant has been exchanging letters with at least one member of a far-right message board from prison, where he is awaiting trial for the murder of 51 people.
The Department of Corrections has confessed Tarrant's letter should not have been allowed to leave the prison, and has put an interim ban in place, while the Government has signalled it may crack down on the ability of prisoners like him to correspond with the outside world as a result.
Tarrant, the Australian man accused of murdering 51 Muslims and injuring 49 others in a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch, is currently in Auckland's Paremoremo Prison on remand.
A letter written by him and posted to the far-right message board 4chan has been confirmed as authentic by Corrections.
In the letter to a Russian member of 4chan, Tarrant discusses a trip that he took to the country in 2015.
He also elaborates on his ideological influences, citing British fascist Oswald Mosley as an analogue. Mosley led the British Union of Fascists and was imprisoned in 1940 when the political party was banned.
Tarrant’s letter concludes with a statement that could be read as recruitment. “Do not forget your duty to your people,” he writes.
“We have never had to manage a prisoner like this before – and I have asked questions around whether our laws are now fit for purpose."
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told Newsroom that New Zealand was still learning how to hold a prisoner like Tarrant.
“We have never had to manage a prisoner like this before – and I have asked questions around whether our laws are now fit for purpose,” Davis said.
Under the current law, people in New Zealand prisons are able to send and receive letters to and from friends and family, with Corrections providing writing paper and envelopes and providing postage for up to three letters per week.
All letters are checked by Corrections, with limited exceptions such as legally privileged communication.
Prison managers can withhold mail to or from a prisoner if it is correspondence that is likely to “endanger the safety or welfare of any person” or “promote or encourage the commission of an offence, or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence”, among other reasons. However, prisoners must be told if their mail is withheld.
Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson said the letter should not have been able to leave the prison, and apologised for "the distress that this has caused to those impacted by the tragic events of 15 March".
Stevenson said Tarrant would not be able to send or receive any mail "with immediate effect" until the department had assurances that the processes for screening and assessing his letters upheld public safety both in New Zealand and abroad.
During the prisoner's five months in custody, Corrections staff had safely and securely managed him "with full regard to the need to uphold the law and manage the unprecedented risk that he presents to the safety of the community, our staff, other prisoners and himself".
"It is a fine balance to uphold our lawful obligations and mitigate all potential risks posed by the prisoner. However, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that he has no opportunity to cause harm or distress, either directly or indirectly," Stevenson said.
Law change considered, advice from abroad
Davis said the Government was already considering changes to the law to adjust to the unique challenges posed by his incarceration.
“I am considering options on how to strengthen parts of the Corrections Act in regards to correspondence, but decisions are yet to be made,” Davis said.
“I know a lot of New Zealanders will be surprised to hear that this offender is allowed to send and receive mail – but there are rights every prisoner has under the law as it stands."
Corrections has received advice from two officials from Norway’s Correctional Services who have dealt with convicted white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik.
As recently as May 31, Corrections told Radio New Zealand that Tarrant “has no access to television, radio or newspapers and no approved visitors”.
In his statement, Davis said that Corrections had withheld some correspondence sent by and to Tarrant.
However, he did not believe that it should have allowed the letter in question to be sent and had sought assurances that they would improve their processes from now on.
"I have made myself clear that this cannot happen again."
* This article has been updated to reflect the Corrections decision to place an interim ban on Tarrant sending and receiving letters.