Another Phil Smith waiting to happen then?

A brutal murderer has been allowed to walk free three times a week to “refamiliarise himself with the community” and develop his computer skills, despite the Parole Board deeming him too dangerous for release.

Jason Butler is one of a group of convicted killers who have swapped jail for mental health units while serving life sentences, becoming special patients under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act.

As a result, they can get up to a week’s unsupervised leave while under treatment, depending on doctors’ recommendations, which must be approved by the director of mental health.

But some of their victims’ families and friends are calling for an urgent review of such killers’ leave after murderer Phillip Smith’s brazen escape to Brazil during temporary leave from Waikato’s Spring Hill prison last month.

His escape led to a temporary halt of all inmates’ leave and a Corrections Department review, but it didn’t include convicted offenders in mental health care.

A ministerial inquiry was launched to probe Smith’s escape, but it was yet unknown whether it would include special patients’ leave.

“I think it bloody sucks because in two hours, he could be on my doorstep. That fellow got to Brazil, mate,” the best friend of Butler’s victim said about his three-times-a-week unsupervised leave.

If he is so inclined, he can leave a trail of destruction in mere hours.   And this is what needs to be balanced before letting them go on unsupervised Tiki-tours.  

Butler slit the throat of former partner Stephanie Baker, 26, after stabbing her multiple times in his parents’ Tauranga home in July 1997 when she dropped off their one-year-old daughter.

Baker’s best friend, who requested anonymity because she feared for her safety, witnessed the horrific attack.

Convicted as a sane killer, Butler was sent to jail for life, but has spent most of his sentence in mental health care, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“To me, he’s a walking time bomb.”

Under law, registered victims, such as Baker’s friend, are informed only when special patients are approved for unescorted leave for the first time.

In April, the Parole Board revealed that Butler started getting unescorted ground leave in October 2012 and last year began unescorted community leave three times a week.

If he kept improving, he could gain approval for overnight leave in the community, its decision said.

There have to be checks and balances to ensure we don’t get in the habit of locking people up too easily.  But is appears clear that the current emphasis is on procedure rather than common sense.

If the parole board are unhappy, and his doctors still have him as an active paranoid schizophrenic patient, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to have this man wandering around the neighbourhood to see what happens.

For argument’s sake, if he kills someone, will anyone be done for negligence?   I suspect not.   And that can’t be right.


– Deidre Mussen, The Dominion Post

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.