For the last three years, Victim Support's Homicide team and the New Zealand Parole Board (NZPB) have been working closely together to provide greater support to victims.
That collaboration is paying huge dividends in transforming the experience for victims and ensuring their voices are heard.
The partnership started in 2021 when the Homicide team initiated meetings with the Parole Board Chair, Sir Ron Young, and senior staff to foster stronger relationships between the two organisations.
“Victim Support’s goal was to ensure victims didn't miss out on support through Victim Parole Hearings, says National Homicide Manager Paula Connolly. “That includes emotional support before, during and after as well as and financial support to attend the hearing.
“We wanted to enhance communication so Victim Support could better advocate for victims going through the parole process. Sir Ron was committed to developing more robust processes for victims, which has led to a highly successful partnership between Victim Support and the Parole Board.”
While Victim Support's visible mahi involves providing immediate assistance to victims of crime and trauma, behind the scenes, the team tirelessly advocates for victims’ rights to be treated with care and respect within the justice system.
“The partnership really went to another level when we took the time to understand what the current experience is for victims going through the Parole Board process.”
Through its engagement with the NZPB, Victim Support became part of two essential liaison groups in the corrections sector.
In meetings, Victim Support talked about the confusion and frustration experienced by victims during the parole process, including breakdowns in the Victim Notification Register process, leaving victims uninformed about an offender's release.
As the partnership evolved, Victim Support played a vital role in providing comprehensive victim feedback, victim training to NZPB staff and sharing valuable insights about victims' experiences during the parole process.
A working group was also formed involving Victim Support, the Government's Chief Victims Advisor, Dr Kim McGregor, and the former Sensible Sentencing Trust. From that came a commitment to review and revamp parole-related materials with victim-centric approach.
The insights gained were quickly actioned by the NZPB team.
“They’ve given us really great feedback and insights,” says NZPB General Manager Karyn McLean.
“An example for me is the notification letter, which is so critical. One of the key insights from victims was how upsetting it was to read immediately the name of person that's appearing before the Board. It didn’t outline why we're getting in touch or acknowledge how they might be feeling. The new letter summarises the part about the person appearing at the end of the letter. "
The collaboration gained further momentum when the NZPB team took the initiative to add a Victim Experience workstream as a key component of the new Parole Board operating model under development.
“The partnership really went to another level when we took the time to understand what the current experience is for victims going through the Parole Board process,” Karyn says. “We looked at it from the victims’ perspective and our own team's perspective because there were certainly some opportunities, but also some challenges for them in their role, and also from the Board’s perspective.”
The ongoing collaboration between Victim Support and the NZPB aims to enhance victim communications and experiences further. Each is dedicated to making the process more empathetic and responsive to victims' needs, acknowledging that there's still much work ahead.
The ultimate focus remains on empowering victims to participate actively and feel safe and supported through the parole process, as part of their journey through the wider justice system. With this shared commitment and trust between the organisations, the experience of victims can undergo a positive transformation, ensuring their rights are upheld and they receive the best support possible.
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