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Founder of Parole Board honoured

Alistair Spierling of Greytown has become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

Alistair Spierling

ONZM

For services to the State and the community

ARTHUR HAWKES
[email protected]

“I remember they asked why I joined, and I said ‘to help people and to make a difference’… If I have made a difference that’s for others to judge.”

And judge they have. After a 49-year career in public service, Alistair Spierling of Greytown will become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to New Zealand’s parole system.

Born in 1952, Spierling worked for the Department of Social Welfare in various roles for 27 years, going on to manage the New Zealand Parole Board in 2002, where he served until his retirement at the end of 2019.

“Men didn’t go into the public service in those days, they did more physical jobs,” Spierling recalled, reminiscing on his first role as a clerk at the Department of Social Security in Wellington – which began on January 7, 1970, when he was aged just 17.

His first foray with Justice came in 1997, when he joined the Department of Courts in Hawke’s Bay.

“Then, when the Parole Board was established in 2002, I was appointed a manager, where I stayed for 18 years.

“Prior to [the Parole Act 2002], serious violent offenders would serve two thirds of their sentence and get automatically released – there was no judgement call made about risk.”

All offenders serving more than two years must be considered for parole at one-third of their sentence, unless the court has imposed a longer minimum non-parole period. This model remains unaltered in New Zealand today.

“Common sense, modern societies have parole systems, and ours is a very good one.”

Spierling managed the board with efficiency and a commitment to justice, making it the first parole system in the world to use encrypted drives and other advanced technology – he now advises parole boards all around the world.

Under Spierling’s management, the New Zealand Parole Board saw more than 9000 hearings a year.

“I developed an absolute passion for parole and the place the victims had – and I loved it, for all 18 years of it.”

Until his retirement in December, 2019, he had not sat on the board itself, but, from January, 2020, he began presiding over hundreds of parole cases, often sitting mere metres from some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.

Despite the gravitas of his position, and decades spent dealing with crime, Spierling is remarkably down-to-earth, and a self-confessed sports nut.

“I hosted a football radio show on Saturday afternoon sports in Masterton for four or five years.”

Spierling has been a life-long football fan, and both sons played for Wairarapa United, where he serves as chairman and has a lifetime membership. He’s also a patron of Greytown Tennis Club.

Despite the half-century devoted to the service of his country, Spierling was keen to insist he was “just a normal kiwi”. His nominees, as well as Her Royal Highness, clearly thought otherwise.

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