Parole board to monitor 'untreated' Blenheim sex abuse teacher on release

Former Blenheim teacher and sex offender Jaimee Marie Cooney appeared before the Parole Board...
Former Blenheim teacher and sex offender Jaimee Marie Cooney appeared before the Parole Board today. Photo: Nelson Weekly via NZH
The Parole Board has released its full decision explaining why a Blenheim teacher jailed for sexually abusing two schoolboys is to be released from prison without any real treatment for her offending.

Jamiee Cooney will be closely monitored - and is not allowed any contact whatsoever with anyone under 16 outside her own family.

And she has been banned from going to any public place where children may be, including schools, playgrounds and parks.

But she is largely unrehabilitated and will be subject to strict release conditions while she undertakes that work.

In December last year Cooney - the wife of a police officer and mother of two - was sentenced in the Blenheim District Court to two years and six months in jail for her offending.

She is understood to be the first female teacher in New Zealand convicted and sentenced for sexual offending against students.

Cooney became eligible for parole last month and will be released on November 23, meaning she will have spent less than a year behind bars when she walks free.

Cooney pleaded guilty to a raft of charges relating to two teenage boys who she sexually abused, often in cars parked in public places, and in school lunch breaks.

Judge Tony Zohrab said the offending was "a gross breach of trust".

"Your role was a pastoral one ... you have seriously compromised your obligations," he said.

Cooney did not dispute having sexual relationships with other older boys - but only faced charges in relation to two victims.

At an initial parole hearing last month - which the Herald attended - Cooney's lawyer claimed some of the treatment she needed in relation to her offending and rehabilitation was not available to her behind bars.

"I totally acknowledge I can't get full well on my own," Cooney told the board.

"I have done some work but I know that I need treatment - but I have been told on numerous occasions that I will not receive it in prison.

"I'm open and willing to any treatment."

One of Cooney's supporters also spoke to the board.

"We've been by Jaimee's side since last year - it's been a long road … obviously a lot of public interest in this.

"We're ready for (her) to come home … we're all prepared to muck in and do our bit.

"We've been here for Jaimee the whole time and we'll continue that - whatever conditions you guys put in place we're willing to abide by that."

Cooney appeared before the board for a second time last week and was granted parole.

The full decision of the board, including the specifics of the conditions, was released this afternoon.

"The parole assessment report tells us that there have been no incidents and she has worked hard to be compliant and responsible (in prison)," said board panel convenor Mary More.

"The (principal Corrections' officer) confirmed that there are no issues with her.

More said Cooney underwent a psychological assessment on October 19.

The expert stated Cooney had "psychological mechanisms" that led to her offending that would have pre-existed when she abused the boys.

The specific issue was redacted from the parole decision.

"The psychologist assessed Ms Cooney's risk of reoffending as overall being low, while noting that there are no risk assessment tools for female sex offenders," More said.

"The psychologist said that the risk factors relating to any potential victim … were a threat of abandonment, access to teenagers with secondary sex characteristics and a significant deterioration in mood or increase in anxiety.

"The psychologist said all three factors would be needed.

"The psychologist noted that Ms Cooney was engaging in offence-paralleling behaviour in prison, she was inappropriately seeking validation and support from other staff despite engaging with a psychologist in the assessment process."

The psychologist also noted that Cooney had had professional support in the community but had continued to behave in an inappropriate manner.

To that point, Cooney's lawyer submitted that the issues raised could be addressed with community-based rehabilitation and support.

She pointed out that although the psychologist recommended one-on-one work, it was not likely to be able to take place in the prison environment.

Cooney's case manager also supported her being released and treated in the community.

"The case manager confirmed that the resources with psychological services did mean that Ms Cooney was a low priority and she could not confirm that she would get rehabilitation in prison," More explained.

"(She) said that there was more opportunity for Ms Cooney to get treatment in the community, and that she was to be referred to the (withheld) programme.

Cooney addressed the board in full at the hearing and More said she spoke well.

"She talked about the stresses that she was suffering at the time, and the poor decisions she made," More said.

"Ms Cooney told us that she has taken on board what the psychologist said, and she accepts that she needs helps.

"She said that she has learned she cannot rely upon people other than the professionals, that when she worked with (an expert) in Blenheim she was not honest. She said that she presented with (a mental health issue) but she did not fully disclose the extent of (it)."

More said Cooney had told the board that she did not think she could survive on her own.

"She was vulnerable, and she sought support from the victims," More elaborated.

"Ms Cooney told us that recently she has changed her behaviour, that she is not seeking support and validation inappropriately."

The board heard that Cooney's family were "unaware of the extent of her stress" and mental health condition.

They continued to support her.

Some family members had sought their own professional help to deal with anger issues related to Cooney's offending.

"They are now aware of the fact that she needs help and support and (they) confirms that is available," said More.

"Ms Cooney told the board that she wholeheartedly accepts what she did, she said she is going to go home, keep her head down, get well and love her children and husband."

More said the board was "conscious" that Cooney was "on the face of it" an untreated sex offender.

"She acknowledges that she needs help, and she has yet to undertake any rehabilitation," she said.

"However, we are also conscious that it is unlikely she will get any rehabilitation in the prison environment and Ms Cooney and those who support her have prepared a release proposal to address that.

"The Board considers that any undue risk Ms Cooney proposes can be met by way of release conditions, as such she will be released on parole."

Cooney's conditions include a ban on contact with all people under 16 - apart from her own kids and approved family members.

"Ms Cooney is not to have contact to associate with a person under the age of 16, we note 18 was proposed but we consider access to young adults occurred within the context of her teaching at Marlborough College and that situation is not likely to arise again," said More.

"We are conscious that Ms Cooney has children and other (family) living nearby. She may be allowed contact with her own children, and she may have contact with any other younger family members identified to probation and approved by them.

"Given Ms Cooney's unique offending, and the fact that she has not undertaken any rehabilitation to date, the board considers there are special circumstances to justify asking her to appear before the board again.

"Ms Cooney is to appear for a post-progress hearing in March 2021. We hope that by then she will have evidence of rehabilitation undertaken and be able to tell the board how she is managing her parole."

Cooney's other conditions include:

&bull: For three months she is subject to a curfew and must be at her approved home address from 10pm until 6am every day.

• She must not have contact or otherwise associate, with a person under the age of 16 years of age, (apart from her own children or any other family members identified to and approved by probation), directly or indirectly unless she has the prior written approval or unless she is under the supervision and in the presence of an adult approved in writing.

• She is not to enter or loiter near any school, early childhood education centre, park, library, swimming pool, other recreational facility, church, or other area specified in writing by a probation officer without direct written permission.

• She must get permission to seek or start employment and attend any directed psychological assessments.

'I didn't want to do it' - two children abused by their teacher
In December the Herald attended Cooney's sentencing, where details of her extensive offending were revealed in full for the first time.

She pleaded guilty to seven charges of unlawful sexual connection with minors, and one of exposing a minor to indecent material over a year-long period.

Some of the charges were representative, meaning the acts happened numerous times.

She was a teacher at Marlborough Boys' College at the time but has since had her teaching registration cancelled.

Jaimee Marie Cooney was a teacher at Marlborough Boys' College at the time of the offending but...
Jaimee Marie Cooney was a teacher at Marlborough Boys' College at the time of the offending but has since had her teaching registration cancelled. Photo: Nelson Weekly via NZH
Cooney admitted having sex with two 15-year-old boys in parked cars in public places, often telling one victim she loved him and showing them explicit videos.

The police summary of facts, supplied to the Herald by the court, revealed the woman had formed sexual relationships "with a number of students".

The prosecution relates to two of those boys.

At sentencing Crown Prosecutor Mark O'Donoghue said there were a number of aggravating factors, including the vulnerability of victims, age discrepancy between Cooney and her victims, and duration of offending.

"She's gone out of her way to target them in a sexually exploitative way," he said.

"There was a significant breach of trust, [she] attempted to manipulate, coerce and control the victims with threats of self harm.

"This was sexually exploitative conduct by an adult ... she emotionally manipulated both boys."

Cooney's sentencing lawyer Jonathan Eaton said his client was still struggling to comprehend and articulate why she offended.

"But the clear message is that she does take full responsibility for her offending," he said.

She wrote a letter intended for the victims, school and wider community.

In it she stated she was aware of the impact her offending - described as "disgusting" by locals - had on her town.

"I make no excuses for what I have done and I am here today to face the victims and the community," she wrote.

"I am ready to do that."

At sentencing Judge Zohrab was firm and sent a clear message to Cooney.

"You were a teacher ... this is not a situation of you being a young female teacher ... you were a mature woman, you had a senior leadership role in the community," he said.

"Parents were sending their children to the college to be educated and nurtured ... you have breached that trust."

Further, he said the woman used her mental health to manipulate the boys.

The abuse was "demeaning".

"Effectively there was grooming and premeditation on your part over a long period of time," Judge Zohrab said.

After sentencing the school conceded it had effectively mishandled concerns relating to Cooney.

The Board of Trustees said in a statement that had concerns been acted on properly, she could have been stopped months earlier.

SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.​

If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:

• Text 4334 and they will respond

• Email support@safetotalk.nz

• Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat

Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.

If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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