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'Singled out': Transgender paedophile says prison punished her for inmate relationships

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 7:15am
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

'Singled out': Transgender paedophile says prison punished her for inmate relationships

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 7:15am

violent, serial paedophile who is serving a rare indefinite prison sentence says a nearly half-year stretch in “solitary confinement punishment cells” at the privately operated Auckland South Corrections Facility was illegally ordered as retribution for consensual relationships with other prisoners. 

Maxien Stevens, 38, who is transgender, was housed at the Serco-run facility - which houses male prisoners but also accommodates those who identify as women - from June 2020 until November 2021. During that time, she was relocated almost 40 times - the majority of which were “due to behavioural and relationship difficulties with staff and prisoners”, a Corrections official noted at the time. 

“This behaviour has been described as cyclic.” 

But in three court appearances over the past year-and-a-half before five judges, Stevens argued her segregation during her final six months there was unnecessary and in violation of policy. Prison officials, Corrections, and now two courts have disagreed. 

“This is not a case where something has gone wrong of a nature and degree which requires the intervention of the court,” High Court at Auckland Justice Peter Andrew said in a decision one year ago that was largely echoed by the Court of Appeal last week. 

‘Predatory’ 

Maxien Stevens was known as Michael Lesley Stevens when sentenced in 2004, at age 18, for sexual offending against a young boy, as well as unrelated charges of aggravated robbery and burglary. 

The defendant still identified as Michael in 2016 when handed a sentence of preventative detention in the High Court at Auckland following repeat offending. Preventative detention is a rare sentence without a concrete end date, designed to protect the community from criminals who pose a significant and ongoing risk. 

Stevens was released from prison the first time in 2011 but was the subject of a 10-year extended supervision order, another rare legal manoeuvre which imposes strict post-release supervision to protect the public. While under that order, Stevens was briefly the subject of a widely publicised manhunt after cutting off an ankle bracelet. Stevens also collected thousands of child sexual abuse images during that time and preyed upon a young boy via an online game chat forum. 

“Though you recognise sex with children is deviant, you also condone sexual offending,” Justice Kit Toogood said at the 2016 sentencing hearing. “Your issues leading to the offending certainly and urgently need to be resolved before the community can be considered to be adequately protected from you.” 

Michael Lesley Stevens was sentenced to preventive detention in 2016. Photo / Police

Michael Lesley Stevens was sentenced to preventive detention in 2016. Photo / Police 

Stevens had collected and curated almost 5000 illegal images, dropping some of them into a folder titled “The best of kiddy porn 2015″. The child, from Wellington, was persuaded by the defendant to set up a Skype account and to send Stevens illicit photos. Stevens’ South Auckland home was searched by police weeks later, after the child’s parents found the messages. 

“Given your history of indulging in indecent acts with children, I have no doubt that without that intervention you would have continued to offend in this way and that there was a real risk you would have escalated the relationship to one involving direct personal contact,” the sentencing judge said. “Your predatory behaviour destroyed his innocence at a time when he was far too young to be sexualised.” 

Spitting glass, ‘overly sexualised’ 

In recent years, Stevens appears to have been a thorn in the side of prison workers and fellow inmates alike, according to court documents. 

Her alleged outbursts have included threatening a staff member, activating the sprinkler fire suppression system in her cell, hacking into the prison IT system and establishing a chat room with other prisoners, shattering an observation window in her cell then spitting out glass when officers responded and refusing for two hours to come down from a fence. 

“Ms Stevens frequently exhibited overly sexualised behaviour towards other prisoners, including asking them to touch her breasts and other parts of her body in a sexual manner,” Court of Appeal justices Murray Gilbert, Christian Whata and Peter Churchman noted in their 45-page judgment released last week. 

“She also pursued romantic relationships with younger or vulnerable prisoners. [Prison] staff considered, based on their observations, that these relationships were not reciprocated, and they were concerned about the negative impact on the mental wellbeing of the young prisoners Ms Stevens fixated on. The issue was raised with Ms Stevens on numerous occasions, but her behaviour continued to escalate.” 

Auckland South Corrections Facility. Photo / Supplied

Auckland South Corrections Facility. Photo / Supplied 

While Stevens acknowledged romantic relationships with other prisoners, she strongly disputed claims they were not reciprocated or that the men were young and vulnerable. 

Making matters more difficult for prison officials’ placement of Stevens were 15 active “non-association alerts” for prisoners she was not allowed to associate with for safety reasons. 

“Allied to this, Ms Stevens did not get along with other transgender prisoners and had negative interactions with them,” the justices noted, explaining that while other transgender prisoners were housed together, she was the only one in her wing. “These factors significantly limited her placement options, further complicating her management.” 

Direct segregation is not considered a form of punishment but can be ordered for the “security and good order of the prison”. In making their decision, prison officials expressed concern Stevens was “imitating the offence [she was] sentenced for against the young vulnerable men in our care”. There was also concern about her safety in the unit where she had previously been placed. 

Inside the Auckland South Corrections Facility. Photo / Dean Purcell

Inside the Auckland South Corrections Facility. Photo / Dean Purcell 

“I have had a contingent [of fellow prisoners] from wing 4 who absolutely do not want [her] back there,” a cellblock operations manager said in an email to various staff in May 2021. “They find her over-sexualised behaviour a bit too much.” 

The same person expanded on the email while under cross-examination at the High Court last year. 

“They told me that [she] would not be welcome and that if she was put back in there she would be assaulted,” he explained. “And it wasn’t an individual thing. If it was an individual person that was saying that, I would have moved them out of there and put her in there, but it was a group ... and it’s very difficult to move a group of people as opposed to one.” 

At that point, authorities said, all other placement options had been exhausted, leaving directed segregation the only means to ensure her safety. 

‘Singled out for punitive treatment’ 

During the High Court judicial review process, Justice Andews summed up Stevens’ numerous complaints in three succinct sentences. 

“In substance, Ms Stevens contends that the various segregation orders made against her were in a form of ‘punishment’ for having entered into emotional attachments with male prisoners,” the judge wrote. “She says that the Department of Corrections has cast these relationships as symptomatic of her index offending when in fact the relationships were with adult males capable of making their own informed decisions. 

“She says that emotional [but not sexual] relationships are routinely allowed in the prison environment but says that she was singled out for punitive treatment.” 

Criminal justice officials responded that the segregation orders were neither punitive in design nor effect and that the protection of Stevens and other inmates made them necessary. 

“Her claim that she has been discriminated against and singled out because of her index offending is understandable,” Justice Andrew wrote in his 2023 decision. But he added that she had not met the “very high hurdle” needed for a legal challenge to succeed. 

Serial paedophile Michael Lesley Stevens obscured his face throughout a 2016 hearing in which a judge ordered a sentence to preventative detention.  Photo / Greg Bowker

Serial paedophile Michael Lesley Stevens obscured his face throughout a 2016 hearing in which a judge ordered a sentence to preventative detention. Photo / Greg Bowker 

The judge quoted an affidavit from then-acting prison director Gerald Smith, who said staff held multiple meetings with Stevens “throughout 2020 and 2021 regarding the appropriateness of her relationships with other inmates and the impact her behaviour was having on others as well as her own situation”. 

“He notes that ASCF [Auckland South Corrections Facility] discourages romantic relationships between prisoners because of the threat such relationships can pose to the safety and good order of ASCF.” 

Auckland lawyer Graeme Minchin, who represented Stevens before the High Court and Court of Appeal, noted that segregation has the real potential to be psychologically harmful. He initially suggested the prison had been “gaming the system” in finding ways to deal with his client, but he backed away from the statement in oral submissions to the appellate panel. 

The justices staunchly disagreed. 

“Ms Stevens’ claim that she was held in [segregation] ‘without cause’, and therefore illegally, is simply wrong,” they concluded. “It is clear that the prison manager directed himself to the statutory criteria and had a sufficient basis to conclude that those criteria were met. The segregation decision was one that a reasonable decision-maker could reach. 

“The submission that ASCF was ‘gaming the system’ ... lacked evidential foundation and should not have been made.” 

Prison officials conceded that a more ideal solution would have been to transfer Stevens to another prison altogether rather than keeping her segregated for so long. But the strict lockdown caused by the Covid-19 Delta variant in August 2021 temporarily put a stop to transfers. Then there was the problem of getting another prison to take her. 

“Finding an alternative placement for [Stevens] was difficult because of her behaviour,” the deputy manager said in an affidavit. Another prison official added: “Those requests for transfers were repeatedly refused, with the reason being [her] history of anti-social behaviour and difficulties regarding her management.” 

But Auckland Prison finally agreed to take Stevens at the end of October 2021, after Covid restrictions had loosened. Her directed segregation ended shortly thereafter. 

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