The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, recently announced that the parole system in England and Wales is set to be reformed. Going forward, the release of the most dangerous offenders will be subject to greater ministerial scrutiny. Victims will also be allowed to attend parole hearings in person, and ask questions.
Reforms & Parole System
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What is the parole system?
Parole is when an offender is released from custody before the end of their sentence. The offender may either be transferred to an open prison, or released back into the community subject to certain conditions.
Most offenders serving four or more years in prison become eligible for parole at some point during their sentence. When this happens, the offender can apply for parole. The Parole Board then reviews this application and decides whether to accept or deny the request. A parole hearing may be needed first, especially if there is a realistic prospect of parole being granted. The Parole Board’s decision is based solely on whether a prisoner would represent a significant risk to the public if released or transferred to open prison conditions.
Reform of the parole system
A review of the parole system was recently carried out. It examined the status of the Parole Board, the involvement of victims and the overall performance of the parole system to date. A package of reforms has been recommended off the back of this review, which are said to put the emphasis “firmly back on public protection”.
Firstly, the wording of the legislation will be changed to make it absolutely clear that the only priority is whether the prisoner is safe to release.
Secondly, the release of the most dangerous offenders will be subject to greater ministerial scrutiny. The Justice Secretary will be able to block the release of prisoners where it is in the interest of public safety. The minister can also prevent particular prisoners from being transferred to open prison conditions.
Thirdly, more Parole Board members will be recruited from policing backgrounds. This will be enshrined in law. The logic is that such members have first-hand experience dealing with all types of offenders, including dangerous offenders. Those with policing backgrounds must also sit on hearings for the most high-risk prisoners.
Fourthly, victims are to be given a greater voice in the process. The Parole Board must now consider submissions from victims when making release decisions. Victims can also attend parole hearings in person and ask questions. The Parole Board is to trial the provision of more detailed letters to victims, explaining their reasoning behind a decision. The media and prisoners will also have the chance to apply for a public hearing.
The review also recommended that the Parole System Oversight Group examine delays and duplications in cases involving re-release after a recall on licence. Currently, such decisions take up a lot of the Parole Board’s time. It is hoped the Group can generate potential solutions.
Are you due for parole?
If you’re due for parole, we recommend asking one of our solicitors to help you with the application. We can also represent you at the parole hearing.
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