No life sentence prisoner is released until the Parole Board has conducted its own assessment of an offender’s risk. The Parole Board will only direct that a life sentence prisoner should be released when it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined.
In order to reach a decision, the Parole Board considers the assessments prepared by prison and probation staff. However, it does not accept these assessments at face value. The Parole Board, sitting as a court, seeks additional information where it is needed, for example from other sources such as the police. The Parole Board also consults experts such as forensic psychologists. It also has the opportunity to challenge witnesses about their assessments at an oral hearing. This enables the Parole Board to gain a better understanding of the reasons for the offences, assess the extent to which the offender has reduced their risk and judge whether the plans to manage risk in the community will be adequate to protect the public.
The quality of the reports provided by prison and probation staff is very important to the Parole Board. Poor quality reports contribute to delays and greater demand on resources as the Parole Board seeks additional information and expertise so that it can make safe decisions to protect the public.
As the report acknowledges, the Parole Board has invested in the development of clear standards and guidance to help report writers produce good quality, informative reports. More work is needed to support further improvements and the Parole Board is currently working with the National Offender Management Service to reform the parole process to ensure a greater focus on quality as well as ensuring reviews are concluded more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Where the Parole Board is not satisfied that an offender’s risk can be managed in the community it will identify risk factors, for example alcohol misuse, or anger management which need to be addressed before the offender can be reconsidered for release. In this way, the Parole Board supports sentencing planning work by ensuring they tackle the specific needs of the individual offender more effectively.
The Parole Board is pleased to see that training for offender managers in planning and delivering work with prisoners is recommended, to improve on the quality of sentence planning, and in particular to work with those on life licence.
The Parole Board expects that these recommendations will feature as part of the new national probation service being established through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
Notes to editors
The Parole Board is an independent body that works with its criminal justice partners to protect the public by risk assessing prisoners to decide whether they can safely be released into the community. The board has responsibility for considering both indeterminate sentence cases (life sentence prisoners and those given indeterminate sentences for public protection) and determinate sentence cases (discretionary conditional release prisoners serving more than 4 years whose offence was committed before 4 April 2005 and prisoners given extended sentences for public protection for offences committed on or after 4 April 2005). In both instances the board considers initial release back into the community and re-release following a recall to prison.
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