The Parole Board decides whether prisoners who are serving certain types of sentences can be released.
How does the Parole Board make its decisions?
The Parole Board decides whether prisoners who are serving certain types of sentences can be released. The sentences dealt with by the Parole Board include life sentences, indeterminate sentences for public protection, some fixed sentences and recall cases (meaning that the offender was previously released but has been subsequently returned to prison custody). The Parole Board can also advise on moves of some prisoners from a closed to an open prison.
The parole process is complicated. It usually takes 6 months, but can sometimes take longer. The first stage of all parole reviews consists of one Parole Board member reviewing the prisoner’s dossier. The dossier is a collection of documents about the prisoner, including reports and information about their offending, progress made in custody and their risk management plan. Using the information contained in the dossier, the member will either decide that the case requires an oral hearing or give a negative decision. In some cases, the member can recommend a transfer to open conditions and for certain types of sentence they can release a prisoner based on the information in the dossier.
If an oral hearing is required, this will be conducted by a panel. The panel can be made up of one, two or three members. They will meet with the prisoner and other witnesses who will give evidence on the risk the prisoner poses.
The decision-making process is complex, with many different factors to consider. Not all decisions made by members will be popular despite them remaining as fair and objective as they can. They will consider a wide range of evidence before arriving at a decision, including the original evidence of offending, sentencing remarks and evidence of changes in behaviour and attitude achieved through the offender completing programmes whilst in custody.
What do Parole Board members consider?
In order to assess the risk posed by a particular offender, members are looking for evidence that their behaviour has changed since their offence was committed. Things that they might take into account include:
- What was it about their situation that led to offending behaviour? Have they addressed those issues?
- If they had a chaotic lifestyle previously (e.g. misusing drugs or alcohol) have they worked to address this?
- How does the offender intend to manage in the community? Members look at the risk management plan for details of where they plan to live, what kind of support they will receive from family and friends, and whether they will have a job.
- What is their relationship like with their Offender Manager? Will they be honest and open with them about any issues which arise once they are released?
If the panel decides that an offender should be released, this is not the same as saying that he or she now poses no risk. However, it may be that their risk has been reduced to a level where it is now small enough to be effectively managed in the community, and the panel will only recommend release if they feel this is the case.
Potential Outcomes of a Parole Hearing
There are three different potential outcomes of a parole hearing:
- Release - once the Parole Board has directed the release of a prisoner, it is up to the Ministry of Justice to make the arrangements.
- Open Conditions - the Parole Board can recommend that a prisoner moves to an open prison, however it is for the Ministry of Justice to make the final decision.
- Further Review (sometimes referred to as a knockback) - under current legislation, the prisoner will be eligible for a further review within two years. The date of the next review will be set by the Ministry of Justice.