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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time to abolish the Parole Board?

Time to abolish the Parole Board?

Parole Board publishes Annual Report and Accounts for 2010/11

Download a copy of the Annual Report and Accounts 2010/11

The Report states that Oral hearings – 3 member panels for the hearing of lifer, IPP and ESP cases costs £2,532 per case. There were 25,566 cases. That's a staggering cost of £64,733,112 to the taxpayers!

"Oral hearings

These normally take place in prison. For life sentence prisoners they will usually be chaired by a judge, but some IPP cases will be chaired by an experienced Parole Board member. Where the circumstances of the case warrant it the panel will include a psychologist or psychiatrist. The third person will be an independent or probation member.

In addition to the prisoner and the panel, others who may be present include the legal representative of the prisoner, together with a public protection advocate representing the Secretary of State and the victim, and witnesses such as the prisoner’s offender manager and prison psychologist. The victim might also be in attendance in order to present their victim personal statement.

Oral hearings are used to consider the majority of cases where an indeterminate sentence prisoner is applying for release and also for some cases, involving both determinate and indeterminate sentences, where a prisoner is making representations against a decision to recall them to prison.

Oral hearings are also held before a single member in certain recall cases. The member will hold the hearing either at the prison or remotely using video-link".

Given that "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 be safely released into the community", I am somewhat puzzled why an independent body needs the third person on the panel who will be an independent member?

Instead of hiding behind hazy concepts such as public protection and risk assessment, surely a better system would be where a judge hands down a sentence, that is, time for the crime, and when the prisoner serves his time he is simply released?

The present system is full of flaws. Basically, in making a risk assessment, the Parole Board, in effect, gazes into a crystal ball and makes a prediction for future offending and passes down a sentence for a crime which has not yet been committed. This not only gives the Parole Board too much power, it is an abuse of power which leads to an injustice for the prisoner.

This imbalance of justice is further weighed down against the prisoner when the role of the public protection advocate is subjected to scrutiny. The PPA is "representing the Secretary of State and the victim, and witnesses such as the prisoner’s offender manager and prison psychologist. The victim might also be in attendance in order to present their victim personal statement".

The Secretary of State appoints the Parole Board. His representative then argues a case to his own appointees. The whole purpose of the Criminal Justice System is to remove the prosecution of offenders from victims of crime. This allows for justice to be dispensed in a detached, dispassionate and unbiased manner. So, to bring back the victim into the process makes a mockery of impartial justice. As qualified psychologists are expert witnesses they should not have the benefit of legal representation, rather they should have to defend what they have written themselves.


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine from Romania told me that in most of Europe they do just what you describe in the 4th paragraph from the bottom - serve a sentence then get released. None of this crazy hoop jumping that goes on over here. Why can't we do what they do?

Jo said...

In practice there are only PPA at Parole Hearings when a victim's statement is to be read out. They do not represent expert witnesses such as Probation Officers or Psychologists.

This is an interesting post, but, having spent the last fifteen years representing indeterminate prisoners at Parole Board hearings, I have to say it's very simplistic. Just my opinion.