Whether a Prisoner has a Parole Review approaching or they are in the early part of their sentence, an understanding of the Parole Board’s policy in directing or recommending release or transfer to open conditions is essential to ensure effective and timely sentence progression.
The Parole Board is an independent public body working within national government. It must operate under the guidance and direction of the Secretary of State. However, one of its most important functions is to assess prisoners’ risk in a way which is fair. This should involve the Parole Board balancing the benefit to the prisoner in progression or release against the risk that they may pose to the public.
When considering the case of a lifer or indeterminate sentenced prisoner, the Parole Board should make one of the following decisions;
- Direct the Prisoner’s release, either immediately or at a future date, for example when certain accommodation will be available.
- Make a recommendation to the Secretary of State that the prisoner progress to open conditions.
- Make no direction for release or recommendation for a progressive move and identify areas of outstanding risk.
When considering making any of the above decisions the Parole Board must consider whether “It is necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined.”
For a prisoner to pass this test the Parole Board must be satisfied that;
“The lifer’s level of risk to the life and limb of others is considered to be no more than minimal”.
When looking at whether it is appropriate for a prisoner to be transferred to an open condition establishment, the Parole Board will additionally weigh up the risk to the Public against the benefits for the prisoner. This will normally involve consideration of a prisoner’s behaviour during their sentence and whether they have demonstrated a reduction in their risk factors.
In terms of considering whether to direct release the Parole Board will focus on whether the prisoner is at a stage that they can now be managed in the community subject to licence conditions and more often than not, the Parole Board will want to see a successful period of testing in open conditions before release can be directed.
Release or Open?
A prisoner will have the opportunity to submit their own representations in support of their release or to ask for a transfer to open conditions. It is important for prisoners to be realistic. Although, the Parole Board is unlikely to release someone from Category B or even C conditions, it is by no means impossible. Advice from a Prison Law specialist should be sought to advise on the prospects and merits of the representations.
Guidance has been issued by the Secretary of State in relation to releasing prisoners from closed conditions. Although this is only ‘guidance’ the Parole Board do appear to be extremely hesitant to depart from it. Experience shows that in a well argued and thought through case that the Parole Board will direct release from closed conditions, but careful representations will be needed to achieve this.
Conversely, an over optimistic application for release can carry the risk of distracting the Parole Board’s focus from considering the benefits of a more realistic transfer to open conditions.
Parole Board guidance states that they cannot normally be satisfied that the test for release is met until a successful period of testing in open conditions has been completed and this should only be departed from in exceptional circumstances. Early and careful sentence planning and preparation is therefore critical if the Parole Board is going to be asked to release a Prisoner from closed conditions.
Examples of where a Parole Board may consider release from closed are; on compassionate grounds, such as the ill health or disability of the Prisoner or a close relative; Circumstances where a Prisoner has previously been tested in open conditions but was returned to closed conditions for a reason unrelated to their risk, or if the Panel is considering the re-release of a Prisoner who has been recalled to custody. In such circumstances a case can be made that the prisoner has already completed this period of testing. However, even in these cases, early advice from a Prison lawyer is recommended. In addition, there is a ‘catch all’ provision which states a Prisoner may be released ‘where there are other grounds that dictate that any or further testing in open conditions is not required to satisfy the Board about the prisoner’s level of risk’.
The Parole Board may also be persuaded that a period of testing in open conditions is not required when a prisoner can show a substantial and robust risk management plan detailing clear and developed plans regarding accommodation and income. A good relationship between Prisoner and Offender Manager (OM) is particularly important as ultimately the OM will be responsible for managing a prisoner’s risk on release and the Parole Board will want to hear from them how they are satisfied they will be able to do this. Being proactive and working with Probation from the outset and approaching them with details of potential release plans will only serve to stand prisoners in good stead when it comes to their Parole Reviews.
Is there anything else I can do?
As well as evidence from the OM, the Parole Board will also consider evidence given by the Offender Supervisor. This will focus on the work completed in custody and an analysis of the progress made. Regardless of whether a Prisoner is asking for release or a move to open conditions, evidence of risk reduction is key as well as a prisoner being able to illustrate how skills they have learnt have been put into practice. As they say the ‘devil is in the details’ and the Parole Board will therefore be looking for evidence of a reduction of risk and any new skills and behaviours that have been learnt, particularly if they are to be satisfied that a period of testing in open conditions is not necessary.
Parole Boards do not just want to hear that prisoners are making all the right noises in terms of risk reduction they will also want to see clear evidence of it, as well as considering finer details of proposed release plans.
With long waiting lists for transfers to open conditions, it is now even more important that prisoners focus on sentence planning issues at an early stage to ensure that they are doing everything they can to progress within the Prison Estate toward release. Even prisoners who are sometime away from a Parole review should think about what they can do to help their case.