We have written a lot about the changes made by the Parole Board in relation to those subject to a sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). We wrote an article in May 2017 confirming that the Parole Board now had the power to recommend transfer to open conditions and to direct release on the papers. The aim of this change is to attempt to reduce the number of delays experienced by IPP prisoners when seeking a progressive move. Having obtained the release of several IPP prisoners on the papers we have sought to make the most of the changes brought about by the new Parole Board Rules 2016 and progress our clients as quickly as possible.
It is important for prisoners to be aware of the factors that the members of Parole Board will be considering when deciding whether to release an IPP prisoner on the papers. It may not be appropriate for all IPP prisoners to request release on the papers due to their circumstances. Any such applications need to be made with careful consideration and expert advice from a prison law specialist.
Is the Secretary of State involved?
The Secretary of State plays a significant role in relation to the Parole process. The Secretary of State refers cases to the Parole Board, an independent body, for their consideration. Where the Parole Board directs the release of a prisoner into the community it is the Secretary of State who ultimately releases that prisoner, being bound by the decision of the Parole Board. Where the Parole Board recommends transfer of a prisoner to open conditions the Secretary of State must approvethat decision.
The Secretary of State can submit what is known as a ‘view’ to the Parole Board. This ‘view’ sets out the Secretary of States attitude towards the potential release of the prisoner on the papers. This will not happen in all cases and in truth will only be put forward in exceptional cases where the reports contained within the dossier support release. A ‘view’ can be provided by the Secretary of State at the initial Member Case Assessment stage or at any point during the Parole Review.
The Secretary of State is under no obligation to submit a view and cannot be directed to do so by the Parole Board. Any ‘view’ provided by the Secretary of State will be provided of their own volition. It is of course still a matter for the Parole Board to conduct their assessment of risk and to determine the suitability of release of the prisoner. The Parole Board are not bound to follow the ‘view’ provided by the Secretary of State and can still proceed to take oral evidence before directing release if felt necessary.
The submission of a ‘view’ by the Secretary of State is only in relation to release on the papers. It is not applicable to a recommendation for transfer to open conditions.
What will the Parole Board be looking for?
When considering release on the papers the Board are still to apply the test for release which is whether it is necessary that the prisoner remain confined for the protection of the public. This is solely a risk based test and the Board will be looking at the risk of serious harm.
The Parole Board have now issued guidance to its members to assist in dealing with applications for progression on the papers. All cases will be considered on their individual circumstances with the facts of the case being applied to the test for progression. It is unlikely that a decision for progression will be made on the papers unless there is a consensus between report writers that progression is supported. The Parole Board will also consider many factors including, but not limited to:
• The seriousness of the offending and the length of the tariff
• Is there sufficient information about the risk factors
• Behaviour in custody and security concerns
• Evidence of impact of offending behaviour work on risk
• An understanding of triggers and motivation behind offending
• Evidence of sufficient testing on Release on Temporary Licence
• A complete and robust Risk Management Plan
The Parole Board are concerned with the imminence of risk of causing serious harm and will also consider how quickly a harmful act may take place following release. It is therefore important that prisoners demonstrate that they have a good insight into their risks, how to manage them and that they will be able to cope outside of the restrictive environment offered by imprisonment.
How important is the Risk Management Plan put forward by the Probation Service?
The proposed risk management plan is essential to any potential decision to release on the papers. The plan needs to cover support and controls in the community including a plan should risk management break down, risk escalate or behaviour deteriorate. The plan will also need to cover protective factors that are available in the community including family and professional support.
In terms of licence conditions, it is for the Parole Board to set licence conditions when directing release. The Parole Board need to be satisfied as to the appropriateness of the release address as well as possible move on plans. They also need to feel that the licence conditions are appropriate and that they cover relevant risk factors and victim issues.
When might release on the papers not be appropriate?
The Parole Board members have been given guidance as to when it would not be appropriate to release a prisoner on the papers. Circumstances would include situations where the assessment of risk presented by professionals is finely balanced and questioning of those professionals is required. Where there is an important issue of fact or mitigation which requires exploration. Where there is differing opinions from the professionals in the case; either between the Offender Manager and Offender Supervisor or between psychological and psychiatric experts.
Other situations include prisoners who are assessed as posing a very high risk of serious harm to the public, where there are outstanding criminal proceedings to be resolved or high-profile cases where an Oral Hearing may be needed to explore the management of media attention.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list of what the Members of the Parole Board will take into consideration when deciding on the papers. Each case will be considered on its own individual merits and circumstances. To best argue for a progressive move and potentially save delay in waiting for an Oral Hearing, advice and assistance from a specialist prison law lawyer is essential.
Should you require any assistance with a Prison Law issue please contact our Prison Law department at Hine Solicitors on 01865 518971 or FREEPOST – RTHU – LEKE – HAZR Hine Solicitors, Seymour House, 285 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7JF for our Oxford office or FREEPOST – TRXS-TYCU-ZKHY Hine Solicitors, Crown House, 123 Hagley Road, Birmingham B16 8LD for our Birmingham Office.