The Prison Reform Trust has written to David Gauke to submit evidence to the review of parole, announced by the Ministry of Justice in January. Those who live and work in our prisons will be only too familiar with the history of ill-judged policy responses prompted by high profile individual cases. So PRT’s evidence, prepared by Dr Thomas Guiney, a colleague at the Prison Reform Trust, and a leading authority on the history of parole in this country, proposes a measured set of recommendations designed to protect the parole process from improper political influence, while improving its transparency and effectiveness.

It is plainly right that the experience of victims of crime should be central, but the history of parole shows that prisoners too have suffered through the failings of the system as a whole. There should be no confusion that the aim of the parole system (as distinct from the Board) should be to protect the public and meet the legitimate rights of the parolee by implementing a timely plan for their safe release. We should regard a failure to release a prisoner at their earliest parole eligibility date as a failure of the system both in custody and in the community to use the time available to prepare properly.

Our recommendations to the review encompass both procedural changes which could be implemented relatively swiftly, and much more fundamental reform of the standing of the Parole Board and its relationship to ministers. They are:

  • To reconstitute the Parole Board as a two-tier legal tribunal under the auspices of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS).
  • To place far greater emphasis on improving public understanding of the parole system, and sentence progression more generally.
  • To publish a parole compact that sets out, in clear and accessible terms, what prisoners, victims and the general public can expect from the Parole Board and partner agencies.
  • To establish an easy use information management system providing public access to select, and quality assured information, held by the Parole Board.
  • To follow the New Zealand example and publish brief but informative summaries setting out the reasoning behind parole decisions and the conditions placed upon a parole licence.
  • To review the operation of determinate sentence recall cases and adopt a standardised system based upon a fixed recall period (not exceeding a percentage of the overall sentence).

You can read our letter to David Gauke and our evidence to the review by clicking here.