Parole Board For England And Wales
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Parole Board welcomes parole recommendations of Justice Committee report on sentencing
The Parole Board has welcomed the conclusions and recommendations of the Justice Committee report published today (22 July 2008) with regard to imprisonment for public protection sentences and recalls and the pressure on the Parole Board.
Parole Board Chief Executive, Christine Glenn, gave evidence to the Committee in July 2007 with regard to the pressures placed on the Parole Board and how to alleviate them. In response to the findings of the Committee she said:
"I am grateful to the members of the Justice Committee for allowing me the opportunity to give evidence and for listening carefully to what I had to say. I am delighted that they have so fully taken on board the pressures heaped on the Parole Board by the introduction of short-tariff IPP sentences without adequate advance planning.
"I do welcome the changes made to IPP sentences in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. However, I also urge the Ministry of Justice to act upon the recommendations of the Committee in particular with regard to ensuring the adequate functioning of the Parole Board as a court by providing sufficient judicial resources and the powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and to make wasted costs orders.
"In giving evidence to the Committee I expressed concern about whether getting the Parole Board to look at every single recall case added any value in the situation where only a small number of those cases involved dangerous or serious offenders. Like the Committee I welcome the changes to the recall system in the 2008 Act and I wait with interest to see if they have the intended effect."
Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee with regard to IPP sentences and the pressure on the Parole Board
9. We stress that, as a matter of policy and common sense rather than law, it is wholly indefensible to incarcerate prisoners of any category beyond the expiry of their tariff or their eligibility for release on licence simply because of a lack of resources on the part of HM Prison Service or the Parole Board.
10. Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences should only be imposed with a tariff of a length giving the Prison Service a realistic chance to offer the necessary interventions and programmes to allow the Imprisonment for Public Protection prisoner to reduce his or her risk factors and which give the Parole Board the time to carry out the relevant assessments and hearing to determine whether IPP prisoners should be released on licence. Where IPP sentences with tariffs as short as 28 days have been imposed, it is disturbing but unsurprising that large numbers of IPP prisoners have to remain in prison beyond expiry of their tariffs as there is insufficient time for proper completion of rehabilitative courses and programmes and for the Parole Board to carry out the relevant assessments.
16. Although the Government has increased the financial resources of the Parole Board we doubt whether this investment will significantly and sustainably reduce the pressure on the Board caused by Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences. The availability of judicial members of Parole Board panels will remain an issue unresolved by an increase in the Board's budget. It needs to be solved as a matter of the greatest urgency as capacity shortages of Parole Board panels directly affect the liberty of the subject where decisions relating to release on licence are concerned.
18. The Parole Board is charged with making judicial decisions about the sentence length for life and Imprisonment for Public Protection prisoners. It is absolutely vital for the Board to be able to draw on the resources and personnel (including, crucially, members of the judiciary to sit on lifer or IPP panels) to carry out its judicial work. The Ministry of Justice should ensure the adequate functioning of the Parole Board as a court. We recommend that it take urgent action to discharge this duty.
19. Where the Parole Board operates as a court effectively determining the length of custodial sentences for a large number of prisoners it will need the requisite powers to discharge its functions appropriately and in a timely fashion. We recommend that the Parole Board be provided with powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and to make wasted costs orders.
Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee with regard to back-door sentencing
40. We welcome the Government's acknowledgement that the recall system set out in the 2003 Act is not appropriate, as evidenced by the changes to the system in the 2008 Act. The 28-day fixed recall system should deal with particular concerns about the strain placed on Parole Board resources by the need to review every recall decision.
41. We remain concerned, however, that the system for recalling prisoners on breach of licence is unnecessarily rigid. Changes to the recall system do not extend the flexibility that people working with offenders need if they are to enable the highest levels of compliance.
42. We urge the Government to reconsider the systems by which the Probation Service and the courts are required to deal with breaches of conditions or breach of licence. A more flexible system which enables these services to support compliance, rather than automatically punish what may be minor infringements, would contribute much more in the long run to public protection by preventing re-offending than sending people to prison.
Notes to Editors
The House of Commons Justice Committee report Towards Effective Sentencing is available online at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/justice.cfm
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 safely be released into the community.
For further information please look on the Parole Board website at http://www.paroleboard.gov.uk