COVID19 and Parole
The Chair advised the VC the Board had responded swiftly and positively to the lockdown. It had the IT capacity to enable it to move swiftly to remote hearings, initially over the telephone, bit more recently, by making greater use of video-link facilities. At the start, 85% of hearing were by phone and 15% by video-link. It is anticipated that within the next 3 months, these ratios will be reversed. This has assisted the Board in clearing 95% of its caseload. There were some complex cases where it was recognised that the hearings could not be done remotely.
C70% of prisons have sufficient video-link capacity, although often the Board was in competition with the courts to use these links to conduct its business.
The Board is facilitating those victims who wish to read their Victim Personal Statement (VPS) to the panel by using telephone and video links. The number of victims wishing to attend hearings is increasing, which suggests that they might be more comfortable making contact with the panel remotely. The feedback from those victims giving their statements through links has been positive.
Victim Personal Statements
Nearly all victims opt to be sent high level summaries of Parole Board reasons.
However, the board was concerned to note that a VPS was only being submitted in 30-40% of cases, despite the fact that in all parole cases, the victims would be eligible to join the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS). There was concern that victims who did not respond to requests made immediately after the trial to join the scheme were not being followed up by the VCS. The chair and the VC agreed that moving from an opt-in to an opt for the VCS was the right way forward and would ensure more victims would be engaged at the point of parole.
The VC reiterated her view that the VCS should not be seen as a transactional service, but as part of the overall strategy to help victims “cope and recover”.
There needs to be work to look at the issue of victims who had not opted into the scheme and how they might be located. Maybe, this could happen at the point that cases were being considered by MAPPA. It was acknowledged that some police forces are already engaged in trying to make contact with these victims.
The VC and chair welcomed the move to video sentencing remarks, although the VC was still of the view victims should be offered a free transcript as well.
In Canada, victims could re-engage with the criminal justice system through an on-line portal. This is something that should be explored in the UK.
The VC and the chair agreed to join forces and work together on these issues.
The Parole Reconsideration Mechanism has been live since 22 July 2019. In that time, the most recent figures available (April 2020) show that 1238 release decisions have been screened against the mechanism’s criteria by HMPPS.
During this period, 41 applications from victims have been submitted to the Secretary of State, asking him to consider making an application to the Parole Board for the release decision to be reconsidered.
In two cases where the victim made representations to him, the Secretary of State concluded there was an arguable case that a decision met the threshold for reconsideration. In each case, a Judicial Member of the Parole Board rejected the Secretary of State’s application.
The Parole Board has received around 170 reconsideration applications. These can only be made by the two parties, in other words, the Secretary of State or the prisoner. To date, around 90% of applications have come from prisoners, whereas the Secretary of State has made about 15-20 applications.
The Board publishes its’ decisions on BAILII. Around 100 are on line at the moment and 30 are pending: www.bailii.org.
The VC asked whether the scheme will be evaluated and was advised there would be a general appraisal of the scheme.
It was pointed out that in 85% of cases, parole decisions were in line with the recommendations of report writers. Reconviction rates of offenders released on parole were very low, around 1% a year. Release rates remained at around 25% of cases reviewed.
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