When an offender comes up for parole it’s important you know what you can do as a victim to make your feelings known. The job of the Parole Board is to decide if offenders are safe to be released from prison.
Decisions are made by parole board members – specially trained people from all walks of life. They make their decisions, by assessing the risk the offender poses, if they’re released or moved to open prison conditions. If you’re a victim and the prisoner who committed the crime is going through parole, you can be involved in the parole process.
Offenders serving sentences for the most serious sexual and violent offences, including homicide, can only be released by the Parole Board. If you’ve opted into the Victim Contact Scheme and the Parole Board are going to consider the offender’s release or a move to open conditions, you are entitled to:
- be informed by the Probation Service if a Parole Board hearing is to take place
- make representations about licence conditions to the Parole Board
- be provided with an explanation if a licence condition you have requested is not included on the offender’s release licence
- have the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) explained to you by your victim liaison officer (VLO), including how it will be used by the Parole Board
- make a VPS which will be sent to the Parole Board
- apply to attend an oral Parole Board hearing to present your VPS in cases where the Parole Board decides that it is appropriate to hold an oral hearing
Following a review of the parole process, victims who opt into the Victim Contact Scheme are entitled to receive reasons for Parole Board decisions. In future, they will be able to request that a Parole Board decision is reconsidered.
The Victim Contact Scheme is the responsibility of the Probation Service, apart from the Parole Board who is responsible for making parole decisions and taking decisions about the oral hearing.
For more about the victim contact scheme, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code.
This can be a very difficult time for victims of crime so it’s important to take a little time to consider your options.
Try to make a Victim Personal Statement
You will be offered the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement, or use one previously written for the trial or an earlier parole hearing.
For most victims, learning that the offender is able to apply for parole is upsetting. You know it’s going to happen one day, but there is a sense that while their punishment is coming to an end, your pain continues.
We recommend to victims that you make a victim personal statement. It’s a difficult thing to write, but your only opportunity for your voice to be heard. Feedback reveals that panel members do take note of what victims say and many are moved by the victim’s ordeal.
You are not obliged to attend the Parole Board hearing to read your statement. Most victims choose not to. It is a decision you must make for yourself. Remember that whether you attend or not, your statement will be read by the panel members.
You can ask that the offender is not present when you read your statement. However, the final decision is for the Parole Board.
Parole decisions are based on risk not punishment
You must remember that parole is not about whether the offender should be punished for longer. It can only be about whether they present a danger to the public. In making its decision, the Parole Board panel will have up-to-date risk assessments.
Talk to your victim liaison officer if you want to ask that the offender be banned from travelling to certain areas. These are known as ‘exclusion zones’ and will be part of their licence. They will advise you, but your final request must be one that you feel is right for you and your family.
Take someone with you to the hearing
Attending the hearing can mean a lengthy journey to the prison in which the offender is held. Prisons are austere institutions. You can expect to see prisoners in your journey to the hearing room. Be prepared for this.
You will normally be accompanied by a ‘Secretary of State representative’. These are usually very experienced and can answer whatever questions you may have about the parole process.
Make sure you have a close friend or family member to accompany you. Attending the hearing can be traumatising and it’s important you have emotional support immediately afterwards.
Guidance on parole
The victim information site gives more detailed information about:
- your rights to object
- personal statements
- what to do if you’re contacted by an offender