As mentioned in the December edition of Inside Time, recent government changes to the legal aid system mean that some prisoners are no longer entitled to legal aid for their parole review.
This will mainly affect those prisoners who are being considered only for a transfer to open conditions (a pre-tariff review) or a return back to open conditions (an advice case).
Prisoners who are being considered for release can still receive legal aid, although we know from the Offender Survey that we carried out that some prisoners sometimes find it difficult to obtain representation.
In order to help prisoners who are unable to obtain legal representation, the Parole Board has produced a factsheet.
This will be sent to prisoners with the letter that informs them that their parole review has begun.
Below we share some of the information that you might like to consider if you have a review coming up.
We will also provide copies of the factsheet to prison libraries and it will be available for download from the Parole Board web pages in the near future.
Once your parole review starts these are some of the things you will need to think about:
The test for release/ transfer to open conditions
When the Parole Board considers a case, we must apply a test to determine whether or not you are suitable for release or in some cases a transfer to open conditions. The tests applied by the Parole Board focus on risk and whether the risks you pose could be safely managed if you were to be released or transferred to open conditions.
Test for release: The Parole Board must not give a direction for release unless the Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that you should be confined
Test for a transfer to open conditions: The panel will assess the level of risk you pose and determine if they are confident that the public will not be harmed if you are in the community, unsupervised, on a temporary release from the open prison. They will weigh the risk of you causing harm to the public against the benefits to you of being able to be tested in open conditions, and take into account whether there is any work that you can do there. They will also consider if there is a risk of you absconding.
Once your parole dossier is available to you, you should read all the reports in the dossier and then consider whether you want to add any of your own comments or documents such as course certificates. You should try and write a summary of your own opinion on the progress you have made during your sentence and write down things that you think will help the Parole Board consider you for parole – these are called your Representations.
At this stage, your case will be considered on the papers by a Parole Board panel. The panel will either make a preliminary paper decision OR decide your case needs an oral hearing and give instructions (Directions) listing any further reports or witnesses which are needed for the hearing.
If you receive a preliminary paper decision: You will have some time to read the decision and then decide whether to accept it or write to the Parole Board and ask for an oral hearing. You will need to give the reason(s) why you think you should have an oral hearing. Please refer to the article on the recent Supreme Court case relating to oral hearings for more information.
If your case is sent to an oral hearing: When you are sent a copy of the Directions you should read them carefully. If you would like to ask the Parole Board to give any other direction, you should write and ask us to do that. Examples of directions you might ask for are any reports that are not in the dossier that you think might help, or to ask for a witness to attend the hearing.
When you know the date, you could also ask permission for someone to come to the hearing to speak on your behalf, to act as a witness or to observe the hearing.
You will be told the date of your oral hearing approximately 8 weeks in advance. In order to prepare for the oral hearing you might wish to:
Read through the dossier of evidence that the prison has prepared.
You can also seek advice from the Free Representation Unit (London office: 020 7611 9555, Nottingham office: 01158 484 262) or the Prisoners Advice Service (020 7253 3323)
Think about what the panel are likely to want to ask you. Bear in mind what the panel will be considering when they assess your risk.
Think about the main points that you want to make to the panel
Plan questions that you wish to ask witnesses. If you are represented, then your representative will ask any questions that you want.
Your parole review is a very important event and therefore you should make sure that you understand as much as possible and ask for help if you need it.