Parole Board Background Paper
28 May 2002
Please find attached an outline of the principles and procedures governing the new Parole Board which will operate from 1 July 2002.
The Board met for the first time yesterday at Parliament where the Minister of Justice Phil Goff emphasised the importance in their decision-making of safety of the community which under the new law is their paramount consideration.
The New Zealand Parole Board
Major goals of parole reforms
The fundamental purpose of the NZPB is to contribute to public safety by making sound decisions about the release of long sentence prisoners. There are obvious difficulties in predicting human behaviour but the Parole Act 2002 provides a framework for ensuring that high risk offenders are not released early.
There are four major goals of the reforms:
1. Greater coherence of the decision making system, and improving the quality of decision making
The Criminal Justice Act 1985 did not contain any guidance as to the purpose of the parole system:
- merely established Parole Board and District Prisons Boards, and required the Boards to consider a range of factors in deciding whether or not to release prisoners on parole;
- gave no direction as to how Boards should perform their functions.
The Parole Act provides the basis for a coherent system of decision making in the following ways:
- provision of guiding principles - paramount consideration in every case, when making decisions about the release of offenders, is the safety of the community;
- reinforced by the new parole test which is focused on a single factor - the risk an offender poses to the safety of the community - rather than the range of factors that must be considered under the current legislation;
- when assessing whether an offender poses an undue risk, Board must consider the likelihood of further offending, and the nature and seriousness of any likely subsequent offending.
Methods used to select community members in the past and the lack of induction and training limited their ability to make an effective contribution to decision making.
Under the new regime:
- criteria for the selection of Board members in the Act;
- new selection systems to ensure that suitably qualified persons appointed;
- provision for induction and training.
2. Increased consistency of practice and decision making
The current system is extremely fragmented making it very difficult to ensure any consistency of practice or decision making, due to the skeletal provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, the lack of any monitoring body and the statutory independence of the Boards.
Under the Parole Act there will be a single board that will deal with all inmates serving sentences of more than two years imprisonment.
- the unified structure will allow the NZPB to develop consistent practices and modes of conducting hearings and making decisions;
- the Act provides for the Board to develop policies on how to discharge its functions.
3. Increased accountability and fairness
The fragmented nature of the existing structure has meant there is little oversight or accountability.
The intent of the Parole Act is that the parole authority will be more visible and will operate more openly so there will be greater accountability.
The government’s expectation is that the NZPB will be
- more proactive in explaining and promoting its role, and
- more open in providing information about decisions than under the current structure, while maintaining an appropriate level of confidentiality.
The Parole Act includes a review and appeal structure, which in addition to increasing fairness will also contribute to improving the quality of decision making. Under the old legislation, there was no right of appeal for inmates dissatisfied with Board decisions.
The requirement for written reasons for decisions will assist those such as victims as well as the offender and those charged with managing the offender with a legitimate interest in the NZPB’s decisions, in understanding how they were arrived at.
4. Increased efficiency and better management of resources
There are concerns about efficiency and the management of resources under the current structure.
Administrative support for the Parole Board and District Prisons Boards is managed locally, which creates the risk that this support is of uneven quality and quantity. Some DPBs have very heavy workloads (because of the size of the institutions they service) while others deal with a small number of cases.
The national structure of the NZPB will improve the quality of administrative support and allow resources to be allocated with greater precision. Centralised control will also provide improved oversight and consistency of practice, which should result in more efficient delivery of services.
A new mode of operation
The Parole Act creates a framework for the NZPB but there is considerable scope for the Board to develop policies and procedures concerning the manner in which it will carry out its functions, in conjunction with the Department of Corrections.
The Board will carry out its functions from three regional offices, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A regional convenor and at least 2 panel convenors and a small pool of full-time and part-time board members have been appointed for each region.
It is not envisaged that there will be a permanent panel allocated to each institution in the same way as District Prisons Boards under the current legislation.
- One of the problems of the existing structure is that boards have tended to operate in isolation, which has encouraged inconsistencies in practice and decision making.
- NZPB panels are intended to operate in a more uniform manner under the new framework and a more flexible approach to the membership of panels will contribute to this.
The Parole Act includes two new tools to assist the operation of the Board.
- The requirement for written reasons for decisions, in addition to allowing interested persons to understand why the Board has made a particular decision, will make up for any loss of continuity as a result of the move away from permanent Board membership.
- Provision for unattended hearings - based on the belief that a significant proportion of cases can be dealt with adequately with written information and an attended hearing would serve no real purpose. This will help ensure that taxpayer funded resources are used where they are of greatest benefit.
Changes to parole eligibility
The Parole Act includes a number of significant changes from the current parole eligibility framework:
- inmates serving between one and two years will no longer come under the NZPB’s jurisdiction (except as front end home detention cases);
- The court will be able to impose the minimum term of up to two thirds or ten years before parole can be considered where the offence is sufficiently serious. Other inmates subject to determinate (fixed term) sentences will become eligible but not necessarily get parole after serving one third of their sentence.
- while those convicted of offences currently defined as serious violent offences will no longer be automatically excluded from eligibility for parole, nor will they be entitled to automatic release after serving two thirds of their sentence; all determinate sentence inmates will be able to be detained for the full sentence where they pose an ongoing risk to the community.