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Prisoners will lie to get earlier Parole Board Hearings

Prisoners will lie to get earlier Parole Board Hearings

“The proposal to reduce parole hearings for offenders who refuse to accept their guilt, or make little effort at rehabilitation, will encourage prisoners to lie”, says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. He was commenting on the government’s plans to implement one of its post-election promises. “It’s a silly idea”.

“The government needs to do a consumer survey into the impact that sort of policy will have on prisoner behaviour. An informal survey carried out today with some ex-crims makes it clear what will happen. Firstly, prisoners who honestly believe they are innocent of a charge, will change their tune on entering prison in order to get an earlier parole board hearing. Secondly, those who don’t believe they need to attend a rehabilitation programme, will be knocking at the door of Corrections, demanding rehabilitation for the same reason.

This could have adverse consequences. First, it could discourage prisoners who genuinely believe they are innocent from pursuing an appeal, even though Clause 25 of the Bill of Rights Act makes it a breach to compel someone to confess guilt.

Secondly, Corrections are going to be inundated with prisoners demanding rehabilitation, when they are not resourced to do so. The Department of Corrections agrees that involuntary offenders can – and, more often than not, do – benefit from rehabilitation. The reason unwilling offenders are not offered rehabilitation, is because Corrections currently have to ration rehabilitation resources, and it suits them not to include recalcitrant offenders.

“There is a danger that this exercise will mask the real issues that should be considered, which will address both victim’s and offenders needs.

“We know that many victims find the Parole Board appearance traumatic, often because it brings back painful memories. Nevertheless, some victims feel personal pressure to attend and represent their views. In some cases, they have an unrealistic expectation of the impact their words will have on the Parole Board. ”

“However, in 90-95% of all Parole Board hearings, victims choose not to attend. Is it because they don’t feel the need to do so, or because they would find the experience too traumatic? At this stage, no one knows. Further victim research could help us understand how to make the Parole Board experience less daunting, so that victims are more willing to participate.”

“On occasions, the Parole Board has discussed with victims and offenders, the opportunity to take part in a restorative justice conference. When such a conference is agreed to, the outcome for both offenders and victims has usually been mutually beneficial.”

“The other major issue that needs to be tackled in advance of this legislation is the adequacy of the offender rehabilitation programme. While there are cases where offenders are reluctant to partake in rehabilitation programmes, the more common concern is that willing offenders can’t access prison rehabilitation programmes. Criminal lawyers, the judiciary and prisoners complain that rehabilitation programmes are heavily rationed. Sentencing judges and the Parole Board can give directions for a prisoner to undergo a course of rehabilitation, only to find that Corrections cannot provide it. In the worse cases, the unavailability of rehabilitation affects the offender’s chances of parole.”

“An independent review of the adequacy of the current rehabilitation programme should precede any legislative change

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