Justice Secretary Getting Tough on Prisoner Release

Image credit: “Prison cell” by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos is marked with CC BY 2.0.

The Justice Secretary has made no secret of the fact that he often disagrees with the stance taken by the independent Parole Board. Of course, the government has the right to challenge Board decisions in the courts and, on occasion, does win such challenges. Still, it appears that political interference in its decision-making role is increasing.

This week the Justice Secretary issued a statutory direction to the Parole Board that will impact a prisoner’s movement to open prison, which for many is a crucial step towards eventual release.

The instruction is in the following terms:

Suitability for Open Conditions Test

The Secretary of State (or an official with delegated responsibility) will accept a recommendation from the Parole Board (to approve an ISP for open conditions) only where:
• the prisoner is assessed as low risk of abscond; and
• a period in open conditions is considered essential to inform future decisions about release and to prepare for possible release on licence into the community; and
• a transfer to open conditions would not undermine public confidence in the Criminal Justice System.

Directions

Before recommending the transfer of an ISP to open conditions, the Parole Board must consider:-

• all information before it, including any written or oral evidence obtained by the Board; and
• whether the following criteria is met:
o the prisoner is assessed as low risk of abscond; and
o a period in open conditions is considered essential to inform future decisions about release and to prepare for possible release on licence into the community; and
o a transfer to open conditions would not undermine public confidence in the Criminal Justice System.

The Parole Board must only recommend a move to open conditions where it is satisfied that all three criteria (as described above) are met.

TACT Prisoners

There is a presumption that a prisoner serving an indeterminate sentence for a specified terror or terror connected offence will be unsuitable for open conditions unless exceptional circumstances can be evidenced. Where the Secretary of State considers that exceptional circumstances may apply, the Parole Board will be invited to consider whether the ISP is suitable for a transfer to open conditions.

Before recommending that an ISP be transferred to open conditions, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the exceptional circumstances have been evidenced and that all three criteria (as described above) are met.

Foreign National Prisoners

Pursuant to Prison Rules, an ISP who has been served with a deportation order and who has exhausted all their in country appeal rights is not eligible to be considered for open conditions. An ISP who is liable for deportation, but has not exhausted appeal rights may still be considered for transfer to open conditions.

Before recommending that an ISP (as described at 6) be transferred to open conditions, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the ISP presents as a very low risk of abscond, and that the second and third criteria (as described above) are also met.

How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.

Mr John Stokes (John.Stokes@danielwoodman.co.uk),
Mr Anthony Pearce (Anthony.Pearce@danielwoodman.co.uk) or
Mr Daniel Woodman (Daniel.Woodman@danielwoodman.co.uk).

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