11th August 2021
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed the announcement of the establishment of the new statutory Parole Board and the commencement of the Parole Act 2019 by the Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD today (11.08.2021). The Act places the parole process on a statutory footing, which IPRT has campaigned on for many years. Decisions on the release of life-sentenced prisoners and early release of prisoners serving long sentences* will be made by the Parole Board and not by the Minister.
Welcoming the commencement of the Act, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:
“Parole plays an important role in promoting public safety by supporting the safe reintegration of people serving long sentences back into the community. The commencement of the Parole Act and the establishment of a statutory Parole Board should improve confidence, clarity and transparency for all people involved in the parole process, including victims and their families.”
One of the significant changes to the parole process following the commencement of the Act is the increase from 7 to 12 years before a life-sentenced person becomes eligible for their first parole review. Commenting, Fíona continued:
“The increase in the number of years before a life-sentenced prisoner becomes eligible for their first parole review must not result in delays in engagement with rehabilitative treatments and services in prison. Sentence management should begin shortly after the sentence is received, and not when the first parole review is coming up. It is also important that access to other rehabilitative measures such as open prisons, which reduce institutionalisation and support normalisation, are not impacted by this change.
“The commencement of the Act must strengthen timely engagement with rehabilitative services, to support progress towards eventual safe release back to the community.”
IPRT notes the wide-ranging areas of expertise across the appointments to the Parole Board, with members having significant experience working with victims, as well as prisoners. In particular, IPRT welcomes that appointments include three members selected through the Public Appointments Service.
As well as the provision of information to prisoners and victims, the Parole Board will have an important role in communicating with and informing the public about its functions, including its decision-making processes. IPRT also welcomes the planned consultations with victims’ representative groups.
Under section 14 of the 2019 Act, the Parole Board will be responsible for establishing the procedures that will apply to the new parole process. The Act allows for the Parole Board to publish these procedures. Noting the importance of transparency, Fíona said:
“These procedures must be clear, fair, and should be designed to assist the Parole Board in considering whether a person should be released on parole. IPRT calls for publication of the procedures when finalised, to further improve transparency and increase public confidence in the Parole Board’s processes and decision-making.”
It is important that information on the newly commenced Act and Board is communicated to all potential parole applicants currently in prison. Many people may be anxious about what the commencement means for them. Clear communications with all potentially affected applicants will be particularly important given the last 18 months of uncertainty about how COVID-19 will affect parole applications and whether the effects of the pandemic will be taken into account by the Parole Board, as noted by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in the recent reports Thematic Inspection reports.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
* Added 16 Aug: As per the legislation (s.14(1)(b)), this will be decided and regulated by the Minister for Justice at a later stage.