The Independent reporst today that as a result of a Supreme Court ruling a large number of prisoners who hithertoo had parole decisions decided on paper are now to be entitled to have an oral hearing. This will trebel the number of hearings the Parole Board has to stage from 4500 a year to above 14000. The government has already given three million pounds extra to the board to cover the costs but thbboard estimate they will need more like ten million.
I’m a bit concerned by the comments attributed to Frances Crooke from the Howard League on this though. Perhaps I should make it clear that I am a very keen supporter of Howard League and of Ms Crooke but I do think on this ocasion she hasn’t got it quite right.
She says that any extra cost for the parole board would be offset against the savings if more prisoners are paroled more quickly, very sound logic. But, and a very big but, firstly the fact that an oral hearing has to be staged at all would inevitaly increase the time the prisoners has to wait for a decision and also the overall time for the parole procedures to be completed. Obviously Ms Crooke hasn’t experienced this as a prisoner, I have on several occasions and I can tell you the level of stress jumps incontrollably during that long waiting period from when the procedures at begun to when a decision is announced. Adding an extra step to those proceedings will only increase the stress and pressure on the prisoner.
Secondly I would be concerned at any attempt to expedite release by cutting corners. We have already seen over the past few months the results of pushing people through by the number of unsuitable prisoners who have ended up in open prisons before thay should. The system has to be very careful that this isn’t repeated with parole and that procedures rather than being a rehabilitative measure become nothing more than a method of reducing theprison population, that would create grave danger for society.
I am a firm believer in parole but also believe that it must only be granted to those prisoners who are shown to be ready for it and definitely not to reduce the prison population.

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