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The parole system and the Parole Board which administers it, operates under the Corrections Act. The Board is a statutory body appointed by the Governor consisting of a lawyer and two other persons qualified in matters of sociology, criminology, penology, medicine or any other relevant knowledge or experience. The Board is independent of the prison system.

What is Parole?

Parole is the conditional release of a prisoner before the completion of sentence. It is different from remission because the prisoner is still taken to be serving their sentence during the period of parole (s78). They are under the supervision of a parole officer.

Eligibility

A prisoner (other than a life prisoner or ‘dangerous criminal’) convicted for an offence after April 1987 cannot be released on parole until they have served one half, or at least 6 months, of their sentence unless in the opinion of the board there are exceptional circumstances (ss68 & 70). The Supreme Court can also set a non-parole period in excess of that period when sentencing the prisoner (s69). This power has not often been used by the court. There is a strong school of thought that the question of release should be left to the Parole Board or the prison authorities and attempts by the court to restrict their powers in advance only serve to undermine the effective administration of the prison system. The Sentencing Act states that the court has the power to not make an offender eligible for parole in respect of a sentence (s17(2)(a)). Further, if the court does not make an order in respect of parole, it is deemed that the offender is not eligible for parole in respect of that sentence (s17(3A)).

Where sentences are cumulative (that is, to be served one after the other) the non-parole periods are added together. Where they are concurrent (that is, to be served at the same time) the non-parole period is equivalent to the non-parole period of the longer (or longest) sentence.

A prisoner can apply for parole by completing an application form. This form can be obtained from a programs officer at the prison and must be forwarded to the Secretary of the Parole Board.

Life Prisoners and Dangerous Criminals

Life prisoners and dangerous criminals cannot apply for parole (s69). A dangerous criminal can apply once the declaration under section 19 of the Sentencing Act that they are a dangerous criminal is discharged.

The State Government made a policy statement in 1992 that a life prisoner would not be considered for parole until they had served at least 10 years of their sentence other than in exceptional circumstances.

In 1994 the State Government passed an amendment to the Criminal Code enabling life prisoners to apply to be re-sentenced with a fixed sentence. This was referred to as the ‘truth in sentencing’ legislation. Since that amendment many life prisoners have applied to the Supreme Court for re-sentencing. Dangerous criminals also have the right to apply for sentencing.

The new sentence takes effect from the time of the original sentence. When re-sentencing a life prisoner or dangerous criminal the court has the same powers and duties it would have had if the applicant had been convicted by that court of the crime for which the applicant was originally sentenced. This includes imposing a non-parole period.

How the Parole Board Makes Decisions

Once a prisoner becomes eligible for parole, or on application by the prisoner, the Board will seek reports from the prison authorities, possibly a medical (psychiatric) report and also a report by a parole officer. Section 72(4) of the Corrections Act 1997 (Tas) sets out the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to release a prisoner on parole.

After considering the case, the Board can grant or refuse parole or defer the decision (s72(3)). It can set conditions to parole (s77(3)). These will normally be that the prisoner must keep the parole officer informed of their current address, keep appointments for interviews with the parole officer, be of good behaviour and comply with the reasonable directions of the parole officer. Regular use is made of a condition which prevents parolees from entering any premises where alcohol is served and sold. These will be stated on the parole order, a copy which must be given to the prisoner (s72(7)). Section 72(8) requires the Board to give to prisoners reasons in writing for refusing parole or deferring its decision.

Breaching Parole

The Board can revoke (take away) or change the conditions of parole at any time (s79(1)(a)). Before doing this, however, the Board must give the prisoner the opportunity to present their views (s79(2)).

Where parole is revoked, the prisoner will have to complete what remained of their sentence when given parole and none of the period of parole will be taken into account (s79(5)). Life prisoners will again be back on ‘indeterminate’ sentences. Parole can, however, be granted again.

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