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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today on the administration of parole in England and Wales. Ensuring that prisoners’ applications for parole are considered in a timely manner requires close co-operation between organisations including the Prison Service, the Parole Board, the Probation Service and the police. Delays can result in parolees remaining in custody longer than necessary, placing additional strain on available prison accommodation. It is also expensive – each week’s delay in releasing a parolee costs around £450.

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Timely parole decisions depend on prisons sending the parole application and supporting reports to the Parole Board on time. Following specific Prison Service initiatives, there have recently been improvements, with around 50 per cent of completed dossiers received by the Parole Board by the due date in 1998-99 compared with about 40 per cent in 1996-97. During April to September 1999, there was a further improvement with, on average, 67.5 per cent of all dossiers arriving on time.

Delays in submitting dossiers to the Parole Board cannot always be made up later. In 1998-99, the Board met the target of notifying its decision two weeks before the applicant’s eligibility for release on parole in 58 per cent of cases. Late notification occurred in 853 (39 per cent) out of 2,214 cases where parole was granted. This is likely to have resulted in the prisoners’ release being delayed. The estimated cost of delays in releasing prisoners in 1998-99 was some £2 million. In the first six months of 1999-2000, the notification of parole decisions by the target date improved considerably and averaged 82 per cent.

Delays can also occur when the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is not ready or able to remove paroled foreign nationals to their own country. In 1998-99, only 27 per cent of parolees subject to deportation were released on time. Around 8 per cent spent an additional 100 days in custody. The estimated cost of these delays was a further £0.5 million.

Serious delays in processing a prisoner’s application for parole can be caused by their transfer to another prison during the parole process because, for example, the receiving prison may have to wait for reports on the prisoner to arrive from the sending prison. The number and reasons for transfers at this critical point needs to be monitored closely to ensure that they are fully justified.

Delays in processing parole applications are also caused by difficulties in obtaining relevant reports and documents from the police, the courts, and the Probation Service. The problems with police and court reports illustrate the need for criminal justice organisations to share appropriate information. Otherwise organisations at the end of the chain, like the Prison Service and the Parole Board, have to carry out their responsibilities without important information. Similarly, difficulties in obtaining Probation Service reports underline the need for improved collaboration between the Prison Service and the Probation Service.

In 1998-99, the Parole Board rejected around 60 per cent of applications for parole, in part because of the prisoner’s failure to address their offending behaviour. Many prisoners have poor knowledge of the procedures and criteria for parole. Prisoners need to be given a clear idea of the criteria against which their applications for parole will be assessed, and the sorts of issues and information that the Parole Board will take into account. The Prison Service is working with the Prison Reform Trust to meet this need.

"Parole is an important point in the process of rehabilitating offenders. It therefore needs to be integrated into the programme of action – including training and education - agreed with the prisoner to prepare them for their eventual release. The report’s recommendations should build on recent improvements in the administration of parole and result in more equitable treatment of prisoners as well as savings for the taxpayer."

Sir John Bourn


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