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04 January 2023

Blog: Parole data — a partial apology

The Ministry of Justice continues to evade questions over the impact of its reforms to eligibility for transfers to open prisons.

In this blog, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust shares the outcome of the Ministry of Justice’s internal review of our freedom of information request.

We have received an answer to our complaint about the ministry’s failure to provide information about the impact of parole changes under the Freedom of Information Act.

There is an apology for the delay. There could hardly not be, but it is welcome nevertheless.

But the ministry maintains that it has provided the information we requested. In fact, the answer we got about the impact of the changes announced on 6 June provided only a small fraction of what we had asked for. It was a deliberate evasion. But we have sent in new, very carefully worded FOI requests in the hope of preventing a repeat performance and will be due answers early in the new year.

On the issue of whether the ministry has calculated the impact on prison numbers of the parole changes, again the answer avoids the central issue. As we have pointed out before, with a virtual ban on indeterminate sentence prisoners going to open conditions, either more people will be released from Category C prisons (which we doubt is the outcome ministers desire), or releases will be delayed in the majority of cases. If the latter happens, that can only have a significant and relatively rapid impact on prison numbers — at a time when the system is bursting at the seams. This isn’t an issue about how the prison service chooses to fill spaces in open prisons – it’s about the number of people it is going to have to care for overall and how these changes form no part of its current projections.

Ministers are obviously entitled to pursue policies which they decide — we can and do disagree — but their accountability ultimately is to parliament, the courts and the electorate. However, in a democracy ministers are not allowed to prevent proper scrutiny of the consequences of the policies upon which they decide. We will continue to hold them to a higher standard than they seem willing to adopt for themselves.

Response from the Ministry of Justice

Read the outcome of the internal review conducted by the Ministry of Justice, following our earlier complaint to the Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo.

Read the letter