Blog: Parole reforms see fewer people getting chance to prepare for release
Nearly three months after we asked for them, the Ministry of Justice has still not released any statistics about the impact of the changes Dominic Raab ordered on parole — in particular the change in criteria for people to get to open conditions. But the Parole Board promptly answered a letter we sent them asking for any numbers they could provide.
What those numbers show is shocking.
Until the change to Parole Board directions on 6 June, 94% of recommendations by the board that someone should progress to an open prison were accepted by the ministry. Since 6 June, 87% of such recommendations have been rejected.
We have gone from a system where the vast majority of decisions were effectively taken by a panel of three independent experts considering a full parole dossier and hearing evidence in person, to a system where an anonymous official in an office in Whitehall simply says no in nearly nine out of 10 cases.
It’s shocking but not unexpected. This is what Dominic Raab wanted to achieve, setting tests for progression to open which he could interpret any way he liked. But it’s profoundly unfair and, crucially, works against the goal of public protection which he claims to have been the motivation for the changes. If more people come to be released directly from closed conditions, with less opportunity to acclimatise to life outside prison, and with less opportunity to get used to a high level of trust being placed in them, it will make it harder for people to succeed on release. Far from reducing risk, this approach increases it.
The Parole Board’s letter also included statistics about the number of positive release decisions. These decisions continue to be made by the board, not ministers — at least for now. It’s not clear why, but the number of release decisions has fallen this year. That may just be about the throughput of cases overall. But it’s likely that the exclusion of people from open prisons will lead to fewer release decisions in due course. We calculate that the drop in release decisions described by the Parole Board already represents a requirement for 1,000 additional prison cells — over and above the ministry’s current projections.
We’ve written to the new justice secretary highlighting the figures and asking him to meet us to discuss how he could adjust his predecessor’s approach.
Later today (18 October), in the House of Lords, Baroness Prashar — a former Chair of the Parole Board will lead a debate asking new ministers to think again about the changes Dominic Raab introduced. These numbers show that the need to do so is urgent — the progression of hundreds of people is being needlessly interrupted. It’s a self-defeating and unfair policy.