PRT comment: Victims and Prisoners Bill
Commenting on the announcement today (29 March) of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
“Today’s announcement of legislation to give the justice secretary a power to veto Parole Board decisions to release prisoners convicted of certain offences does not come as a surprise. But despite the length of time since the justice secretary first made his intentions clear, it is wholly unsupported by any evidence of a problem that needs solving. Any dispassionate analysis of the parole process shows that it is already overwhelmingly focused on public protection and that the Parole Board takes a very cautious approach. The consequence is that any further offending by lifers released on parole is very rare — less than 2% of such releases result in a new conviction of any kind.
“It is impossible not to conclude that the proposals are driven by politics. Dominic Raab is keen to pick a fight, ideally with an opponent, the Parole Board, that is not in a position to defend itself. He can look ‘tough’ and challenge the opposition to do anything other than go along with him. But in the process, he undermines public confidence by his attacks on the Parole Board, and he creates an expectation amongst victims that they will have a veto over the release of particular prisoners. That will inevitably be a false expectation if the test for release is to remain about public protection rather than public outrage.
“For people who have served their punishment in prison, and are preparing for a parole hearing, this news can only cause enormous worry and distress. The justice secretary’s desire to place their interests in direct opposition to the interests of victims is opportunistic and unjust. Everyone — victims, prisoners and the public — are best served by a system which takes objective decisions based on the best evidence and the most expert assessment. This bill makes that harder rather than easier to achieve.
“We will make sure that the deep flaws in these proposals are thoroughly exposed as the legislation makes its way through parliament.”