Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Prison Law Update: Two Recent Cases

Mr L

Mr L is an indeterminate-sentenced prisoner, now significantly over his tariff (minimum period required to serve). He entered prison when he was still very young and behaved poorly during the early part of his sentence. In 2013 he realised that he would be staying in prison for a very long time if his behaviour did not improve, and he started to make significant progress, including engaging well with offending behaviour programmes.

In 2014 we assisted Mr L in a Parole review, during which he was transferred to open conditions. Mr L did not have an entirely smooth ride in open conditions. He was returned to closed conditions twice; on the first occasion representations from the Prison Law department at Wainwright & Cummins got him returned to open conditions speedily; and on the second occasion, as it was shortly before his scheduled hearing in late 2015, he remained in closed conditions until the hearing. This is significant as the Parole Board tend to have a very different view of prisoners in open conditions applying for release compared to prisoners in closed conditions applying for release.

However, we pressed ahead with Mr L’s application for release. We felt that he had served more than long enough and that the two returns to closed conditions were indicative of immaturity and nervousness at the prospect of release, rather than any increase in risk to the public. Mr L’s hearing was held in mid-November last year and we were delighted that his application for release was granted in a decision which took only two days – sometimes the Parole Board takes up to two weeks before they confirm their decision.

Many Parole hearings have a foregone conclusion before they even begin. If a prisoner has behaved very poorly, the likelihood is that their application will not be granted, whether that is for open conditions or for release. If a prisoner has behaved very well and completed all necessary programmes, the likelihood is that their application will be granted. But Mr L’s case was different – it was borderline. We were therefore particularly proud as it was our legal representation of the client – and his honest responses to difficult questions during the hearing – which pushed his case over the line and earned the release decision.

Mr D

Mr D is a life sentenced prisoner who committed a serious offence many years ago. He has not yet reached his tariff date, but due to the impressive progress made while in custody, he was put forward for a pre-tariff review. This is when the Parole Board assess lifers who are two to three years pre-tariff, and consider transferring them to open conditions. The ultimate aim is for those lifers who are behaving extremely well to be considered for release shortly after their tariff expiry, having already spent around two years in open conditions.

Mr D was recommended for progression to open conditions by all of the relevant professionals – his Probation Officer (Offender Manager); his Offender Supervisor; and also a Psychologist who assessed him last year.

Despite a couple of dicey moments in the hearing, ultimately the Parole Board did recommend Mr D’s progression to open conditions. We are awaiting the final decision from the Ministry of Justice, which we hope will confirm the Parole Board’s recommendation; once this occurs, Mr D will be transferred to open conditions. If he continues to maintain the same standard of behaviour, works well with professionals, and tackles outstanding risk factors, he should be on track for release not long after his tariff expiry date.

We are particularly proud of Mr D’s case as it is a great example of the system working exactly as it should. Mr D committed a serious offence and as such must serve a minimum period of time, regardless of his degree of rehabilitation. However, once that minimum period is complete, if Mr D no longer poses a threat to society, it serves no purpose to keep him in custody, and he should be released.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the firm or its partners.


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