House of Commons Library

The Parole System of England and Wales

Published Monday, September 9, 2019

The parole system determines which prisoners, who have been sentenced to indeterminate and certain determinate sentences, can be released early subject to certain conditions. In England and Wales this system is overseen by the Parole Board.

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The parole system determines which prisoners, who have been sentenced to indeterminate and certain determinate sentences, can be released early subject to certain conditions. In England and Wales this system is overseen by the Parole Board. This organisation is responsible for:

  • The release of certain prisoners, including approving licence conditions;
  • Reviewing the circumstances in which some prisoners have been recalled and deciding whether those prisoners should be re-released; and
  • Making recommendations to the Secretary of State for Justice for the transfer of indeterminate sentence prisoners from a closed (high or medium security) prison to an open (low security) prison.

The Parole Board undertakes hearings, either based on paper evidence or in person, to determine whether an offender can be released back into community without posing a risk of serious harm to the public.

The work of the Parole Board has increased significantly in recent years following a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that oral hearings should be undertaken in a much wider range of cases. The number of oral hearing increased from 4,628 in 2012-13 to 8,137 in 2017-18.

Following the controversial decision to release John Worboys in November 2017 and the subsequent judicial review of the decision in the High Court, which quashed the original decision to release Mr Worboys, there was much criticism about the lack of transparency in how the Parole Board arrived at a decision, as well as the fact that a Parole Board decision could, at that time, only be challenged through judicial review.

In May 2018, the Parole Board Rules, secondary legislation governing the working of the Parole Board were amended to enable the Parole Board to provided summaries of its decisions to victims and other interested parties. Between May 2018 and March 2019, the Parole Board provided summaries for 1,171 decisions.

In February 2019, the Government published details of its proposals for a reconsideration mechanism. This allows victims, via the Secretary of State for Justice, as well as prisoners, to ask the Parole Board to reconsider its original decision. This came into force for decisions made after 22 July 2019.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8656

Author: Ben Rodin

Topics: Criminal law, Prisons

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