Release from prison
What is parole?
Parole is when you’re released from prison to finish your sentence outside of prison and back in the community. This will be on conditions imposed by the Parole Board. The earliest you can be released on parole is after you’ve served one third of your sentence.
The Parole Board will decide whether or not to grant you parole, and the conditions on which you’ll be paroled.
Parole is something that applies only to people who are serving a sentence of more than two years. If you were sentenced to prison for two years or less, you will automatically be released after serving half the sentence.
Parole is a privilege and not a right and in making the decision the Parole Board will consider the risk or likelihood of you reoffending before the sentence ends.
What is the process for being considered for parole?
When you’re eligible for parole you’ll be sent a letter saying when the Parole Board will consider your case and giving you a chance to make a written submission to the Board (this is a letter where you put your case for why you should be released on parole). The Parole Board must consider your case as soon as practicable after you become eligible for parole.
What should I say in my submission to the Parole Board
In your submission you can write down any information you’d like the Parole Board to consider, but you should focus on the factors the Board will think are the most important and persuasive. Include any factors that you think the Parole Board would want to know about and that will help you not to re-offend.
The Board members considering your case will all get a copy of your submission to read before your parole hearing and will discuss it at the hearing. Other people can also send written submissions to the Parole Board on your behalf.
Your submission should be easy for the Board to read – so make it short, and make it typed if possible, and on only one side of the paper.
You can include information about:
- Your offence – It will help if you can include any special circumstances to do with your offending. For example, you might think that the particular situation at the time is unlikely to happen again and therefore that the risk is lower than it was.
- Programmes, education, work or other activities – Include anything you’ve been involved in at prison that you feel has helped reduce the chance of you re-offending – for example, if you attended a programme to help with a drug or alcohol problem. Describe the type of work or education you completed while in prison and what difference this has made to your future – include any relevant paperwork, such as certificates, feedback and final exit reports from your programmes, and attach them to your submission to the Parole Board.
- Restorative justice – If you’ve taken part in restorative justice then describe the process and what you feel you gained from taking part. If you got a restorative justice report at the end of the process, attach that to your submission too. Restorative justice can be hard to access from prison – if you didn’t have a chance to become involved in a restorative justice process but you would have liked to, tell the Parole Board.
- Change of attitude – You may want to describe how your attitudes have changed during your time in prison and why you feel this has reduced the risk of you re-offending. For example, you may feel that while you used to become violent easily before you came to prison, this has now changed.
- Release plans – Your family and what kind of support they can provide, as well as any other key support people in your life (like community groups) and how they’ll help you if you’re released:
- where you plan to live when you’re released – it’s much harder to get parole if you don’t have a stable place to live sorted out
- any job or study options you have lined up or are trying to organise, and what you plan to do if you don’t have a job
- any programmes you’d like to do after release that would help you to not re-offend. This could include counselling, or a community residential (live-in) programme, or being placed in the care of some person or organisation such as your wh’ve had from the programme to help the Parole Board understand clearly what your plan is.
The Parole Board will have a report from the prison, called a Parole Assessment Report, which will cover what progress you have made in prison. If this is not your first hearing, the report will cover what progress you have made since your last hearing and if the Parole Board made some recommendations, what you have done to address those recommendations.
The report may also set out what further steps the prison feel you need to do to address your offending. If you have a release proposal, that will be checked by probation and will be covered in the report. The report may also include recommended special conditions for the Parole Board to impose if they are going to release you.
What factors do the Parole Board have to consider?
The main factor for the Parole Board to consider is the risk of you re-offending and the safety of the community. The Board will consider how likely you are to re-offend and how serious any likely offending would be. It will take into account the need to make sure you’re not imprisoned longer than is necessary for the safety of the community.
If you can show the Parole Board that you’ve adequately reduced your risk of re-offending through rehabilitation and a good release and reintegration plan, that will help your case.
If you’re released, the Parole Board also has to make sure that your release conditions aren’t any more restrictive than is necessary for the safety of the community.
Do I go to my parole hearing?
Can I have a support person at the hearing?
Yes. You can have support people with you at the hearing, and they’ll be allowed to speak in support of you.
You’ll have to fill out a Support Persons form giving your support person’s name and other details, and return it to the Board before the hearing.
The Parole Board decides how many support people are allowed.
You and your support people are responsible for all arrangements and costs for them to attend the hearing. So when you’re told your hearing date and time, you’ll need to make sure your support people know when and where to come. All visitors to prisons must be approved in advance by the Prison Service, and they’ll be searched before they enter the prison (for information on how to get approval as a visitor.
You may be able to talk to your support people before and after the parole hearing.
Can I have a lawyer at a parole hearing?
Yes. You can request to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing.
It’s a good idea to have a lawyer for this. They will help with a plan for the parole hearing and explain what happens at the hearing. The lawyer will also help you with your written submissions and make sure that all the paperwork and practical details are completed for the Parole Board.
If I don’t have a lawyer, how do I get one?
You can call the lawyer who acted for you at your trial or when you were sentenced, and see if they do parole work or if they can recommend another lawyer. You can also ask other people in the prison to recommend a lawyer to you.
You can also call your local Community Law Centre and ask them for contact details for local lawyers.
You can also contact one of the lawyers who specialise in parole work.
If you apply for a lawyer under the legal aid scheme, you can name the particular lawyer you prefer on your Legal Aid Application form. If you don’t know a lawyer and you’re granted legal aid, you can ask the Legal Aid office to find a lawyer for you.
Will the cost of a lawyer be covered by legal aid?
The legal aid scheme will pay for your lawyer. You can apply for a lawyer on legal aid by completing a Criminal Legal Aid application.
Who else will be at the parole hearing?
The Parole Board panel for your hearing will usually be made up of three members of the Board. In addition, the Board’s administrator will be in the hearing room.
Each panel is chaired by a Panel Convener, who is usually a District Court or High Court Judge.
The Parole Board has a total of about 35 members. Some of them are judges, some lawyers and others are people appointed from the community.
Victims attend a separate hearing.
Your PCO will attend and so will your case manager.
What will the Parole Board ask me?
The Board controls the hearing and decides who can speak and how long they can speak for.
At the hearing, the Board may ask you about:
- how you feel about your offending
- what you’ve done about your offending, such as the programmes or work or other activities you’ve done while in prison and the progress you’ve made in your sentence management plan
- what you plan to do if, or when, you’re released.
The Board may ask you about what you see as your high-risk situations if you’re released, and what you’ve done or would do to reduce the chance of re-offending if you’re placed in those situations again. It will be helpful if you can point to any factors that were relevant to your offending – such as alcohol or drug addiction, or pressure from friends or other people – and explain what you’ve done or plan to do to avoid those factors.
Relevant information for the Board here can be any treatment and rehabilitation that you completed while in prison and that has given you tools and skills that you can use on the outside. Also relevant will be any reintegration measures and support networks you’re going to have in place on the outside to stop you re-offending.
How will the Parole Board make its decision?
The Board can consider:
- reports about your offending, including notes made by the judge who sentenced you
- police Summary of Facts
- pre-sentence report
- rehabilitation and reintegration reports prepared by your case officer in prison, and any reports about programmes you’ve attended or work you’ve done while in prison
- information about any restorative justice processes you’ve taken part in
- information about how your parole will be managed
- whether you are a treated or untreated offender (treated means you’ve completed courses to help you with your rehabilitation)
- whether you have an address approved by Probation
- reports from a psychologist, particularly on your treatment during your sentence and the risk of your re-offending
- your submissions, your lawyer’s submissions and those of your supporters
- submissions from victims and the police.
The Department of Corrections will write a report for the Parole Board about your time in prison. You have no say about what goes in it. But a copy of any report sent to the Board must be given to you at least 14 days before the hearing.
You’ll be given or shown a copy of all of the information the Board will use in making a decision, unless the Board decides that showing you some of it may cause harm to someone – for example, submissions from victims.
Can I appeal the Parole Board’s decision?
Yes, you can ask the Parole Board to review its decision. However, to get the decision changed there will have to be good reason to believe that the Board made a wrong decision. This could include the Board:
- not following proper procedures
- making a mistake about the law
- not following the Parole Board’s own policies
- basing its decision on irrelevant information.
If you want to appeal, you must write to the Parole Board within 28 days after its decision. The Chairperson of the Parole Board (or a Convenor appointed by the Chairperson) must then review the Board’s decision as soon as possible. This person can:
- confirm the decision
- change the decision
- overturn the decision
- send your case back to the Parole Board for the Board to reconsider it.
In some situations when you’re not happy with the result of the review you can appeal the outcome to the High Court. Ask your lawyer about when you might be able to do this.
How often do I have a parole hearing?
After your first hearing you must have a new hearing at least every 2 years.
If your parole is declined you will be told when your new parole date will be. If the date is more than 1 year away then the Parole Board may list activities that they expect you to complete (like rehabilitation programmes). If you complete these activities early, you may be able to have your parole hearing brought forward.
If you’re making good progress on your rehabilitation and reintegration plan, the Board can see you after shorter periods. For example, this might be within 12 months, 6 months, or even 3 months of the last Board hearing. This will depend on what tasks or activities you need to complete before the Board can realistically see you again and consider whether you should be released on parole.
What is a “Postponement Order”?
If you are serving a life sentence, preventive detention, or a sentence of 10 years or more, the Parole Board can make a “Postponement Order” If they believe that unless you make significant changes you won’t be suitable for release within 2 years. This can increase the time until your next parole hearing up to a maximum of 5 years.
The Parole Board will hold a hearing where they’ll decide whether or not to make a postponement order. They’ll give you advance notice that they’re considering making one of these orders and will give you time to prepare your arguments against the postponement. You must be given the chance to make written and/or oral submissions to the Board and to speak in front of the Board. You also have the right to be represented by a lawyer at this hearing – it’s a good idea to get yourself a lawyer as soon as you’re told that a postponement order could be made.
A postponement order can only be considered as part of your normal parole hearing (without holding a separate hearing) if the Parole Board has given you 14 days’ notice that they are considering making a postponement order.
If you’ve been given a postponement order but you believe you’ve made significant changes, you can apply to the Board asking them to consider holding an early parole hearing.