With hundreds of parole cases to sit on every month, and a mandate to implement change, Queensland’s new parole board hit the ground running when it came in to force in July 2017.
Parole Board Queensland was established after an independent review in to Queensland’s parole system (the Sofronoff review) recommended replacing the three pre-existing parole boards with a new, improved, professional parole board.
Under the leadership of President Michael Byrne QC, the Board has spent its first year making significant changes to the way it works - changes, according to Deputy President Peter Shields, that have the best interests of the community at heart.
“Parole Board Queensland wants to ensure that persons who are released are released in a way that maximises their prospects of successfully rehabilitating,” said Peter.
“Of course, that makes the community a safer place all around.”
The new board commenced operations within the ‘old’ parole system, allowing it to assess what was working, and what wasn’t working, subsequently making changes from within.
“We are very excited by change,” said Peter, “and the Corrective Services staff that are with us have embraced that.”
A key change implemented by the Board is to work more closely with stakeholders such as mental health professionals to make evidence-based parole decisions.
The new board includes four professional board members and twenty-four community board members with expertise across areas including health, academia, psychiatry, police, law and disability.
Community board member Jennifer Cullen is CEO of brain injury not-for-profit organisation Synapse. She believes community members bring a wide skillset to the parole board.
“In my day to day work, for example, I see the impact that disability can have on mental health, criminal justice and domestic violence,” said Jennifer.
“There has to be other ways in which we as a community address offending behaviours that are impacted by disability.”
The Board will be travelling to Cairns with Jennifer, who is a descendant of the Wakka Wakka people, to visit Lotus Glen Correctional Centre, which has a 70% Aboriginal population.
“Community board members are connected to our communities,” said Jennifer. “We are able to draw upon the knowledge of support services to assist a prisoner’s return to the community while ensuring community safety.”
The Board is keen to increase transparency about its decision making. Earlier this year, it held a public parole hearing for the first of Queensland’s ‘No Body No Parole’ applications.
Members are also visiting correctional centres and probation and parole offices, meeting with case management staff and offenders to explain, face to face, the revised expectations parole applicants need to meet.
This includes understanding that parole applications are now overseen by the same board member before, during, and after parole has been granted. This consistency increases accountability, and, in a sense, gives the offender no place to hide.
On a wider scale, the Board hopes to raise general awareness about the role of parole in the community, aware of the common misconception that parole offers an offender an easy way out.
“The real message and the real rationale for parole often gets lost,” said Peter.
“It’s not about the offender, it’s about the community. To quote Walter Sofronoff in his review, the only purpose of parole is to reintegrate the prisoner in to the community before the end of a sentence to decrease the chance the prisoner will ever reoffend.
“The only rationale for parole is to keep the community safe from crime.”
Parole Board Queensland: President Michael Byrne QC, Deputy President Julie Sharpe and Deputy President Peter Shields are making changes to Queensland’s parole process.
Another misconception the Board hopes to address is the community confusion about the role courts play in the parole process.
“Queensland has two types of parole - board-ordered parole, which is what Parole Board Queensland does, and court-ordered parole,” said Peter.
An offender sentenced to less than three years in prison, for a non-violent or non-sexual offence, will usually receive court-ordered parole on a set date outlined by the court.
Parole Board Queensland plays no part in the granting of parole in these cases - although such offenders would be referred back to the Board if they breach the terms of their parole.
What this means in practice is board-ordered parole is arguably more difficult to obtain. Applicants must meet significantly stricter criteria, defined by the Board and tailored for each application, as well as being closely supervised in the community once parole is granted.
“Our highest priority is to identify what risk a particular person poses,” said Peter.
“We need to protect the community, that’s our statutory obligation and we take it very seriously.
“So if the risk is too great, then that person will not be granted parole at that stage.”
A year on, Parole Board Queensland has moved quickly to ensure the recommendations of the Sofronoff Review are being implemented.
The general public can be assured that the permanent, professional and community board members are committed to ensuring Queensland is in safe hands.
Read more about the Queensland Parole System Review (Sofronoff Review)