QLS: Parole board needs greater independence

Queensland Law Society says Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) needs greater independence from the state’s Department of Corrective Services to ensure decisions on whether or not prisoners should be released are made quickly and impartially.

In a submission to state Treasurer Cameron Dick, QLS has flagged numerous “significant concerns” about ongoing delays in the parole decision-making process.

QLS President Elizabeth Shearer, in a five-page submission sent last Friday, acknowledges that Queensland Treasury commissioned an independent review of the world of the Parole Board and that a report is due in 10 weeks.

However, Ms Shearer said QLS had received concerning information from its members and stakeholders that PBQ was taking more than eight months, up to 250 days in some cases, to consider inmate applications rather than the 120-day maximum mandated under the Corrective Services Act 2006.

“The PBQ is an independent statutory authority, however it remains dependent on Queensland Corrective Services in a number of ways, including for preparation of a Parole Board assessment report,” she said.

“Greater independence from Corrective Services would ensure that the decisions of the Parole Board are made impartially and in a manner that is separate and independent from other branches of government, which may have differing policy objectives.”

In February 2017, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk committed $265 million to a widespread “overhaul” of the Queensland parole system in response to 91 recommendations for reform made after an in-depth review by eminent silk Walter Sofronoff QC – who has since been appointed Queensland Court of Appeal President.

The Government commissioned the review following the death of 81-year-old Townsville woman Elizabeth Kippin in July 2016. A man on parole was charged with her murder.

“Mr Sofronoff’s report highlights how over quite a long period there has been a loss of focus on the purpose of parole, and its rationale,” Ms Palaszczuk said at the time. “The starting point is that having a parole system promotes safer outcomes for the community than not having one.

“Its purpose is to reintegrate prisoners into the community so as to decrease the chance of their reoffending on their release from prison. Its rationale is to keep the community safe from prisoners re-offending. The more effective our parole system is, then the safer the community is from crime.

“These changes are designed to curb crime by being smart on crime and its causes. They are aimed at reducing crime through reducing the risk of reoffending.”

Four years after those reforms, PBQ continues to operate as a part, or under the umbrella and control, of DCS.

Ms Shearer said: “It is in the interests of the state, the community and people held in custody that the (PBQ) is given proper resources to ensure it can make decisions within the statutory time period.

“This includes resourcing for more permanent decision-makers, and also additional temporary decision-makers to address the backlog of undecided applications.”

Read the QLS submission.

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