A judge has granted a woman’s appeal and ordered her immediate release after being presented with evidence confirming current prisoner parole assessment delays of up to six months.
Last Thursday, Brisbane District Court Judge Paul Smith granted an appeal by a 26-year-old woman, substituting an 18-month prison term imposed by a magistrate for one of 15 months and ordering the term be suspended immediately for a period of three years.
The court was told the woman, whom QLS Proctor has chosen not to name here, pleaded guilty on 23 March to 24 offences including disqualified driving, stealing, two for obstructing police, five drug counts, as well 11 separate offences for breaching bail conditions and three of failing to comply with an order to appear in court.
Judge Smith was told that the young mum, who recently gave birth while in custody, committed the offences between 9 April 2019 and 13 February this year. They included an incident in which she was arrested with drugs in her car while making a late-night trip to buy food from a popular fast-food chain and another of seriously injuring herself by jumping out of a window in a bid to hide from police.
At her sentencing hearing it was revealed that Queensland prisoners were currently experiencing lengthy delays in having applications heard by Parole Board Queensland (PBQ), but the magistrate ruled it was appropriate in the circumstances to impose an 18-month jail term.
Lawyers for the woman appealed the decision on several grounds, including that the punishment was manifestly excessive and that the magistrate had failed to have sufficient regard to the extensive delays associated with PBQ considering parole applications.
They submitted that the minimum “four to five-month delay” it would take to hear the woman’s parole application would result in her serving far longer in prison than initially contemplated by the magistrate.
Judge Smith, in granting the woman’s appeal last week, said: “(The magistrate) appreciated the parole board had some backlog … (and told her) she could get her application in as soon possible.
“The evidence (tendered at the appeal) reveals that the delay in the assessment of parole could be as much as six months. This means it is likely the (woman) will spend about 13 months (rather than the intended six months) in custody before being able to achieve parole.
“I therefore … allow the appeal… (and sentence the woman) to 15 months’ imprisonment suspended forthwith for an operational period of three years.”
Read the full decision.
The decision comes a month after QLS Proctor reported Queensland Law Society’s call for PBQ to have greater independence from the state’s Department of Corrective Services (DCS) to guarantee decisions on whether or not prisoners should be released are made quickly and impartially.
In a submission to state Treasurer Cameron Dick on April 16, QLS flagged numerous “significant concerns” about ongoing delays in the parole decision-making process.
QLS President Elizabeth Shearer, in a five-page written submission, acknowledged that Queensland Treasury had commissioned an independent review of PBQ by multinational professional services network and leading accounting firm KPMG, and that a report was due within 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.
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 reoffending. 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.