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Fifth panel to help reduce parole application backlog

The Queensland Government has committed to the establishment of a fifth Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) assessment team in a bid to tackle the burgeoning blow-out of up to eight months to assess prisoner parole applications.

Queensland Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan on Thursday 12 August revealed plans to run an additional two parole assessment teams to assist PBQ’s established three teams to help overcome the current parole backlog crisis.

The revelation came during a parliamentary Budget Estimates hearing as a result of questions put by Greens MP Michael Berkman.

Mr Berkman, in a question to Mr Ryan, said: “One of the significant contributors to (jail) overcrowding … is the 4000-plus people in prison waiting for a parole decision.

“I understand that backlog has worsened even with the addition of the new operational (fourth assessment) team to consider applications.

“When will the KPMG review of this crisis be completed and solutions implemented coming out of that beyond a couple of new (assessment) teams?”

Earlier this year Queensland Treasury commissioned KPMG to undertake an independent review of PBQ’s workload.

In April, Queensland Law Society President Elizabeth Shearer wrote to Treasurer Cameron Dick calling for additional PBQ funding, ongoing reform to parole processes, and legal funding for prisoners involved in complex parole applications.

“Since the establishment of (PBQ), the number of parole applications has increased significantly, without corresponding increases in the resources available to the Board to make parole decisions,” Ms Shearer said in the letter to Mr Dick.

“This has resulted in a significant backlog in parole applications, and a significant percentage of new parole applications not meeting the statutory decision-making timeframe. Timeframes for decisions concerning parole suspensions have also increased significantly.

“These delays will only continue with the influx of persons into the prison system and those who are returned to prison following suspension of their parole.”

Mr Ryan, in responding to Mr Berkman’s question, said: “We are yet to receive that KPMG report. I have not yet received it. I understand that Queensland Corrective Services has not received the final report.

“When it is received, we will obviously consider it thoroughly. I have a view that, once government have had a chance to consider reviews thoroughly, we make a public statement about implementing any recommendations that follow.

“I cannot yet give a time frame because we have not seen that report, but we are acting independently of that report anyway, noting the capacity pressures on the parole board be continuing that fourth (assessment) team essentially for another 12 month and by establishing (a) fifth (assessment) team.”

Ongoing delays in parole hearings are currently so dire that lawyers now frequently refer to them during sentencing submissions to courts for client defendants facing actual terms of prison custody.

Last week, a Sunshine Coast judge re-sentenced and fixed an actual parole release date for a prisoner rather than refer the matter to PBQ for consideration after being supplied proof of application assessment delays of up to seven months.

Maroochydore District Court Judge Glen Cash on Tuesday 10 August reduced the sentence of a man convicted of causing grievous bodily harm from four to three years and substituted an order regarding the fixing of a parole date, as opposed to an eligibility date for assessment by PBQ.

In May, Brisbane District Court Judge Paul Smith granted a 26-year-old woman’s appeal and ordered her immediate release after being presented with evidence confirming prisoner parole assessment delays of up to six months.

Judge Smith secured the woman immediate release by substituting an 18-month jail term she received from a magistrate for one of 15 months and ordering the term be wholly suspended for a period of three years.

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