Parole chief confident of clearing backlog – with government aid

The chief of Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) has told the Government he believes it is possible to clear the state’s massive and ever-increasing parole assessment backlog by establishing additional “permanent operating teams”.

PBQ President Michael Byrne QC, in the organisation’s recently published annual report, said the board had “reached a critical point” in its operations, receiving more applications for parole than it could properly consider each month and regularly failing to meet its “statutory obligation” to review prisoner applications within the legally required 120-day period

Mr Byrne, in the foreword of the 2020-21 annual report, said: “I, and my two Deputy Presidents – Peter Shields and Julie Sharp – have advocated strongly for a review into the Board’s resources, our funding model, and our ability to manage future workloads and capacities, considering the increasing prisoner numbers in Queensland.”

His comments come two weeks after QLS Proctor reported that a growing number of prisoners throughout Queensland were inundating the Supreme Court with applications for judicial review of their parole applications in a bid to avoid current delays of up to nine months for parole hearings.

The issue of significant delays for thousands of prisoners awaiting parole hearings has been the talk of the legal profession for the past 12-months, with Queensland Law Society earlier this year calling on Treasurer Cameron Dick to remedy the situation.

QLS President Elizabeth Shearer, in a five-page submission in April, said the Society received concerning information from its members and stakeholders that Parole Board Queensland 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 (CSA).

The issue was raised again earlier this month with the release by the Queensland Prisoners’ Legal Service (PLS) 2020-21 annual report, in which Director Helen Blaber described the “human cost” of the delays as having tragic consequences on countless inmates.

The persistent delays were also acknowledged by PBQ Deputy President Peter Shields in his recent QLS Modern Advocate Lecture.

“Whilst the board has been subject to some criticism in the press and elsewhere, it was the senior (PBQ) board members who transparently brought the backlog into the public domain,” Mr Shields said.

In a bid to curtail PBQ’s repeated failures to hear parole applications, inmates aided by dedicated community legal centres such as PLS and LawRight have inundated Queensland’s Supreme Court with applications under s22 of the Judicial Review Act.

And the slew of applications for judicial review shows no signs of declining, with a further 10 matters listed for hearing before Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Paul Freeburn today (12 October).

Mr Byrne, in his report tabled in Parliament on 30 September (2021), said: Since our establishment in July 2017, the Board has decided on average, 3000 parole applications per year.

“The Board currently has three permanently funded teams, who work continuously and simultaneously all year round.

“In April 2021, a temporary fourth Board commenced operation; and on 5 August 2021, approval was given for the continuation of that temporary fourth Board but also for the establishment of a temporary fifth Board, which is to commence operation in October 2021. Both Boards are anticipated to run until 30 June 2022.

“Based on our validated data modelling, I believe that a key way for the Board to regain compliance with its statutory obligations is for additional operating teams to be established on a permanent and ongoing basis.

“I strongly believe that the Board can significantly contribute to the solution of prisoner overcrowding and complement the measures by Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) that are already underway in this regard.

“We can do so by ensuring a prisoner who is eligible for parole, or whose parole order has been suspended, does not spend longer in actual custody than their risk to community safety dictates.’’

Mr Byrne said the board was also pinning its hopes of further assistance via the as-yet unpublished government-commissioned review by KPMG.

In a move aimed to ease PBQ’s burden, the Government flagged its intention to introduce legislation that could push the parole application hearing ‘deadline’ from 120 to 180 days.

See the PBQ annual report.

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