Transforming Parole in Scotland

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Closes 27 Mar 2019

Questions on strengthening the voice of victims in the parole process

Strengthening the voice of victims in the parole process

What we want to see?

3.1 We believe victims should have more opportunity to be heard in the parole process. We also consider they should receive more information on how the parole process operates and about the parole decisions that affect them. We also believe victims should be given information so they understand the reasons behind Parole Board decisions.

3.2 We recognise that all cases are different and that not all victims are affected in the same way, or want to be involved in the parole process. We have listened to feedback from victims and their families and we understand that some find the fact that they cannot speak directly to Parole Board members at a tribunal hearing frustrating and upsetting. At the moment, it is only in the case of a prisoner serving a life sentence that victims and families can speak to a Parole Board member (although not a member directly involved in the case). We also understand that the lack of information provided about the parole process, the decisions and reasons behind them, can leave some victims and their families feeling as though their experience and views do not count sufficiently. We want to change that.

3.3 We want to implement improvements that provide a clearer route for victims and their families to be heard in the parole process – with access to the support and information they need to do that. We want the victim to feel there is an opportunity to give their views on matters of safety and security that affect them when a prisoner is released, including in the consideration of possible exclusion zones.

3.4 We also recognise the need to balance victim involvement with the need to ensure a fair, just and proportionate system. The parole process should also provide the opportunity for reintegration and rehabilitation, once a prisoner has served their sentence and no longer poses an unacceptable risk.

Victims and Parole – what happens now?

3.5 A central aim of the Parole Board is to protect public safety by making their decisions on the basis of risk.

3.6 In making those decisions, the Parole Board will consider the impact on the victim(s) in a particular case. However, there is currently no specific mechanism for victims and their families to speak directly to the Parole Board members who are deciding on parole in their particular case. In the case of a life prisoner, however, they can make oral representations to the Parole Board (although not to a member of the Parole Board that is considering their case).

3.7 It is important to recognise that not all prisoners are referred to the Parole Board for consideration of release. For example, prisoners sentenced to less than four years in prison will usually either be released at the half-way point of their sentence (known as the Earliest Date of Liberation or EDL) or some may be released up to six months earlier on Home Detention Curfew. This is managed by the Scottish Prison Service.

Victim Notification Scheme

3.8 In all criminal cases where the offender has been sentenced to 18 months imprisonment or more, victims and, in certain circumstances, their family members have the right to receive certain information about the prisoner in their case through the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS)5. The VNS has two parts and victims and/or their families can sign up to one or both.

3.9 Part 1 gives the victim and/or their family the right to be informed of certain information about the offender. The information will only be provided where the recipient wants to receive it and has advised the Scottish Ministers accordingly. The victim and/or their family members will be told the following information:

  • the date of the offender's release (other than temporary release) – (but not their location after release);
  • if the offender dies before being released, the date of their death;
  • if the offender is transferred out of Scotland;
  • if the offender is for the first time entitled to be considered for temporary release – e.g. for training programmes or home leave;
  • if the offender escapes or absconds (doesn't come back when recalled);
  • if the offender, after having been released, returns to custody for any reason to continue serving their sentence;
  • if a certificate has been granted giving the offender unescorted suspension of detention from hospital for the first time or where such a certificate has been granted and then revoked. (This certificate means they can leave hospital for specific periods of time, without an escort or supervision.)

3.10 Part 2 of the VNS gives victims and/or family members the right to make written representations to the SPS about the release of the prisoner on licence and any prospective licence conditions. This right applies where the prisoner is a short-term, long-term or life prisoner.

3.11 Support for victims and families is also available through Victim Support Scotland.

3.12 People must register with the VNS to receive information or make representations. If someone is eligible, it is up to them to decide whether to register for the Scheme.

3.13 Where the offender is sentenced to life imprisonment, victims and/or their families, who are registered with the VNS, have the right to make oral representations to the Parole Board when the prisoner becomes eligible for release on licence. The oral representations can only be made to a member of the Parole Board who is not dealing with the prisoner’s case and can be related to the release of the prisoner or any prospective licence conditions.

3.14 In the case of the Parole Board, it will consider these representations along with other information on the offender's case before reaching a decision. If the Parole Board does decide to release, then representations from victims and/or their families may assist in deciding the licence conditions that will be imposed. This might include conditions which limit the prisoner contacting named individuals, or entering certain areas, so called ‘exclusion zones’.

3.15 For victims of offenders sentenced to less than 18 months imprisonment they are entitled to know only the date of the release or escape of the offender and any licence conditions imposed on the offender following release. The victims can contact the SPS if they want to receive this information. This notification scheme does not extend to the victim’s family members.

3.16 The 2001 Rules currently do not allow disclosure of information about a case to any person not involved in the proceedings or to the public, except where the Chair of the Parole Board or the Chair of the Tribunal direct otherwise or where it is in connection with any court case. Whilst such directions are rarely asked for and equally rarely given, they have been used previously to provide victims with a summary of the reasons for a decision.

3.17 Under Part 2 of the VNS, victims and in certain circumstances their family members have the right to be informed of any licence conditions which relate to contact with the victim or the victim’s family. Under the notification scheme for victims of offenders sentenced to imprisonment for less than 18 months, the victim is entitled to be informed about licence conditions which have been imposed for the protection of the victim.

Options for Change

3.18 We want to ensure victims and their families know what to expect during the parole process and that information is provided to them at the earliest opportunity in a clear and accessible format.

3.19 We want to seek views on how we can improve the current arrangements to make it easier for victims and their families to make representations to the Parole Board. For example, should there be a mechanism to allow victims and their families to attend hearings in person or via a live link? Alternatively, should victims and family members be able to give their statement to a Parole Board member who is directly involved in their case?

3.20 We also want to make sure we carefully consider the security, data protection and logistical arrangements, which would need to be put in place to support wider attendance at Parole hearings.

3.21 We recognise that victims do not always feel that their safety and security is taken into account in the decision to grant parole. We would therefore like to get views on whether the Parole Board should routinely impose conditions which
specifically exclude prisoners from certain areas. If so, what would the implications of such a condition be and how this could be monitored and managed.

3.22 In addition, we would also like to consider mechanisms which may allow the Parole Board to communicate decisions, and the reasons behind them, to victims and their families (see Section 4) in addition to the information they can already receive around licence conditions.

1. Do you think victims and their families should have a greater voice in the parole process?

2. Do you think victims and their families should be entitled to attend parole hearings in person?

3. Do you think there should be clear criteria on the kinds of information the Parole Board should consider in relation to the safety and welfare of victims and their families?

4. Do you think more could be done to strengthen the Parole Board’s current use of licence conditions (including conditions to exclude individuals from certain areas, or from certain individuals)?

5. Do you think that victims and their families should receive information on the reasons for the Parole Board’s decisions in their case?