What Steps Are Involved In Applying For Parole?
It is important to understand what parole is and what steps are involved when an offender applies for parole. Parole is used as an early release system in many justice systems across the world. The goal of a parole system is to give low-risk offenders a chance to integrate back into their communities.
What is parole?
The law governing parole in NSW is contained in the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999. Parole is the release of a prisoner back into the community under supervision before the expiry of a sentence of imprisonment. The offender has to serve the non-parole period of their sentence and will only be released if the prisoner consents to the conditions in the parole order.
The non-parole period for a criminal offence sets the earliest possible date a prisoner may be released from custody. The expiration of the non-parole period is often referred to as “freedom day”. The non-parole period is when the offender cannot be released from prison on parole. Parole helps a prisoner reintegrate back into society while still protecting the community. Parole ensures an offender is not released back into the community without a period of supervision at the end of their sentence.
Parole is structured, supported, and a supervised transition for prisoners back into the community. Prisoners have the opportunity to adjust to life during the parole period. They are not returning to a community without supervision or support.
Thorough reviews and assessments are conducted before a decision is reached to release an offender on parole. Parole may be revoked if a person does not adhere to the conditions of their parole. The offender will have to return to custody to complete their sentence in prison should their parole be revoked.
Parole reduces prison populations and taxpayer expenses. Not every prisoner is eligible for parole. The prisoners have to earn an early release, and parole is the reward for offenders willing to work for it.
The NSW State Parole Authority
The NSW State Parole Authority or SPA is an independent statutory body governed by the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 and the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014. The release of an offender is an administrative, non-judicial process, and all the decisions are made under the legislative framework set out in the Crimes Act.
The State Parole Authority consists of at least 16 members appointed by the Governor of NSW. The board can consist of Judges, Magistrates, corrective or police officers, and community members.
The State Parole Authority:
- decides whether a prisoner can be released on parole
- sets parole conditions
- determines whether parole should be revoked after a breach
- can impose additional conditions, for example, electronic monitoring
Applying for Parole
The Parole Authority has to consider several factors during the parole application process. The SPA has to consider:
- the past behaviour or criminal record of the offender
- the threat they pose or the risk to the community in releasing the offender
- reports and assessments provided by the parole and probation service
The offender has to prove to the Authority that they are rehabilitated. The offender cannot commit any criminal or prison discipline offences while in custody. Parole is subject to good behaviour, the type of offence, the circumstances of the offence, the completion of rehabilitation programs, and various other factors.
The Private Parole Meeting
The Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 stipulates that the State Parole Authority must consider a prisoner’s release on parole in a private meeting at least 60 days before a prisoner’s parole eligibility date. The SPA is directed by Section 135(1) of the Criminal (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999. The State Parole Authority has to be satisfied that granting parole and releasing an offender will not jeopardise the safety of the community.
Parole will be granted after a voting process, and the final decision will reflect the majority of the votes. The offender cannot make submissions to the SPA in advance of the private meeting. The SPA has to make a decision no later than 21 days before the release date, and the offender will be informed by written notice of the decision.
An offender can seek reconsideration at a public hearing if parole has been refused by the SPA at a private meeting. The offender is entitled to be represented by a lawyer, and they can make submissions to the SPA at the hearing. The Commissioner for Corrective Services and any registered victims can also make submissions at the hearing.
The SPA has to notify any registered victims of the serious offender if they decide to grant the offender parole. The victim or victims or the family of the victim or victims have the right to seek a public hearing to raise a request to reconsider the initial parole decision.
The offender appears at the hearing by way of an audio-visual link, but the offender can also apply to appear in person. The offender can also call and examine witnesses during the public hearing. The State Parole Authority will consider the witness testimonies, behavioural records, psychiatric reports, and evidence of the relevant rehabilitation programs. The Authority will also consider the pre-release report of the Corrective Services. The SPA might, in certain circumstances, request additional psychological or medical examinations.
The State Parole Authority will base a decision to grant bail after they consider all the evidence presented at the public hearing. If parole is refused, the SPA will reconsider the decision every 12 months until the offender is granted bail or reaches the end of his/her sentence.
Who is Eligible for Parole in NSW?
Imprisonment for six months or less
According to Section 46 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences Act 1991) an offender sentenced to prison for six months or less will have to serve the entire sentence in custody without any parole.
Imprisonment for more than six months
The court will set a non-parole period as per Section 44 of the Act for a person sentenced to a prison term of more than six months but less than three years. The non-parole period will be the minimum period an offender must be kept in prison for the offence. The offender cannot be released from prison on parole during this period.
The balance of the sentence must not exceed one-third of the non-parole period unless the court decides under special circumstances for it to be more. Exceptions are explained under Section 45 of the Act, and the court may decline to impose a non-parole period due to the nature of the offence or previous offences committed by the offender.
Imprisonment for three years or less
Section 158 (1) of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 states an offender has to be released at the expiration of the non-parole period if the sentence was for three years or less. The SPA must order the offender’s release immediately when the non-parole period expires. The offender is released on parole under the conditions set out by the court.
Imprisonment for more than three years
The court may specify a non-parole period when it imposes a prison sentence of three years or more. The offender cannot be released at the expiration of the non-parole period, although the offender is eligible for parole at this time. It is the responsibility of the NSW State Parole Authority to decide if the offender will be released at the end of the non-parole period. The Authority will also decide under what conditions the offender will be released.
Serious offenders are offenders who:
- serve a life sentence
- have a non-parole period of 12 years
- received a sentence for murder
- the court, the State Parole Authority, or the Commissioner of Corrective Services classify these offenders as serious
The State Parole Authority uses the same parole decision-making process for serious offenders as for other offenders. They, however, also take the advice and recommendations of the Serious Offenders Review Council under consideration. The SPA will not grant parole to a serious offender unless the council advises that parole is appropriate.
The SPA must notify the victim when parole is being considered for a serious offender and inform the victim of their right to apply for reconsideration of the decision.
Various conditions can be imposed by a parole order. Regulation 214 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014 lists the standard conditions attached to every parole order.
The offender should adhere to the following standard conditions:
- the offender should exhibit good behaviour for the duration of the parole period
- the offender should not commit an offence while on parole
- the offender should adapt to lawful community life
- the offender should submit to drug testing if required
- report to Corrective Services as required
- the offender should follow the instructions or directions from the Corrective Service
- notify the Authorities of any change in address or employment
Additional or general conditions are tailored to the offender and the circumstances to prevent offending. Some of these circumstances can be:
- the Authority prohibits the offender to visit certain places or meet with specific people
- introduce a curfew
- enforce random substance testing
- treatment for alcohol or drug addiction
- treatment for mental illness
- electronic monitoring
Parole conditions can be varied if deemed necessary by the Authority. However, these changes have to be done in writing.
A parolee must be given a copy of the parole order. Copies are also forwarded to the governor of the jail as well as the Commissioner. Clause 217 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014 lists the governor’s responsibility before the offender is released from prison on a parole order. The governor must ensure that:
- the parole order was read to the offender
- the offender has received a copy of the parole order
- the parole orders are explained to the offender in a language the offender understands
- the offender acknowledged that they understand the conditions of parole and signed a statement stating this
the copies of the parole order have been endorsed with the offender’s date of release
Breach of Parole
The State Parole Authority NSW can revoke an offender’s parole if the conditions of the parole are breached or if the offender is charged with new offences during the parole period. An offender’s parole can be revoked at any time, even after the parole period has expired. If the authorities discover a breach occurred during the parole period, the offender’s parole can be revoked.
If an offender does not comply with one or more of the parole conditions, a Corrective Services officer can:
- record the breach with no further action
- issue an informal warning
- issue a formal warning
- give direction about the behaviour that led to the breach
- impose a curfew
The Corrective Services reports are forwarded to the State Parole Authority. The SPA can impose more severe penalties if deemed necessary for example, and they can revoke the parole, issue a warrant for arrest, or impose a period of home detention for a certain period. The offender may also have to serve a further period of imprisonment.
Under Section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1991, committing an offence while on parole is an aggravating factor that can make the sentence harsher. As a result, parole will be revoked automatically, and the court will decide what further period of imprisonment should be served.
It is important for an offender to understand parole, the application process for parole, and the parole conditions to avoid a breach of any of the conditions set out by the NSW State Parole Authority. This can be the difference between an early release and full-term imprisonment. It is also important that offenders know the penalties they will face if they decide to breach parole conditions in NSW.
Contact Lyons Law if you need assistance with any parole issue or if you need legal representation during a public hearing for parole.