In June 2022, the former Secretary of State, announced a change in policy in respect of the test to be applied by the Parole Board for open conditions.
Since then, the well established system whereby people serving long term sentences go through a gradual process of structured reduction in risk in closed prisons, followed by a period of testing in prisons with less security (known as open conditions) on the advice of the Parole Board, has effectively broken down.
The Parole Board only considers cases once they have been referred by the Secretary of State for Justice following a “sift” process. Data obtained by the Prison Reform Trust shows that the rate of cases referred to the Parole Board for review has also reduced significantly.
- Between June and Nov 2022 the Secretary of State considered 69 pre-tariff sift applications & referred 8 to the Board
Once the Parole Board makes a recommendation for a person in prison to progress to open conditions, it is for the Secretary of State to make a final decision as to whether or not he accepts that recommendation.
According to information provided in response to parliamentary questions and freedom of information Act requests:
- In the year ending March 22: 94% of Parole Board recommendations for open conditions were accepted (see letter from the Parole Board to PRT)
- Year ending March 23: 13% of Parole Board recommendations for open conditions were accepted (see responses to Parliamentary questions in March and April 2023)
Once a Parole Board recommendation is made, the Secretary of State is supposed to make a decision within 28 days. Yet prison lawyers have noted excessive delays over the last year in decisions about progress to open conditions being made. I therefore asked for data on the average length of time it has taken the Secretary of State to make the final decision once the recommendation has been made. I received the answer yesterday and it shows an increase of 350% in the time for these decisions to be made in the last year.
The response states that average length of time over the past three years is as follows:
- 2020/2021 – 36 days
- 2021/2022 – 36 days.
- 2022/2023 – 165 days
All of this at a time when the prison estate is under intense pressure and due to run out of space by July. Surely, now, more than ever, the Secretary of State should be moving people on who the Parole Board have assessed can be safely moved on to open conditions and towards release.
Read the full response to my FOI on open conditions here