**updated 16 August 2023 to reflect amended FOI response***
Changes to government policy around decisions about transfer to open conditions by the Parole Board and subsequent decisions by the Secretary of State for Justice have been well publicised: these changes have resulted in a dramatic decline in the proportion of cases where the Secretary of State for Justice agrees with Parole Board since June 2022, to around one in ten cases. Previously the Secretary of State for Justice accepted nine out of ten recommendations. On 17 July 2023 the Secretary of State changed the test, a day before the test was due to be litigated in Court – the impact of this on reviews that take place is yet to be seen. The Prison Reform Trust has published a letter dated 18 July 2023 outlining the changes. The Generic Parole Process policy framework was updated today, 16 August 2023 with the new test.
What is less well known is the dramatic decrease in the number of pre-tariff review cases (where a person is only eligible for open conditions but not release) that reach the Board.
Not only does the Secretary of State for Justice have the final say in whether to accept Parole Board recommendations on open but also whether to refer pre-tariff reviews to the Parole board in the first place.
This means that Secretary of State for Justice gate-keeps both ends of the process. It also means that between June 2022 and July this year, he applied an additional “public confidence” test (which the Parole Board did not apply for most of that period) at both of the stages he governs. The amended policy framework published today makes it clear that the in deciding whether cases should progress through the pre-tariff sift the new criteria at § 5.8.2 should apply (§3.4.8).
New data I have obtained (PDF here) under the Freedom of Information Act, combined with a corrected version sent subsequently, shows that the number of pre-tariff review cases referred to the Parole Board decreased from roughly half of all applications between July 2021 and Feb 2022 to the point where between March 2022 and May 2023, the Secretary of State for Justice never referred more than 30% of cases in a single month and in five of those months referred less than 10% of applications.
Put another way, in the 12 months ending in May 2022, 48% of all applications sifted proceeded to be considered by the Parole Board. In the following 12 months, just 16% of all pre-tariff review sifts were sent to the Parole Board.
The following table shows the data for the years ending May 2022 and May 2023:
The decline in recommendations by the Parole Board accepted by the Secretary of State for Justice between June 2022 and July 2023 is even more worrying now we know that even fewer cases were referred in the first place.