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Early release of inmates serving determined specific sentences is not a right; rather it is an earned benefit, which is granted selectively and conditionally and based on certain rigid criteria.
A release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) referring to letters published in the Stabroek News on September 24 and October 3 by an ex-prisoner and relatives of prisoners addressing the issue of Parole, stated that it is wrongly presumed that parole is given when sentences are determined.
The process of the decisions of the Parole Board was outlined by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which pointed out the procedures stipulated for such actions.
Any person sentenced to a period of imprisonment has the opportunity to earn as a remission or reduction, one-third of that sentence based on, among other criteria, ‘Good conduct and industry.’
There are also special national occasions on which the State, through the Office of the President or some other appropriate authority, would grant one-fifth or one-tenth of the remaining portion of a prisoner’s sentence as an amnesty. Periodically, the State is moved to do this on such national events as Independence or Republic observances.
The system of parole, which was the issue raised in the letters, is approved only after the prisoner satisfies the criteria which are set out for this process.
According to release, the Parole is a conditional, supervised release of a prisoner into the community to serve the remaining portion of his or her sentence. It is also a process whereby prisoners can be assessed whether they have been re-habilitated as to whether they still pose a threat at society.
It is a system that allows prisoners to serve part of their sentence in the community, thus allowing them to be re-integrated into society gradually and conditionally. For obvious reasons, the pre-parole period for prisoners under consideration has to be one of rigid professional observation and assessment before such prisoners could be recommended for release on licence or parole.
The following are the proper procedures followed before any request for parole is granted.
§ Any prisoner serving a determinate sentence may apply for parole once he or she has served one-third or twelve months of the sentence handed down, whichever is longer. (It is a little different for those serving an indeterminate sentence, such as life). Eligible prisoners must have satisfied a number of other conditions with respect to behaviour and attitude. These include taking part and benefiting from prison programmes intended to assist them to return to society and respect for its laws, being of consistently good behaviour, developing an appreciation for the nature of his or her crime and displaying remorse or penitence over it, helping to designing a post-release plan, which will include a reasonable financial upkeep, good health and re-socialisation.
§ Eligible prisoners must make a written application to the Parole Board, through the Prison Authority. This may be done personally or with appropriate assistance from the Prison Welfare Officer, relatives or counsel.
§ The application once received by the Board will proceed to a detailed investigation. Among reports that will be requested are reports from the prisoner’s immediate Supervisor, the Prison Welfare Officer, the Officer in Charge of the particular prison and/or the Director of Prisons. There are occasions where even the trial Judge’s notes and sentence are requested for the final Report to the Parole Board.
§ The Full Board then examines all the Reports and circumstances. The Board might sometimes require additional information, updates or clarification. It might even require the applicant/prisoner for an interview. The Board then submits its recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs.
§ The Minister acts in one way or another, upon the recommendation.
§ The decision is then communicated to the prisoner through the Prison Authorities. If the parole is not granted, procedures for re-application and re-examination are available to the applicant.
The above is a summary of the necessary steps to be taken when considering such an important procedure as granting parole.
It can be seen that sometimes certain prisoners’ applications could be subject to varying queries from the Board as it deliberates on their requests - for example, a request for the latest or current update on the applicant’s behaviour or likelihood to re-offend.
In some instances, the applicant’s period for actual parole is shortened pending the decision of the Board. Prisoner/applicants are therefore even released normally before an opportunity arises to enjoy parole.
However, there is never any deliberate intention to deny any deserving prisoner a parole. There is certainly no ‘playing politics with such an important social indicator’ as one of the letters implied.
The Parole Board, which is an advisory Board to the Minister, has a crucial and complex responsibility. Though there have been some unfortunate experiences in the past, the Board will not allow those experiences to prejudice its fair and just assessments at this time or in the future. However, it will not expose communities to undue levels of risk and will always consider this when pondering a decision to grant, deny or revoke a parole.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has expressed its appreciation and respects the concerns contained in the two letters that were published, but regrets that the language used, suggested inefficiency and ineffectiveness on the part of the Board.
The Parole Board will continue to act on the merits of each case that is presented, the release added.