Parole is an earned benefit, not a right
-Ministry of Home Affairs
Stabroek News
October 15, 2002

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Prisoners serving extensive imprisonment are granted parole based on procedures which have to be followed by the Parole Board, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

According to a release from the Government Information Agency (GINA), the Home Affairs Ministry stated that “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 rigid criteria.”

Referring to letters on the issue of parole published in Stabroek News on September 24: “What’s happened to the 27 prisoners eligible for release on parole?”, and October 3: “An efficient parole process would assist prisoners to reintegrate in society”, the ministry said “it is wrongly presumed that parole is given when sentences are determined.” 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, GINA reported.

Further, the ministry stated, there is never any deliberate intention to deny any deserving prisoner a parole. Moreover, there is certainly no ‘playing politics with such an important social indicator’ as one of the letters implied.

According to the Home Affairs Ministry, “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 anniversary observances.

The release noted that 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 to determine whether they have been rehabilitated or if they still pose a threat to society.

Through this system, prisoners are allowed to serve part of their sentence in the community so they may be reintegrated gradually into society and conditionally. “For obvious reasons,” GINA said, “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 Ministry of Home Affairs noted that the following procedures have to be 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. 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, 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 design a post-release plan which will include means of 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 be investigated in detail.

Among reports that will be requested are those 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 one way or another upon the recommendation.

* The decision is then communicated to the prisoner through the Prison Authority.

If the parole is not granted, procedures for re-application and re-examination are available to the applicant.

Sometimes, the ministry observed, certain prisoners’ applications could be subject to varying queries from the Board as it deliberates on their requests - for example, a request may be made for the latest or a current update on the applicant’s behaviour or likelihood to offend again.

In the release, the Ministry of Home Affairs expressed its appreciation of the concerns conveyed in the two letters that were published, but regretted that the language used suggested inefficiency on the Board’s part.

It maintained that the Parole Board will continue to act on the merits of each case that is presented.