Strengthening the voice of victims in the parole process
14. The consultation sought views on ways to improve the current arrangements to make it easier for victims and their families to make representations to the Parole Board. It also asked for opinions on what security, data protection and logistical arrangements would need to be put in place to support wider attendance at parole hearings and whether the Parole Board should routinely impose specific conditions which excluded people from certain areas and the implications of such a move (i.e. use of exclusion zones).
Summary of Responses by Question
Question 1. Do you think victims and their families should have a greater voice in the parole process?
There were 84 responses to this question, 79 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"Victims or their families should be able to stand in front of the parole board and tell them of the impact that the crime has had on their life and what they think should happen to the accused."
"A robust evidence based parole system does not have a place for subjective opinions of victims and families. I think that there is a place for hearing and understanding the parole system but I fundamentally oppose the proposal for victims to give "evidence."
15. Most respondents to this question thought that victims and/or their families should have a greater role in the parole process. The majority of respondents felt that this could be achieved by allowing the victim or family member to speak to the Parole Board members in person at the hearing or by providing a statement to the Parole Board members involved with their case.
16. Some felt participation would require sensitivity in the way it was handled to avoid re-traumatising the victim or family member. It was also felt that any attendance at hearings should be voluntary, handled in a safe and supportive manner and that the victim and/or family role at the hearing should be clearly explained in order to help manage expectations.
17. There were some respondents who felt the ability to speak to the parole members directly involved with their case, or to be able to read out their personal statement to them, would suffice.
18. There was a clear indication that victims and/or their families needed to be kept informed of progress. There was a suggestion that they should be given a copy of the dossier of paperwork to provide equity. It was also suggested that providing an annual review of the prisoner's progress to the victim and/or family member might be helpful. There were some comments about the need for victims and /or their families to be able to understand sentencing and the parole system in general.
19. There were some who felt that victims should be provided with support to enable them to fully participate in the parole process. There was also some suggestion that this may come from a specific person or that Community Justice partners should have a greater role in supporting victims.
20. A few respondents referred to the need for clear, easy to read, guidance and more publically available knowledge about the parole process.
21. Some respondents felt that victims needed to be consulted prior to the prisoners release and the impact on their lives should be taken into account. There was also the suggestion that victims should be told where a prisoner was being released to and the impact of that decision on the victim or family member's life should be taken into consideration.
22. A number of respondents raised questions around objectivity and bias. Some felt that having the victim present at the hearing would introduce emotional upset and have an undue influence on decision-making.
23. There was also the suggestion the presence of the victim or family members may hinder participation from the prisoner. A small number of respondents felt that victim participation should be used to support the rehabilitation of the prisoner.
24. There were some people who mentioned the need for a fair, just and proportionate parole system based on the risk the person posed to the community, if released. Some respondents felt that a victim and/or a family member is unable to assess risk and that their views should not be taken into account as they could be biased against any proposal to release the prisoner.
25. There was reference made to the purpose of the parole process in that it was not another opportunity to try the prisoner and that it was not a court. The view was also expressed that it should not be about whether the prisoner had been punished enough.
26. Although prisoner's families were not directly covered in the consultation, there were some suggestions that they could also be the victims in a case and that there should be a role for them in the parole process. It was also felt that consideration of their wishes and circumstances should be taken into account.
Question 1 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
- Produce an information booklet in an easy read format to help victims and/or families understand the parole process.
- Explore a means by which victims and/or families (if they wish to do so) can make representations to the Parole Board member(s) who will hear their case. This may require amendment to primary legislation.
- Allow prisoners families (if they wish to do so) to make representations to the Parole Board regarding the impact of the decision on the prisoner's family.
- Provide a specific point of contact within Parole Scotland [a victim liaison officer], so that victims can access appropriate information (within the boundaries of Data Protection legislation) should they require to do so. This may include what can be expected from the parole process; key dates for submitting representations; or clarity on how they wish to be informed about the parole decision.
Question 2: Do you think victims and their families should be entitled to attend parole hearings in person?
There were 85 responses to this question, 74 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"Other jurisdictions have different models including the option for victims to meet the panel and set out their concerns and views about parole of the prisoner."
"The presence of victims at parole hearings risks making the process more adversarial, increased trauma or re-victimisation of those in attendance."
27. The majority of respondents to this question thought that victims should be allowed to participate in some way at a parole hearing. There were various suggestions as to what form participation should take. Some respondents felt that this was best done by being able to give a statement or having a lawyer or representative speak on their behalf. The suggestion was made that a victim and/or their family could speak to the Parole Board on the day before the hearing. Some suggested that the decision on participation should be made on a case-by-case basis and that all parties should agree. It was also felt attendance should not be compulsory as it was not appropriate for everyone.
28. A number of people thought that the role and purpose of the victim's presence at the proceedings should be clear in order to manage expectations and that they should not be allowed to have the paperwork due to confidentiality issues and data protection.
29. There was a strongly held view from respondents to this question that victims and/or their families should be provided with support if they were able to attend a parole hearing in person. There were various suggestions as to who should provide that support including: police (family liaison), lawyers, psychologists, specially trained prison staff, Victim Support Scotland, social services, government, the Victims Taskforce and a Victims Commissioner.
30. There were suggestions made regarding how participation could be managed with the use of video links, barriers and screens mentioned. Victim participation in courts was mentioned as an example which could be duplicated.
31. The need for clear, concise, easily understood and consistent information or guidance was highlighted again in responses to this question.
32. The suggestion was made that decision-making by the Parole Board members should be done in private as it was in the courts.
33. There were a number of respondents who were concerned about re-traumatising or re-victimising people. Some felt participation could increase stress by opening up difficult memories or emotions. It was also felt this could lead to flash points at hearings particularly if the outcome of the decision was to release the prisoner.
34. It was also suggested that victims should have no input to the parole process unless there was a reasonable fear of re-victimisation e.g. in domestic abuse cases.
35. Comments were also made about the need to consider the rights of the prisoner in terms of information sharing and confidentiality as well as the potential to create an unequal footing. There were suggestions that it would be daunting for the prisoner and could lead to community unrest if details were not kept confidential. It was also suggested that clarity about the role of the prisoner and their legal representative was required in challenging the involvement of the victim.
36. Some respondents suggested that participation of the victim and/or families would make the process more adversarial and 'court like' and that it was important that the inquisitorial nature of the exercise be recognised.
37. A number of respondents thought that attendance of the victim and/or family would impact on the Board members ability to undertake their assessment impartially. It was felt this could be detrimental to the process and potentially impacted on objectivity of decision-making.
38. The suggestion was made that Parole Board decisions should always be about risk and not about re-imposing punishment or exploring the harm done to the victim, which have already been done at trial and sentencing.
Question 2 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
Explore a means by which arrangements can be made to allow a victim and/or family member to attend a parole hearing in person (if they wish to do so). This could allow them to ask any questions about procedural matters. In most cases we envisage this would happen at the beginning of the hearing without the prisoner being present. This would avoid any conflict or participation issues and be less traumatising for the victim.
This could also be achieved by allowing victims to observe the hearing via video conferencing (if available) which could allow the sound to be muted when confidential matters were being discussed and provide some distance between the prisoner and the victim or family member.
In addition, to avoid re-traumatising victims by asking them to submit their representations at subsequent hearings (where the prisoner has not been released), we could arrange that original victim statements may be taken into account at every review hearing, rather than seeking new statements for each hearing - if that is something the victim wishes to do.
Question 3: Do you think there should be clear criteria on the kinds of information the Parole Board should consider in relation to the safety and welfare of victims and their families?
There were 84 responses to this question, 66 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"Victim safety planning in advance of release should be a more specific consideration together with a fuller focus on the degree or absence of victim empathy demonstrated by the prisoner involved."
"We believe this already exists and is framed around the risk for the victim, their family and the community and is currently an integral part of the risk management planning for criminal justice social work and MAPPA partners."
39. The majority of respondents to this question thought that the victim's safety should be paramount in the Parole Board's considerations. It was felt that victim's safety planning should be a more specific consideration along with recognition by the prisoner of the impact the crime has had on the victim.
40. There was also some suggestion that, the safety of the prisoner and the safety of the prisoner's family's and any associated impact to the family resulting from the prisoner's release, should also be considered.
41. The need for clear criteria was mentioned and that there should be clear guidelines or minimum standards which could be built upon. It was suggested that criteria should be in line with current research on recidivism.
42. Some suggestions were made for specific criteria (over and above the safety of victims and their families), these included:
- Locality of prisoner's proposed residence in relation to where the victim or victim's family reside (or exclusion zones);
- The impact on the victim's life;
- Remorse shown; and
- All information and concerns from the victim or victim's family.
43. There were some views that criteria already existed and did not need to be explicit. Some felt that the Parole Board should be given discretion as to the type of information it considered and this should be done on a case-by-case basis.
Question 3 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
Work with the Parole Board to produce guidelines on the type of criteria they should take into account when considering the safety and welfare of the victims and their families. This criterion should also take into account the prisoner's safety and the safety of the prisoner's family.
Incorporate specific criteria into the Parole Board rules of procedure relating to certain matters that may be taken into account by them around the safety and welfare of victims and their families.
Question 4: Do you think more could be done to strengthen the Parole Board's current use of licence conditions (including conditions to exclude individuals from certain areas, or from certain individuals)?
There were 84 responses to this question, 73 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"Licence conditions could be clearer in terms of how they are written. Criminal Justice Social Workers are often left clarifying and reinforcing the conditions through re-wording them so the offender fully understands the language that is used."
"The parole board already has the power to set these licence conditions to exclude from an area or from contacting a victims or their families. This seems proportionate and sensible."
44. Although a high percentage of people answered yes to this question, most people in their comments thought that the Parole Board already had enough power to set appropriate licence conditions including the power to exclude people from certain areas or certain individuals.
45. A number of people were in favour of greater use of electronic monitoring with some highlighting the benefits of using new technology, such as Global Positioning System (GPS), particularly in relation to exclusion zones.
46. There was a suggestion that the victim should be consulted personally and be able to contribute towards setting licence conditions.
47. There was also mention of the difficulties faced by prisoner's families should an exclusion zone be imposed, potentially moving families away from support networks, including friends, family, schooling and employment. It was suggested electronic tagging might be a better option than uprooting and relocating families.
48. A further suggestion was made to create an 'inclusion area' which would be an area where the person released would have to remain. This was thought preferable to an exclusion zone which potentially identifies where the victim lives.
49. A few respondents thought that communication was an issue and that standard communications across all areas of parole should be reviewed. It was also felt that more complex licence conditions needed to be expressed in a simpler way using plain English to enable understanding.
50. One respondent commented on the need to balance the rights of the victim and the victim's family against the rights of the prisoner and the prisoner's family quoting article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 i.e. the right to a private and family life. This was mentioned with the view "that licence conditions should not be purely punitive and should be reasonable and manageable". This respondent also felt the current rules already allowed for this and were sufficient.
51. Another respondent highlighted the supportive fact a prisoner's family can have in resettling someone following release and felt that the impact the family can have should be considered alongside other factors. It was also felt that the prisoner's family should be provided with the reasons for the parole decision suggesting they are provided with a brief summary to allow understanding of the considerations the Parole Board has taken into account in making their decision.
52. It was suggested that the Parole Board should "actively engage with women and children, and their specialist support workers, to allow them to set out their concerns around conditions generally, discuss specific issues around exclusion zones and support the Parole Board's assessment of overall risk". It was also suggested that, "a constructive exercise would be for the Parole Board to consult with victims of crime as to whether the nine commonly used licence conditions, set out on page eight of the consultation, are actually useful in protecting them".
53. There was also the belief that supervising officers should be given more discretion in monitoring licence conditions and deciding when it is necessary to refer a case back to the Parole Board for a breach. It was mentioned that some conditions 'set a person up to fail' at the onset by what is contained within the licence conditions.
Question 4 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
We will work with the Parole Board to explore the potential for making greater use of the existing (radio frequency) electronic monitoring capabilities for monitoring exclusion zones (or inclusion zones) within licence conditions.
We will work with the Parole Board to explore the potential for a pilot study using GPS technology for prisoners released on parole licence, where a relevant licence condition has stipulated.
Question 5: Do you think victims and their families should receive information on the reasons for the Parole Board's decisions in their case?
There were 83 responses to this question, 69 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"I think this would be helpful to allow victims and families to understand why the parole board have come to certain decisions. It will also allow for more transparency in the process."
"The prisoner has already been tried and they have served their time it should be down to the Parole Board and the Parole Board only (Data Protection & Human Rights). This is the prisoners time to show they served no risk to the public if the Parole Board deems different, then the prisoner should not be released."
54. The majority of respondents thought that information should be shared particularly the reasons behind the Parole Board's decisions. It was felt this information should be in an easy to read format in order to help victims and their families have a fuller picture. It was suggested that reasons should be given only where the victim or family wanted to receive the information and when the prisoner wanted it to be shared. It was also felt that only the most basic of information should be shared.
55. Another suggestion was for the Parole Board to provide all the factors relating to the decision to release including information about how being released on licence works.
56. One respondent thought that steps offered to the prisoner in terms of rehabilitation should be noted including whether these steps had been prevented or delayed by factors outwith the control of the prisoner, for example, budgetary constraints. It was also felt by the respondent that decisions and the Board's reasoning should be made available online.
57. Some thought that licence conditions should be shared including exclusion criteria and information about who to contact if the released prisoner was causing concern in relation to the safety and welfare of the victim.
58. A few respondents felt that the publication of decisions and reasons behind them would help with accountability. It was also suggested people should be able to question the reasons for Parole Board decisions.
59. The intentions of the Parole Board to produce a 'publication minute' was described in a response with the caveat on the need to balance and protect the interests of victims, witnesses and prisoners.
60. The importance of ensuring any published information was not detrimental to the prisoner's rehabilitation or ability of services to manage risk was highlighted. It was also felt personal information that was not relevant in respect of victim safety should not be shared such as health or addiction issues.
61. The need to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and European Convention on Human Rights 1998 (ECHR), in particular article 8 - the right to privacy - was mentioned. Also mentioned was the need to consult with the Information Commissioner's Office on any proposals to disclose information about the prisoner to the victim, their family, other specified persons or the public at large by means of proactive publication.
62. Not everyone agreed that victims should be given reasons. Some felt that the prisoner had already been tried and served their sentence so should be allowed to move on. It was also felt that if reasons were made public by the victim, then the prisoner and their family could be in danger if the location of the prisoner's release was disclosed by the victim, in the press, for example.
Question 5 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
Working with the Information Commissioner and the Parole Board set out a procedure for publishing information including the type of information that may be published, the format/style of publication and the means by which it will be published, taking into account rights and obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the prisoner's rights under ECHR.
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