Ensuring transparency and improving support for decision-making
63. Views were sought on ways to increase openness and transparency in the parole process. We asked whether victims and families should be provided with more information on the parole process and on the decisions that affect them. We also took into account the need to protect the safety of the prisoner and their ability to reintegrate back into the community, once the Parole Board have deemed them suitable for release. We therefore also asked about the circumstances where information should not be provided.
64. The consultation also sought views on the visibility of the Parole Board and what more could be done to increase that visibility amongst the general public perhaps by allowing 'others' to attend parole hearings beyond victims and their families.
Question 6: Should 'others' be routinely entitled to attend parole hearings?
There were 82 responses to this question, 70 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"I think either victim's families or an elected representative should be allowed to attend parole hearings to convey the impact of the crime involved and put across their worries should the criminal be released on parole."
"We believe that parole hearings should retain some degree of confidentiality but that, where appropriate they should be opened up for others to observe. This could be for professional development, awareness, or support of either the victim or prisoner."
65. There was a mixed response to this question. Half the respondents thought that 'others' should be routinely entitled to attend parole hearings and the other half disagreed.
66. Many respondents queried the meaning of 'others' and thought without a definition it made the question difficult to answer.
67. Of those who responded positively, some thought in addition to victims and victim's families, the prisoner's family should also be able to attend hearings. It was suggested that the media should be able to attend parole hearings in the same way they can attend court in order to ensure transparency and make the public more aware of the decisions being made. Other suggestions were professionals, the police, specialist support workers, the victim's legal representative, MPs or MSPs or Councillors and the public.
68. It was pointed out that the Parole Board already welcomes observers such as social workers and prison staff for professional development purposes but that the Parole Board rules do not allow observers to attend oral hearings and an amendment to the rules would be required to allow that to happen. It was felt that if hearings were opened up to others there should be an application process which allowed the chair of the tribunal or hearing to refuse requests where there was good reason.
69. Of those who responded negatively the costs of including 'others' was highlighted. It was also felt that by opening the hearing up to 'others' there was a risk of bias and prejudicial reporting or leaking of information. Some felt only those directly involved should be there.
70. It was also mentioned that there was a general lack of understanding of parole processes and the time required to explain matters would likely outweigh any benefits gained by others being there.
71. There was a feeling that having 'others' present could lead to prisoners and their families becoming 'targets' when the person is released.
72. The fact that the Parole Board already have the ability to allow observers to attend hearings was raised by some and it was felt that it should be down to the Board's discretion who attends hearings.
73. The question of confidentiality was mentioned with the view that it may inhibit and compromise sharing of pertinent information. The prisoner's right to a private life under Human Rights legislation was highlighted. There were also some concerns about social work staff being identified in the media along with the possibility of their professional opinions being misrepresented or distorted.
74. It was also felt that where confidentiality is removed, safety is compromised for both victim and prisoner who may also find it difficult move on and reintegrate. It was suggested that the Board may be unduly influenced in their decision-making around the potential interpretation of that decision and associated publicity. It was also noted in the same response that while the parole process required to be transparent in its operation and decision-making and therefore subject to scrutiny around the reasons for its decisions, it should not be unduly influenced by political or media forces.
75. There was a suggestion that a 'lay representative' should attend hearings to provide an independent view, such as the independent prison monitors provide to assist HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
76. One respondent thought that the nature of the offence should be considered and if the victim was present care taken to ensure there was no additional stress caused to them. It was also felt that if media were involved restrictions should be considered in order to avoid adverse impact on victims.
77. There were concerns that parole would become a punitive process rather than one of rehabilitation and reintegration.
78. The lack of suitable accommodation to host hearings where 'others', including victims, were involved was mentioned along with the possibility of raised emotions from being present in the same room as the prisoner.
Question 6 - Next Steps
Having considered all of the responses in some detail the Scottish Government do not think there is a requirement to allow 'others' to routinely attend parole tribunals.
There is however scope to specifically allow professional observers to attend oral hearings in order to assist with their personal development.
Question 7: Should information be routinely shared with others?
There were 79 responses to this question, 68 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"I think a transcript of the proceedings should be put in the public domain after the case has been completed. At present, I believe the Parole Board proceedings are not transparent and are perceived by the public as secretive, elitist."
"In order to maintain the principles of confidentiality and accountability information sharing needs to be tightly controlled and targeted only at those victims and agencies which have a specific material interest or statutory duty in the case."
79. Half the respondents to this question thought that information should be routinely shared with others. This included social services, education services, police, community councils, the victim, social workers, partners, employers, neighbours, lawyers and prisoners. One suggested that information should be posted on the internet for everyone to see.
80. The question of who 'others' were was raised again by several respondents who also queried the 'sort of information' that should/could be shared and under what circumstances would sharing be permitted.
81. Other respondents thought that information should only be shared on a 'need to know' basis. In terms of confidentiality, the Data Protection Act 2018 was again mentioned as a requirement for sharing information and that there should be a data sharing agreement between the party releasing the information and the recipient of the information.
82. One person thought a transcript of the proceedings should be in the public domain once the case has been completed, believing this would increase transparency and improve Parole Board credibility.
83. Some thought that the decision to release a high profile prisoner such as a murderer or sex offender should be routinely shared as it had the potential to impact on safety and wellbeing.
84. The difficulties prisoners have when agencies do not share information was mentioned as this can result in prisoners having to answer the same routine questions over and over which was considered a waste of time and resource.
85. One person thought that the sharing of information would ensure transparency and openness. However, they felt that the level of disclosure of information should be balanced against the need for a fair hearing and protection of all individuals involved in the case. They suggested, a register of decisions could be published which would be publicly available without causing confidentiality issues. They also considered publishing full parole dossiers would create a number of challenges and that the sharing of information between agencies for the purposes of the parole hearing should be reviewed separately to sharing information more widely.
86. Some felt that full information should be shared with everyone including date and plans for release, locality of residence and conditions of licence. Others felt that information should be shared but not 'routinely' and that the impact of sharing information should be considered.
87. There were some who thought licence conditions should be shared particularly in relation to exclusion zones so as the public would know if someone was breaking their licence conditions and be able to report the breach.
88. There were some who suggested that if victims were receiving information about a prisoner's release (including temporary release) that it should be shared with them timeously and well in advance of release occurring.
Question 7 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government believe that information should only be shared where there is a statutory role for an individual or organisation and/or where there is a legal basis for data to be shared. This should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, there are no plans to share information more widely than is indicated elsewhere in this report.
However, we will recommend to the Parole Board that an overview of decisions is produced annually and published on the Parole Board website.
Question 8: Do you feel that some information regarding parole decisions should be published proactively?
There were 80 responses to this question, 69 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"Much like employment tribunal, decisions with reasoning, I would like to see parole decisions reported online."
"There is much more that can be done around opening up the workings of the Parole Board to promote transparency and increase public support, but this should not be a proactive and routine publication of individual cases."
89. Over half of the respondents to this question felt that some information regarding parole decisions should be published proactively. A number of people did not answer the specific question with a 'Yes or No' reply but did provide some comments. Mostly there was a feeling that a balance needed to be struck between providing more information and publishing material that would not breach confidentiality.
90. There was also some misunderstanding about what was already available under the Victim Notification Scheme.
91. From the responses to this question it was clear that some people thought that victims received no information at all about the prisoner and their release arrangements and/or licence conditions. These respondents thought that victims should be given all information available with nothing held back. This included the identity of the prisoner, what their licence conditions stated including any exclusion zones and who was going to monitor the person on release.
92. Others thought a summary of decisions was adequate with anonymised information to protect both victim and the person being released.
93. Some felt that information should be provided that offered reassurance and clarity about the process and to provide some degree of accountability for the decision taken.
94. One respondent provided as a good example the sentencing information that is provided on the Judicial Office for Scotland's website, which contained sentencing statements and summaries of significant decisions.
95. There were also some people who thought that the parole was (and should be) a confidential process. The risk of prejudicial reporting and leaking of information was highlighted. The risk to the person being released was also mentioned particularly about keeping the person released in the public eye not being in keeping with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
96. The detrimental effect of publishing too much information was raised by a few respondents. They felt the impact of publishing decisions about high profile individuals could be of detriment to their risk management and make it difficult to reintegrate them back into the community, particularly in terms of finding them accommodation.
97. One respondent thought that the impact of publishing summary decisions in England and Wales should be assessed before any decision is taken here to do so.
98. There were also some concerns about the negative impact media attention could have and the risk of identifying individuals (such as victims) who may not wish attention drawn to them.
Question 8 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
Recommend to the Parole Board that they include in their annual report anonymised case studies, including redacted summaries of significant decisions and reasons for them.
In addition, the report should include reasons why people are being recalled to prison. This may help identify recurring themes where action may be needed to avoid licence breaches or to identify where there are gaps in service provision.
Question 9: Do you think the work of the Parole Board is sufficiently visible?
There were 82 responses to this question, 66 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"It has worked up till now, because of one case not working, does not mean everyone is at risk! Some prisoners are also innocent of the crime."
"As member of public very little knowledge of work just general overview yet important to communities decisions are correct."
99. The majority of respondents did not think that the Parole Board is sufficiently visible.
100. Some comments refer to the Parole Board already being visible and that it doesn't need to change. Others suggest that information is already shared via the Parole Board website and provides good clarity of the process. A few respondents thought that the Parole Board should be making decisions public, that procedures need to be clearer and there should be more visibility of the full process.
101. One respondent thought that the Board should do all it could to publicise its role and statutory function, involving interaction with other organisations and the utilisation of modern means of communication to explain its work. They also thought this should encompass the education of prisoners as to its role.
102. Another respondent thought it would be useful for the Parole Board to be more present in national debates about the assessment and management of high risk prisoners.
103. It was noted that there had been good progress in the last 4 years with the Parole Board's visibility and accessibility for professionals. The respondent said that recently they had been amenable to present to local authority areas on their roles. There has also been support provided by the Board to Social Workers to attend case work meetings and provisions made to allow them to observe at Tribunals. The Parole Board has also hosted consultation days with the introduction of the new breach proceedings and invited attendees the opportunity to feedback on this and any other issues, which was welcomed.
104. The use of social media was mentioned as a means of increasing the Parole Board's visibility.
105. It was commented that although the Parole Board already publishes an annual report with statistical information, they could do more to publicise and raise awareness of their activity and its impact with pertinent agencies, e.g. victim support organisations.
106. It was also suggested that the Parole Board should develop a communication strategy to raise awareness with the public and professionals across all health and social care services.
107. The importance of setting out how all the different agencies work together and who is responsible for what was highlighted. It was felt this was particularly important if considering the entitlements of victims.
108. It was felt there may be opportunities for the Parole Board to work with both national and local Community Justice Partners to promote the work that they do and to increase understanding amongst both community justice organisations, the Third Sector and communities. It was also felt there may be scope for advertisements, publications or presentations to raise general awareness of the Board.
Question 9 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government will take the following action:
Work with the Parole Board to raise its profile amongst professionals, victims/victim's families, prisoners/prisoner's families to ensure that the role of the Board and its processes are fully understood.
We will recommend to the Parole Board that they produce and publish a communication strategy.
Question 10: Do you think that consideration should be given to widening the information available to the Parole Board by establishing a function to investigate and collate information from other bodies?
There were 79 responses to this question, 64 of which expanded on the answer with comments.
"The current system of collating evidence is chaotic and relies on junior members of Prisonand Parole Staff to ensure everything is covered."
"The Parole Board we believe under current arrangements has access to a wide range of information in the dossier, and has the ability to request further written details or personal appearances at Tribunals/Oral hearings from individuals that can contribute to their decision making process."
109. The majority of respondents to this question thought there should be some form of investigative function. There was however some uncertainty as to what form this function should take including who should carry out any 'investigation'.
110. From the responses received it was clear some people were not aware of the type of information that was already available to the Parole Board. It was also commented by some respondents that they believed the Parole Board were already able to source any information they required.
111. There were various suggestions as to who should carry out the investigative function such as the Parole Board themselves, Scottish Prison Service (SPS), Social Services, the police, the Procurator Fiscal, a Victim's Commissioner and staff with investigative expertise. It was also suggested that the SPS should have a dedicated team and that victims and families should provide information to the Parole Board.
112. There was a suggestion that the Parole Board should not be involved in any investigative role, citing the need for the Board to maintain its independence to ensure the decision was impartial. The respondent noted that it could be difficult for the Parole Board to maintain its impartiality whilst carrying out an investigation and that this would be difficult to evidence if the same body investigating makes the decision about parole.
113. Some perceived that it was the quality of information that was an issue rather than the lack of it. It was suggested there should be a 'quality assurance' role (at a senior level) to supplement existing information gathering rather than a specific investigative role.
114. The purpose of gathering further information was questioned and how the role would differ from current procedure. It was also suggested that should there be an investigative function, it would require clear rules and regulations to govern the procedure.
115. The need for any investigative role to be carried out by those experienced in that field was highlighted.
116. It was also suggested that there should be an information sharing protocol with a duty to co-operate should the Parole Board seek further information.
Question 10 - Next Steps
The Scottish Government considers that the Parole Board's role should not be widened to include investigations. It is also considered that the information that is currently available through the dossier is sufficient to ensure that the risk a person poses can be determined. The Parole Board also already has the ability to call on any additional information that they require to reach a decision.
We will recommend to the Parole Board that they publish the types of information they take into account when making a decision to release and the reasons they require such information.
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