Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Monday, 22 May 2006 14:22 UK

What does the Parole Board do?

Anthony Rice
Anthony Rice murdered a woman nine months after release
The government is considering giving victims of crime a voice on parole panels considering whether offenders should be released from jail. But how does the Parole Board in England and Wales work?

Members of the Parole Board for England and Wales are appointed by the home secretary.

They must include a person who holds or has held judicial office and a psychiatrist.

They must also include someone with experience of supervising discharged prisoners or helping them on release and a person who has studied the causes of offending or the treatment of offenders.

The Parole Board has 167 members, including a chairman and a part-time judicial vice-chairman.

Members are appointed for three years with the possibility of a further three depending on their performance.

The board's functions are carried out by panels, the composition of which varies according to the type of case.

Discretionary Conditional Release Panels - for cases where there are set sentences. Prisoners do not attend but can write letter
Mandatory Lifer Panels - Prisoners do not attend but panel must explain decision
Discretionary Lifer Panels - offenders have right to appear, be represented and to see papers
Recall panels - consider recall of prisoners on licence, and representations from prisoners after recall. Offenders do not attend but can write letter
Extended Sentence Panels - recalled prisoner can have their say on the decision at oral hearings

There are five types of panel, including mandatory lifer panels, discretionary lifer panels and recall panels.

Almost all panels considering release consist of three members.

Normally, judicial members sit only on panels for those serving a life sentence.

Parole Board members, except judges and psychiatrists, also interview offenders in prison prior to a panel.

The aim of the hour-long interview is to inform prisoners about the parole procedure and give them the opportunity to have their say.

The member also compiles a report about the risk of re-offending to give to the panel which will consider the prisoner's case.

But which offenders appear before the Parole Board?

  • Prisoners serving set sentences of more than four years are eligible for parole halfway through their sentence and are released automatically two-thirds of the way through their sentence, if parole is not granted sooner.

    After the half-way point the board assesses a prisoner's case annually.

  • Where the prisoner is serving a sentence of up to 15 years, the board has responsibility for taking the final decision on parole.

  • For prisoners serving 15 years or more, the board makes a recommendation to the home secretary, who then makes the final decision.

  • The board is also advises on licence conditions, and considers recalling a freed offender back to jail if they breach licence conditions. But the secretary of state makes the final decision on whether the person should be recalled.

  • For prisoners serving between one and four years, the board's involvement comes only if a recall needs to be considered if they breach their licence conditions or reoffend while on licence.

  • The board also considers the release of prisoners serving life, for release on life licence.

    In the case of mandatory lifers - murderers - the board makes a recommendation to the secretary of state.

    The secretary of state may not authorise release in cases where the board recommends against it, but if the board does recommend release, he or she has the power to keep them behind bars.

    In the case of discretionary lifers and automatic lifers, the board considers release once the tariff element of the life sentence has been completed.

    In these cases, the board can make the home secretary release a prisoner. Those detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure - an unspecified jail term - are dealt with in the same way.

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