Decisions on the release of life-sentenced prisoners, and the early release of prisoners serving long sentences, will now be made by the Parole Board, and not by the minister.
IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “Parole plays an important role in promoting public safety by supporting the safe reintegration of people serving long sentences back into the community.
“The commencement of the Parole Act and the establishment of a statutory Parole Board should improve confidence, clarity and transparency for all people involved in the parole process, including victims and their families.”
She added that the increase in the number of years before a life-sentenced prisoner becomes eligible for their first parole review must not result in delays in engagement with rehabilitative treatments and services in prison.
Sentence management should begin shortly after the sentence is received, and not when the first parole review is coming up, Ní Chinnéide said.
Access to other rehabilitative measures such as open prisons, which reduce institutionalisation and support normalisation, should not be impacted by this change, the IPRT believes.
IPRT has noted the wide-ranging areas of expertise across new appointments to the Parole Board, with members having significant experience working with victims, as well as prisoners.
In particular, IPRT welcomes that appointments include three members selected through the Public Appointments Service.
The Parole Board will have an important role in communicating with and informing the public about its functions, including its decision-making processes. IPRT also welcomes the planned consultations with victims’ representative groups.
Under section 14 of the 2019 Act, the Parole Board will be responsible for establishing the procedures that will apply to the new parole process.
The act allows for the Parole Board to publish these procedures. Noting the importance of transparency, Ní Chinnéide said: “These procedures must be clear, fair, and should be designed to assist the Parole Board in considering whether a person should be released on parole. IPRT calls for publication of the procedures when finalised, to further improve transparency and increase public confidence in the Parole Board’s processes and decision-making.”
It is important that information on the newly commenced act and Board is communicated to all potential parole applicants currently in prison, the IPRT believes.