The chief executive of the Parole Board has said that, while the organisation has significantly greater funding than its predecessor, it will require more resources.
Writing in the board’s 2021/22 annual report, Ciairín de Buis said that, in particular, working without a case-management system was “a significant concern and risk”.
She said that the organisation would work with the Department of Justice to ensure that this gap was addressed.
The annual report is the first since the board was placed on a statutory footing under the Parole Act 2019, which was enacted in 2021.
The board considers the eligibility for parole of prisoners serving life sentences, once the prisoners concerned have served at least 12 years of their sentence. It makes its decisions independently of the Minister for Justice.
The report covers the period from 31 July 2021 to 31 December 2022, during which it undertook much preparatory work linked to the new processes established by the 2019 act.
Under the new statutory parole process, victims have a formal right to make submissions to the Parole Board in relation to the offender’s application for parole.
The board launched an information campaign for victims, entitled 'My Voice Counts/Your Voice Counts’, in November 2022.
The report states, however, that identifying and finding contact details for victims has proved to be “a significant challenge”.
It also held ten information sessions at prisons across the country to explain the new process.
As part of the parole process, both victims and parole applicants may have access to legal representation. As a result, the board set up a Legal Aid Scheme and formed a panel of suitably qualified solicitors and barristers to provide legal assistance.
During 2022, the board reviewed 22 parole applications. One person was released on parole.
Out of 247 eligible prisoners, 223 had applied for parole by the end of December 2022.
At the end of 2022, the board was engaging with 291 victims in 105 applications for parole.
Legal aid was assigned to 28 victims and 38 applicants for parole.
Engagement with victims
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that the increased emphasis on victim engagement had led the board to actively seek to engage with relevant victims and, when possible, find out whether the victim wished to make a submission or not.
“While this has proved to be challenging, the board has done significant work in developing its victim-engagement process since its establishment,” she said.
Minister McEntee last month announced the expansion of the board from 13 to 15 members, and also re-appointed a number of members – including the Law Society’s representative Dr Shane McCarthy.