Parole system on the horizon to strengthen prisoner reformation, reduce reoffending

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Work has begun towards developing a parole system for convicts in Antigua and Barbuda, following the establishment of a five-member steering committee which will be looking at drafting the necessary legislation after completing investigations into what system(s) would best suit the situation in Antigua and Barbuda.

The committee, led by Law Reform Director Adlai Smith, also includes retired Justice Keith Thom, criminologist and consultant Josephine Doyle, Yori Nichols who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, and Smith’s secretary Orincia Drew.

Smith and Doyle, who appeared on OBSERVER AM, said the team has commenced consultations with several stakeholders, including Governor General Sir Rodney Williams, prison authorities and prisoners, former law enforcement officers and other groups. There will be much wider consultations, inclusive of other groups as the Parole Project work continues in the months ahead, Smith said.

So what exactly is the Parole Project in Antigua and Barbuda all about? In a  subsequent interview after his appearance on radio, Smith explained: “Parole is the authority granted to an inmate to leave the prison in which he is serving a sentence and to spend the last portion of that sentence in the open society. Parole is granted to enable inmates to be released into the open society for re-adjustment with the guidance of a Parole Officer. Under the proposed model, every inmate serving a sentence of more than 12 months shall be eligible for parole. This is after having served two-thirds of such sentence.”

He noted further that the primary consideration for the Parole Board, which has to be established once the legislation is in place, is that the inmate is not an undue risk as well as other secondary considerations.

The need for a more formal and strict system was recognised and discussed some time ago, but the move to establish such a system only came after the public outcry over the controversial release of several prisoners by the Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin earlier this year.

Smith said Benjamin wholly supports the plan and is providing the committee with the necessary tools to execute its mandate, while taking a hands-off approach to the actual development of the system.

Once the parole system is in place, inmates who are released on parole would be required to adhere to a number of conditions, such as residing at a particular place, staying out of trouble with the law, making efforts to find work, and keeping away from individuals with criminal lifestyles, among other conditions. Parole can be revoked if a parolee is “in breach of the conditions of the Parole Order, deemed a threat to public safety, or convicted of any offence punishable by imprisonment,” Smith said, while adding that those conditions are not yet law and could be expanded as consultations continue.

How would the parole system work? “When an inmate is granted parole, it means he/she is placed on a Parole Order. He now becomes a parolee. Under the proposed model, the Governor General will grant parole orders on the advice/recommendation of the Parole Board. This parole order will be for a period specified by the Parole Board, which would elapse at the time the sentence would have been completed if he/she were in prison. During the parole period, the parolee is supervised by a Parole officer who assists him in every way to resettle in the community,” Smith detailed.

Speaking on OBSERVER AM, Doyle, the consultant to the steering committee, explained that the Parole Officer would be assigned to the offender six months prior to the hearing before the Parole Board, to prepare that offender for the possible release.

“At that six-month period prior to the eligibility date, the Parole Officer will be doing a lot of work with the offender … looking for accommodation, a job, and build up a support system for when they are released,” she said.

 “The Parole Officer will build up a strong rapport with them and work with them and look at what we can do … the officer will be with them until the last day of their sentence. Some will go back to work without future problems, so the parole officer’s role would be minimal; it would be for guidance and help. Some would need very robust monitoring.”

Doyle said the parole system will also put emphasis on rehabilitation from the time an offender is sent to prison.

“My role as advisor comes from the rehabilitation of offenders … no parole board means prisoners have no rehabilitation,” Doyle said, while adding that a lack of rehabilitation has serious implications for society because the individual will continue to re-offend and be a threat or risk to safety and security in the society.

Meanwhile, Smith said the Parole Board will be codified and the Governor General will select members independently, not on anyone’s advice.

“We have already had consultations with the Governor General concerning the introduction of the concept and he is on board and wants to make sure the resources are in place before it [the law] is passed,” he said.

He said the Board is likely to comprise a retired judge or lawyer or legal person with 10 years standing, a minister of religion, perhaps a sociologist or other individuals with interest and ability to deal with such an important issue.

The tenure of the Board members is still being discussed, but it is anticipated that they will serve three or four years and can be reappointed; but that is up to the Governor General, Smith stated.

The entire parole project is linked to law reform which will support the vision of the authorities on matters related to sentencing and rehabilitation of offenders.

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