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Understand Parole & the Current Witch Hunt

Originally I was going to stay right out of this national conversation about parole because it’s mainly been a witch hunt against the faceless criminal enemy. Hey that’s a cycle of our society. But at this point there is so much rubbish information floating around it has become time to explain what parole is and why we need it. Because the alternative is far more dangerous.

First, understand that parole is an eligibility at the half way mark of any sentence greater than 12 months. It’s not a right. A non-parole period is when a court deems on the crime and circumstances that an added danger or penalty should be recognised. Non-parole periods are always greater than half the sentence.

I hope that makes sense, because it often gets reported like a non-parole period is a reward. In fact, it’s an added penalty imposed at sentencing.

The second feature of parole that you should understand is that time served on parole can be of any duration from that remaining of the original custodial sentence up to three or more times in length. This is an offer by the Parole Board that the prisoner weighs as whether to accept parole or to continue serving his sentence in prison. Choosing to serve one’s time in full is considered, in prison, the mark of an old school hardened villain. A prisoner who is going to re-offend is ALWAYS better off not taking parole.

And if parole is taken by the prisoner and conditions breached then the offender can be revoked back to prison on the Parole Board’s order as if their time never stopped. Parole merely suspends the clock in a sentence. If it isn’t breached then parole ends and the sentence remaining is forgiven. If it is breached, the sentence is resumed.

So, if a prisoner serving eight years is given a non-parole period of five years and it takes another year to get parole that leaves two years outstanding. By that stage they have served six of their full eight years in prison. The parole period they will be released on would be for at least their time remaining or as long as another six or eight years depending on the board’s parole offer against the remaining two years to serve.

And if a prisoner has finished parole then a minimum of the entirety of their original sentence has passed, or greater. I point out this detail because it is often reported by lazy journalists that the offending parolee should have been in prison when an offence had occurred later than the expiration of their parole. In truth, they would have been in the community when they offended at that point. Sentence completed. Hard time served in full.

If a prisoner takes parole on that eight years with two years remaining and they accept six years parole they have made a deal with the devil. Parole isn’t a win/win for the parolee. If he/she takes that parole and breaches at four years into the parole contract they are returned to prison as if time had hung suspended. That means the ex-parolee would still have that two years remaining of their eight years to serve inside prison, plus any further sentence imposed by a court on breaching parole. There is no taking back the four years they spent under supervision on parole before the breach – it’s a dead loss incurred as an extra penalty beyond the originally imposed sentence.

But if you figure parole is freedom then I can tell you it’s not. There is a constant threat of being returned for no reason, limitations on movement, friendship groups, you have to attend education courses or psychiatric appointments as you are instructed. You aren’t free; you’re serving your sentence in society.

Because parole isn’t there so much for the prisoner as it is for the long term security of society. Here’s a rough recall of the words of Chief Justice Cox from the Supreme Court of Tasmania in 1996. He was talking about my incarceration at the time and was imposing a non-parole period on my twenty-one year sentence.

He said, when the Court hands down a crushing sentence of twenty years there is no expectation that the prisoner will, in fact, serve twenty years. At five years the prisoner has no family that he knows. They’re strangers. At ten years the prisoner is so damaged by the brutality of living in the prison system that they are unable to operate under any other culture – that being a culture of violence, intimidation and force.

He said, the sentence of twenty years is given so that the punishment of ten years can be administered by society for the crime at hand. The next ten years is to take that prisoner and turn them back into a person who can function in society. And that is why we have parole.

So I would point out to the members of current witch hunts around Australia that a system without parole has a far greater social cost and inherent safety danger to individuals. Men would serve ten and twenty year sentences and walk one morning from the hard yards into your shopping mall without a house that night, without money in their hands to buy a meal and without the social conscience to treat you any way other than that found inside Her Majesty’s worst institutions.

Nobody would know where that man lived or slept. Nobody could check his car boot for bodies or guns or drugs. He would not be confined to the State of his conviction. If he felt like sex, as happens in prison, he would take it under the law of the jungle and prey on the weak at his convenience.

It’s perfectly fine that people have opinions about parole but currently they’re not informed opinions.

Parole was never an invention to give prisoners a good behaviour reward – in fact, sociopaths are likely to have perfect behaviour and do every course to get out early. Parole was invented to rectify the damage of having society extract that revenge you called for the last time they offended.

Parole is also the cheaper option for society, regardless of the outliers we see in the headlines. It is cheaper to supervise on the outside and have minimal re-offending than to let everybody out from maximum security without constraint at the end. Less banks are robbed, less murders committed – because of the parole system.

So, before lighting your torch and joining that anti-parole political witch hunt, I hope this information gives you food for thought. Complex real life situations rarely offer simple answers. The way to make better prisoners at the end of incarceration is to demand better prisons from our Government aimed at making them into better people. Currently we call for revenge and punishment; not re-education and personal development.

An even bolder step would be to start employing ex-convicts and change our attitude of excluding them from the workforce. It’s the post-sentence social revenge cycle that underpins their poverty cycle and the expensive revolving door back to prison. Fifty thousand prisoners are released from custody each year in Australia with nearly thirty thousand incarcerated at any given time.

Parole is less expensive and shocking than the Nineteenth Century alternative.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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