Victorian review recommends continued human rights exemption for parole board

Former High Court Judge Ian Callinan’s Review of the Parole System in Victoria recommends that the Victorian Parole Board remain exempt from procedural fairness and human rights protections under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The review was established to investigate the effectiveness of the Victorian Parole Board following the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012 and the parole board has since accepted that it should have cancelled Adrian Bayley’s parole.

Two days after the review, the Coroners Court of Victoria released a 2011 report by Professor James Ogloff into 11 cases including nine parolee murders, which highlighted shortcomings of Victoria’s parole system.

The Callinan review recommended that the parole board be better resourced, implement better case management practices and make parole board manuals and Corrections Victoria’s instructions publicly available to increase transparency. The review rejected calls from human rights advocates for compliance with human rights and natural justice to promote better decision making. The review did recommend that the board report publicly on all serious offences committed by parolees.

‘Potentially Dangerous Parolees’ (PDPs) who have committed intentional violent offences, serious sexual offences or breaking and entering in a residential home would only be granted parole by a unanimous decision of the parole board and confirmation by a review panel that the risk of reoffending is negligible and they are highly likely to satisfy their parole conditions. Callinan recommends that Victoria Police should consulted about any PDP before they are released on parole and have access to parole files. There would be no way to appeal a decision of the review panel, providing no avenue to review an unfair or arbitrary decision in the courts.

Unless exceptional reasons exist, a person whose parole is cancelled will not have their parole reconsidered until they have served half of their parole time in prison. This would apply irrespective of whether a person’s parole is cancelled for a serious breach (eg. committing an indictable crime on parole) or a minor breach (eg. evicted into homelessness, failure to report or a positive drug test).

The review also recommends that a person should be disqualified for parole if they have not undertaken certain rehabilitation programs or if they have not ‘behaved satisfactorily’ for the second half of their time in prison. They would be disqualified even where they were unable to participate in a program due to extensive waiting lists or where it took some time for a mental health or substance abuse treatment plan to modify their behaviour.

The Victorian Government welcomed the Callinan review’s recommendations and said will move to implement many of them immediately. It said changes it has already made make Victoria’s parole system the toughest in Australia. Legal experts have said the report will be costly to implement, and if implemented, will mean fewer people will receive parole and will instead be released at the end of their sentence without any of the supervision or parole conditions designed to promote community safety.