Parole is the conditional release of an offender from custody to serve the rest of their sentence of imprisonment under supervision in the community. Parole is a crucial aspect of the criminal justice system, intended to provide a pathway for offenders to reintegrate into society.
If a court imposed a sentence of imprisonment with a non-parole period, the non-parole period is the minimum time that the offender must serve in prison before they may be eligible for release on parole.
The law on parole in Victoria is found in the Corrections Act 1986 and the Sentencing Act 1991. This article looks at parole in Victoria.
Have you been charged with the offence of breaching parole?
See ‘78A Offence to breach a term or condition of parole‘ for more information about this charge, or read on for more on parole.
Principles of Parole
In Victoria, the purpose of parole is to promote public safety by supervising and supporting the transition of offenders from prison back into the community in a way that seeks to minimise the risk of reoffending while on parole and after completion of the sentence.
The Adult Parole Board
The Adult Parole Board is a Victorian independent statutory authority established under the Corrections Act 1986 with functions conferred on it by other legislation, including the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and the Sentencing Act 1991.
The Adult Parole Board decides whether a prisoner:
- should be released on parole immediately after the non-parole period has expired, or at a later time in the offender’s sentence;
- should serve the whole of their sentence in prison and be released without parole supervision or support;
- should have thier parole cancelled or deferred.
A prisoner (parolee) serves parole on conditions fixed by the Board Board and under the supervision of a parole officer. The prisoner must undertake to comply with the conditions of their parole for the duration of the order.
While on parole, the parolee is still serving their sentence of imprisonment. At any time during the parole order, the Board can cancel the order and require an offender to serve the whole parole period in prison.
The Parole Board has jurisdiction over:
- Prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment with a non-parole period for a Victorian offence (including prisoners who are serving a sentence for both federal and Victorian offences). The Board does not have jurisdiction over prisoners in Victorian prisons who are serving a sentence for a federal offence only.
- Prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment with a non-parole period imposed by a court in another state or territory who are transferred to a Victorian prison.
- Prisoners who have been released on parole in another Australian state or territory and whose parole is transferred to Victoria.
Application for Parole
The expiry of the non-parole period marks the time from which a prisoner becomes eligible for release on parole. The Parole Board will only consider the release of a prisoner on parole upon application to the Board.
As observed by Mason CJ and McHugh J in Bugmy at :
Release on parole is a concession made when the Parole Board decides that the benefits accruing by way of rehabilitation and the recognition of mitigating factors outweigh the danger to the community of relaxing the requirement of imprisonment.
The transition from custody to freedom within the community is regarded as the most challenging period and when the risk of reoffending is highest. However, denying parole does not eliminate this risk, but postpones the risk until the prisoner has served the full term of their sentence. A supervised and supported transition on parole is generally considered to mitigate the risk to the community during this transition.
Typically the Parole Board will only deny parole in cases where the benefit to the prisoner is merely speculative and the risk of reoffending is unacceptably high and not susceptible to mitigation by parole conditions.
When deciding whether to grant parole, the Board considers an array of information from a range of sources. This may include detailed reports from Community Correctional Services, clinical assessments, treatment reports, correspondence from the prisoner and their family or supporters, correspondence or submissions from victims or their families, sentencing remarks and other court documents, and the prisoner’s criminal history.
In determining whether to grant parole, the Parole Board considers information from a range of entities, including Corrections Victoria, Victoria Police, victims of crime and the offender.
In accordance with the Corrections Act 1986 s 73A, the Board must treat the safety and protection of the community as its paramount consideration.
Other considerations the Parole Board takes into account include, but are not limited to:
- any formal risk assessment conducted for the prisoner
- the prisoner’s criminal history
- a prisoner’s performance during any previous paroles or any supervised sentencing orders served in the community
- the prisoner’s behaviour in prison
- the prisoner’s ability to address factors underlying offending behaviour
- any submissions from victims of the prisoner
- the sentence imposed by the court, and any comments made the court about parole and rehabilitation
- any psychiatric or psychological reports available to the court when it imposed the sentence
- any victim impact statements provided to the sentencing court
- the nature and circumstances of the offending conduct for which the prisoner was sentenced
- whether the prisoner has undertaken treatment or programs and, if so, any formal performance reports
- any psychiatric or psychological reports requested by the Board
- the offender’s accommodation arrangements
- for serious offenders, the Board considers a detailed home assessment report about the suitability of proposed accommodation and intelligence held by Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police.
While in many cases, there is an accepted degree of uncertainty about the risks versus benefits of granting parole, the Parole Board manages the risks of reoffending through the imposition of conditions and supervision for the duration of parole as well as the approach to cancellation of parole (the Board has broad powers to cancel parole and have a parolee returned to custody, even with limited information).
The Board is required to impose core parole conditions on every parole order. Depending on a prisoner’s individual circumstances, the Board may also impose discretionary conditions. If a prisoner breaches a condition, the parole order may be cancelled, and they may be returned to custody. Breach of a condition may also result in charges for ‘Offence to breach a term or condition of parole‘.
The following are the mandatory terms and conditions of a parole order:
- the prisoner must not break any law;
- the prisoner must report to the community corrections centre specified in the parole order within 2 clear working days after the parole order comes into force;
- the prisoner must notify a community corrections officer of any change of address at least 2 clear working days before the change of address;
- the prisoner must notify a community corrections officer of any change of employment within 2 clear working days of the change of employment;
- the prisoner is under supervision of a community corrections officer;
- the prisoner must report to a community corrections officer when directed by the community corrections officer;
- the prisoner must be available for interview by a community corrections officer, the Regional Manager or the Board at the time and place as directed by a community corrections officer, the Regional Manager or the Board;
- the prisoner must attend in person at a community corrections centre as directed in writing by a community corrections officer;
- the prisoner must not leave Victoria except with the written permission of the Regional Manager or the Board;
- the prisoner must comply with any direction given by a community corrections officer, the Regional Manager or the Board that is necessary to ensure that the prisoner complies with the parole order (Corrections Act 1986 s 74(4)(a) and Corrections Regulations 2019 regulation 112).
The Board also has the discretion to impose any one or more of the special conditions, including in relation to:
- drug testing
- alcohol abstinence
- geographical restrictions prohibiting entry into specified areas
- victim contact restrictions
- residential restrictions
- rehabilitation program participation
- community work
- electronic monitoring in relation to both geographical and alcohol consumption (Corrections Regulations 2019 regulation 114).
Under the Corrections Act 1986 s 74(4) and (5). the Board has a general power to impose conditions not specified and to add or vary conditions after they have been imposed.
Under s 74(2) of the Corrections Act 1986, the Board also has broad discretion to revoke parole before the prisoner is released under the order. This may occur if the Parole Board receives information that the prisoner has produced a positive drug test in prison, for example.
Breach and cancellation of parole
While prisoners are on parole, they are supervised by a parole officer assigned to them by Community Correctional Services. If the parole officer is concerned about an increase in the risk to the community by the prisoner, the concerns will be reported to the Board.
In most cases, such concerns arise from or are related to breaches of parole conditions. A breach of parole conditions may arise if, for example, a prisoner uses illicit drugs and has positive drug tests or stops attending drug tests.
The Parole Board may respond to concerns about compliance and risk by:
- Extending or re-instating the intensive parole period (i.e. increased frequency
of supervision by parole officers);
- Varying the parole conditions;
- Issuing a warning to the prisoner
- Cancelling the parole order and issuing a warrant for police to arrest and return the prisoner to prison.
Breaching a parole condition
Breaching a parole condition is a summary offence (punishable by up to 3 months) under section 78A of the Corrections Act 1986. A prisoner who breaches a prescribed term or condition of a parole order without reasonable excuse may be charged with this offence.
The Parole Board will assess whether to cancel parole if charges are laid. Serious violent offenders and sex offenders who are charged with any offence are likely to have their parole cancelled. Breaches of parole conditions can vary in seriousness, from missing a supervision appointment to committing a serious crime. Not every breach of condition will result in the Parole Board cancelling parole.
The Board will cancel parole if it decides that the risk to the safety and protection of the community outweighs the benefit of the prisoner being on parole in the community. Even if the police are still investigating an incident and charges have not been laid, if the Board considers the risk too high, it may cancel the parole order pending the outcome of the investigation. If the Board cancels parole, it will issue a warrant authorising the police to arrest the parolee and return them to prison.
The Board may also cancel parole due to concern about an increased risk to the community, even though the prisoner appears to have been complying with their parole conditions. For example, this situation may arise in circumstances where a prisoner on parole for a serious violent offence and a history of violent offending is present at a violent incident.
The Youth Parole Board
The Youth Parole Board is a separate entity established under the Children Youth and Families Act 2005. This Board is responsible for making decisions about the parole for young people who are sentenced to detention in a youth residential centre or a youth justice centre. The Youth Parole Board has the power to transfer a young offender from a youth justice centre to prison. If a young offender is transferred to prison, decisions regarding their parole are made by the Adult Parole Board. Conversely, the Adult Parole Board also has the power to transfer a prisoner under the age of 21 from prison to a youth justice centre, in which case any subsequent decisions regarding their parole are made by the Youth Parole Board.