For a variety of sentences of longer duration you are likely to be facing the prospect of a Parole Board Hearing. The Parole Board are an independent body who are charged with assessing whether someone who is serving a sentence has reduced their risk, such that their risk to the public can be managed either in the community or in less restrictive conditions.
At the start of a sentence, a sentence plan will be fixed based on assessment of the course work and interventions it is suggested the person in prison needs to undertake to reduce risk.
Particular problems arise for those who maintain their innocence who will not be able to undertake or access certain coursework to demonstrate reduction in risk, but it does not mean that Parole cannot still decide to grant release and maintenance of innocence or access to an offence focussed course is not necessarily a bar [Oyston Case]. It will generally be advisable to get an experienced Prison Solicitor to argue these sorts of issues out for you.
The Parole Process
Once you are in the Parole Window i.e., the period close to your parole decision deadline, then a Dossier of Reports will be prepared, and this will generally include reports from your Offender Supervisor and Offender Manager and possibly a Prison Psychologist.
You or your representative will also be able to make representations on your reports and then an assessment will be made by a single Parole Board Member (MCA Decision).
The decision will usually be either a paper decision or if the Board conclude that they cannot decide the matter at that stage they will either defer the assessment based on further evidence they need to receive or grant an oral hearing where they will hear direct evidence from the report writers and the Parole Applicant.
Independent Psychologist Report
Where there is psychological evidence in the case, it will often be advisable and in the interests of justice to order an independent report and provided it is justified then invariably the Legal Aid Agency will fund this if you get legal aid.
Public Funding - Legal Aid
Legal Aid is available for initial written representations and/or the oral hearing. This is subject to an assessment of means and merits, although for oral hearings if you have been granted one usually this will pass the sufficient benefits test for getting legal aid. If you cannot get legal aid reputable solicitors should offer you a competitive fixed fee price for undertaking the work.
Oral Hearings are conducted either in person or can be done remotely by video link or telephone (especially during Covid-19). Ideally your solicitor will have seen or spoken to you in detail about the evidence and how the hearing will proceed.
All parties will give evidence and the hearing is conducted in private in an informal way but with the ability of all witnesses to be cross examined.
After the hearing the Parole Board will not give you a decision until usually 10-14 days afterwards.
If you are successful, the Parole Board will direct release and work will commence on the arrangements for your release and licence.
If unsuccessful you can consider whether you can make an application for reconsideration, which is a paper review process which victims of crime can also use if they do not agree with an offenders release.
There is also the possibility of judicial review if you disagree with the decision, but you cannot challenge a decision in the Administrative Court simply because you don't like it, there has to be good reasons to show that the Parole Board acted unlawfully or irrationally.
If granted release you must abide by your licence conditions and if you breach those conditions the Probation Service can recall you, meaning you will be returned to prison. You then have 28 days to make representations and the Parole Board will then consider whether you should be re-released or whether a hearing or further work is necessary. Potentially you can be then kept until sentence expiry, although usually you will get more than one opportunity to ask for release before then.
The hearings then follow the same process as the Parole Board Hearings above.