Tread lightly with review of parole system

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

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Dear Editor,

While the ongoing review of the parole system, announced by the National Security Council (NSC), is a welcome one, the catalyst which triggered the need for the review should not dictate the direction of the review process.

The concern of the security forces is that parole is being granted to “offenders whose release has been assessed as being contrary to the public interest, given the magnitude of their criminal antecedents”.

It is indeed reasonable to be concerned when someone who has committed a heinous crime is released back into the society. If, however, the person has met the conditions of parole and has engaged in the rehabilitation and restorative justice processes concomitant with release, then we should give them the benefit of the doubt and allow the parole process to take its course.

There is a sense, given the circumstances which triggered it, that the impetus for the review of current parole provisions will see more stringent conditions being imposed for parole to be granted. This should not be the raison d'etre of the review.

Jamaica has operated a very successful parole system which was held up as a model of best practice at the 12th conference of the Association of Caribbean Heads of Corrections and Prison Services (ACHCPS) held in June of this year, and as such any review should be seeking to build on the gains of that success.

A move to make the system more stringent because of fears about the release of a single inmate would disadvantage numerous other inmates waiting to be paroled and would also violate the principles of natural justice.

Every parole case is unique and has to be judged on its own merits. Using a single case to judge all the others would rob us of the opportunity to fast-track the reintegration of offenders into the society and make our correctional facilities more humane through the reduction of the level of overcrowding in these institutions.

Who is to say that another person's parole will not prove to be effective in reintegrating him/her into the society and steering him/her away from a life of crime? If the police and the NSC are concerned about the conditions of one parolee then they can look at this specific case and seek a review of same with the parole board. To seek, however, to board brush all parole cases with the concerns of one is unhelpful and will undermine the gains made by the parole system is advancing the rehabilitation of inmates.

There are many successful parolees who are now agents of change in their communities, and who serve as role models who counsel young people and steer them away from crime.

The officials at the Ministry of National Security tasked with undertaking the review should be careful not to engage in a knee-jerk reaction to the concerns raised by the police. To ensure the transparency of the review, the NSC should publicly release the terms of reference and directives which will guide the process.

It is important to remind ourselves that a parolee is still serving a sentence and is only spending the last portion of the sentence in the open society. This aspect of the criminal justice system is a critical one as it enables inmates to be released back into their communities so that they can be readjusted to community life with the guidance of a probation officer. Having served time, a parolee has fulfilled the punishment required by law and is being facilitated to re-enter society. Improving this process, not hampering it, should be the aim of the parole review.

Carla Gullotta

Executive director

Stand Up for Jamaica

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