BBC Factual series Parole takes audiences deep into the heart of the Criminal Justice System
The five-part series, goes inside the high stakes world of parole hearings, where prisoners’ and victims’ and/or their families’ futures hang in the balance
PHOTO: Noreen Shami ,Lucy Gampell And Robert Mckeon, Members Of The Parole Board
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Filmed over a year with Parole Boards from across England & Wales, and with unique access to their members, prisoners and some of the victims/their families, this series tackles the fundamental questions underlying the British justice system, around crime, punishment, reform, rehabilitation, repentance, and morality, and ultimately puts the viewer at the centre of the debate. What would you decide?.
Every year in England and Wales, around 16,000 of the potentially most dangerous criminals are considered for parole before the end of their sentence. 4,000 of them are released onto our streets and into our communities. Charged with deciding who gets released from prison and who stays locked up are the 346 members of the Parole Board.
In an independent court like process, hearings are held in front of a panel of one, two or three members, depending on the kind of case. These panels are made up mainly of judges, police and probation, psychologists, psychiatrists and can also include independent members with no previous experience of the Criminal Justice System. Witnesses who know the prisoner including probation and prison staff give oral evidence to help the Parole Board decide if the prisoner has met the legal ‘test for release’.
No stone is left unturned in the search for clues about whether a prisoner has really changed, as they, more often than not, say they have. Dossiers, containing the prisoners’ life stories, sometimes running to a thousand pages of evidence, help the panel to make their decision. Difficult childhood upbringings, chaotic lifestyles, past offences, and rehabilitative prison courses can all be discussed and considered. As part of the hearing an impact statement from the victim or their loved one, who is often desperate for the prisoner not to be released, can be presented.
Oral hearings can go on for hours, and, in some cases, days. Different evidence can sway panels from one decision to another. But in each case, after an intense period of questioning both the prisoner and the witnesses, the Parole Board must make a crucial decision - whether it is necessary, for the protection of the public, to keep a prisoner locked up. Get it wrong, release a criminal who then reoffends, and the consequences could be fatal.
After the hearing, the Parole Board have 14 days to consider the evidence and make their decision. When panels can’t decide, they may need further evidence to help them. But with decision day, can come a life changing moment. “Release” and the prisoner will walk out the prison door, “no release” and it could be another two years before they have another parole hearing.
Waiting in the wings are those that parole can affect the most - the prisoners’ families, who desperately want them home - and the victims or their loved ones, who often want them kept in.
The series airs on Monday 20 February, 9pm on BBC Two and iPlayer.
Source BBC TWO
February 14, 2023 1:06pm ET by BBC TWO