I see from this article in The Times and lifted from the Napo forum, that Chris Grayling and the MoJ have come up with yet another cracking wheeze. Due to a number of factors, Magistrates haven't got enough work, but the Parole Board is snowed under. The answer to this problem? Why simple, get the former to do some of the work of the latter.
It seems that the Minister is getting a bit hacked-off with lots of prisoners just walking out of Open Prison, and he thinks the MoJ would be better at making the decisions on the re-categorisation of long term prisoners instead of the Parole Board. He also intends to hand matters of recall over to Magistrates to give them more to do. Another disaster in the making me thinks.
The power to recommend that murderers and other life sentence prisoners should be moved to open prisons could be stripped from the Parole Board under plans being considered by the government
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, is also looking at ending the board’s involvement in reviewing decisions to recall thousands of prisoners to jail after they have broken the terms of their release. He wants magistrates to take on the job, which could involve them reviewing 17,000 cases a year.
The shake-up comes after high profile incidents in which murderers and violent offenders have gone missing from open prisons where they had been moved to prepare for their release.
Ministry of Justice sources insisted that the plans were not linked with escapes from open prisons but are the result of the increasing workload of the Parole Board. A Supreme Court ruling last October will require the board to hold more oral hearings including in “recall cases” that were previously dealt with on paper.
Others suspect that Mr Grayling has seized the opportunity of the need to tackle the board’s workload problems as a way of giving the Ministry of Justice the power to block transfers to open conditions.
Harry Fletcher, a criminal justice expert, said: “Magistrates do not have experience of risk-assessing longer term prisoners who include sex offenders, robbers and violent individuals.” He added: “The Parole Board is best placed to decide whether a prisoner should transfer to open conditions.”
Mr Grayling has ordered a review of release on temporary licence after a series of escapes from open prisons.
Last month Michael Wheatley, the “Skull Cracker” robber who was serving 13 life sentences for a string of raids on banks and building societies, absconded from Standford Hill prison on the Isle of Sheppey. While on the run he stole £18,000 during a robbery at Chelsea Building Society branch in southwest London.
After he was caught he was given another life sentence with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of ten years after admitting robbery and being unlawfully at large.
Under Mr Grayling’s plans, the recommendation to transfer hundreds of life-sentence prisoners, including those convicted of murder and rape, to open prisons would be made by the public protection unit in the Ministry of Justice rather than by the Parole Board.
Officials would make their recommendation after studying reports from prison and probation officers on how inmates behaved while in prison and whether they are a risk to the public.
The review of decisions to recall to jail thousands of prisoners released on licence would move to magistrates up and down the country. It would lift the burden from the Parole Board while at the same time provide extra work for magistrates, who are facing a declining number of cases going to courts because of the fall in crime.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are working with the Parole Board to address the impact of a recent Supreme Court judgement. The board is introducing a number of changes to improve [its] capacity in response to the judgement. We are also considering whether there may be further options to help to ensure the board can continue to deliver an effective service. No decisions have been made yet.”