6.5 Conditional release

(Conditional release and post-prison community-based release (PPCBR))


6.5.1 Conditional release

Presently, certain prisoners who have been imprisoned for two years or less are eligible to be conditionally released after they have served two thirds of their term. The two factors that must be satisfied before a conditional release order is granted are that the prisoner's release does not pose an unacceptable risk to the community and the prisoner has been of good conduct and industry. The CSA sets out a number of criteria to determine a prisoner's risk to the community, and whether a prisoner has been of good conduct or industry. [106]

Women prisoners on average serve less time in custodial centres than their male counterparts. The vast majority of female prisoners are serving sentences of less than two years. Because of the limited space available in low security facilities, many women, including those serving short sentences for less serious offences, remain in secure custody until their release.

It has been suggested that Indigenous female prisoners are less likely to be granted conditional release than non–Indigenous female prisoners. DCS figures for June 2005 confirm this to be the case. The ADCQ requested figures from the DCS for a period of three years. Of the 282 non–Indigenous prisoners, who were eligible for conditional release during this period because they had served two thirds of their sentence, 80 women (28.37%) were not granted release. Of the 178 Indigenous women who had served two thirds of their sentence during this period, 69 women (38.76%) were not granted release.[107] No reasons have been given to the ADCQ by the DCS to explain the significant variance in the percentage of Indigenous and non–Indigenous women granted conditional release. In the absence of credible explanations for this variance, this must raise concern that Indigenous women may be experiencing indirect or systemic discrimination in the way their sentences are managed.

In December 2005 the DCS advised the ADCQ that new legislation proposed to be enacted in 2006:

'will establish parole as the only form of early release from custody. Release mechanisms such as remission, conditional release and community–based release orders will no longer be available to prisoners. Release to work and home detention will be replaced by parole with conditions, for example conditions relating to employment, program attendance and place of residence.'

Further, the DCS states:

'a significant change to present prisoner release procedures is that a prisoner serving imprisonment of three years or less who is not a serious violent offender or sex offender, will be released at parole at a time fixed by the sentencing court (court ordered parole). The prisoner will be required to spend the balance of her or his sentence under supervision in the community.'

The DCS states this change:

'will benefit many women prisoners because the majority are sentenced to three years or less and very few are serving sentences for sex offences or have been declared serious violent offenders. The majority of women prisoners will therefore have a fixed release date before the end of their period of imprisonment.'

The DCS:

'believes this will also ensure equity of access to supervised release for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have historically had low participation rates in supervised release.' [108]

While this proposed change to the law will benefit Indigenous women serving sentences of less than three years, it will not impact on Indigenous women serving longer sentences. The terms of eligibility for parole for women serving sentences of more than three years need to be closely scrutinised and analysed to ensure that those terms are not the basis of indirect discrimination against Indigenous women.

Note: One of the key supporting outcomes of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement Action Plan 2000–2001 is the effective rehabilitation and reintegration into the community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) offenders. The rate at which ATSI offenders are participating in release–to–work, home detention and parole is a key performance measure.

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6.5.2 Post–prison community-based release (release–to-work, home detention, parole)

The Queensland Community Corrections Board (QCCB) and the regional Community Corrections Boards are authorised under the CSA to make PPCBR orders. These independent statutory bodies report to the Minister of Police and Corrective Services, not to DCS.

A PPCBR order granted by a corrections board means that an eligible prisoner is released into the community under approved conditions. Prisoners become eligible to be considered for PPCBR after serving a certain period of their term of imprisonment.[109]

The boards have discretion to grant PPCBR orders to determine the most appropriate form for the prisoner's release, that is, whether it should be a fully or partially staged process of release–to–work, or home detention before final release on parole.

The Minister for Corrective Services may make guidelines about the policy to be followed by the QCCB. The QCCB, in consultation with the Chief Executive of the DCS, may issue guidelines to community corrections boards. The Minister's guidelines state that ordinarily, a prisoner should achieve a low or open security classification prior to approval for PPCBR release. [110] Further, it is recommended that prisoners serving eight years or more should spend at least nine months in an open custody environment.

Prisoners' classifications, and in some situations, the appropriateness of the facility in which they are held are primary issues for community corrections boards to consider before approving PPCBRs. As identified earlier in this report, problems that stem from the integrity and reliability of a prisoner's classification, which is based on the system's measurement of that prisoner's risk levels, will impact on all future decisions that are fully or partially based on it.[111] If women are being over–classified as a result of ill–researched or unsubstantiated risk weightings, their eligibility for PPCBR may be adversely affected.

It is therefore imperative that any classification instrument be demonstrated to be a reliable and accurate indicator of risk, based on the specific characteristics of female prisoners.

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6.5.3 Indigenous women and post–prison community–based release orders

It has been suggested that Indigenous women are granted PPCBR orders at a slower rate than non–Indigenous women. DCS figures for June 2005 confirm this is the case. The ADCQ requested that the DCS provide figures for a three year period. Of the 105 non–Indigenous women seeking PPCBR during this time, 54 women (51.43%) were unsuccessful. Of the 13 Indigenous women seeking PPCBR in the same period, eight women (61.54%) were refused PPCBR. The DCS has failed to explain this significant variance between Indigenous and non–Indigenous women. In the absence of credible explanations, the variance in granting PPCBR may indicate indirect or systemic discrimination against Indigenous women.

The advocacy group Sisters Inside Inc has stated that Indigenous women have unique problems in seeking and being granted PPCBR. It has been asserted that they often cannot return to their homes for a variety of reasons including the nature of the offence or complex relationships among victims and offenders in small isolated communities. These communities are often unwilling to accept offenders back after their release from prison. As a consequence, Indigenous women have greater difficulty in developing viable release plans that can be favourably considered by community corrections boards. The DCS has been criticised for not developing plans or proposals to allow the conditional supported release of Indigenous women into their communities.

The DCS states that it attempts to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners maintain community contacts during their imprisonment. This is done by developing and sustaining links through community justice groups and other community organisations. While this is commendable and should be continued, specific efforts or programs must be developed for Indigenous women to give them an opportunity for conditional supported release. While this release may not be to their community of origin, it should be an environment that can viably support an Indigenous woman in the reintegration phase of her sentence. Indigenous women should not be denied opportunities for PPCBR because of a lack of opportunities for early release into their community of origin.

It is recommended that future justice strategy reviews associated with the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement independently review any such programs, to assess their success at rehabilitating and reintegrating Indigenous women exiting prisons.

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6.5.4 Women with intellectual or mental health disabilities and conditional release and PPCBR

It has been suggested by Sisters Inside Inc that women with mental health disabilities are less likely to obtain conditional or PPCBR because they generally have a higher security classification. The ADCQ has not been able to gather any statistical evidence that can verify this claim. The DCS has advised the ADCQ that it does not collect statistics on intellectual and mental health disabilities, although it addresses each case on an individual basis on reception. As discussed previously in this report, the same issues regarding the reliability and integrity of the classification system apply to women with mental health or intellectual disabilities.[112]

It is of concern to the ADCQ that the DCS does not gather statistics on women with intellectual or mental health disabilities in any systematic manner. Any failure to identify and evaluate systemic issues may be impacting on this significant group of prisoners. It appears highly unlikely that prison authorities and officers are making sure that reasonable adjustments and accommodations are routinely being put into place to assist these prisoners in managing the daily routines of prison. Failure to take such steps may indicate indirect discrimination on the basis of impairment.

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6.5.5 Consultation with women in prison — conditional release and PPCBR

  • Women long–termers have to spend too long at BWCC or at Numinbah — it's very difficult to reintegrate into the community, they get no leave of absence (LOA).

  • Warwick women spend their time at the weekend at Albion, they get no LOA.

  • Numinbah has no reintegration programs.

  • Work release women can't get these packages (Numinbah inmate)

  • Women who can't get access to programs are not eligible to move to the next stage.

  • It's a catch 22, you can't do programs because they are too full, then you can't get parole.

  • There needs to be more places for parolees — men have more access and places to go.

  • Women need advance warning of when they are getting out, women are sometimes told the morning they are going, which is not enough time to organise what is going to happen when they get out.

  • If you have no family or friends, you are put out of prison with a plastic bag of possessions — out the front gate!

  • LOA has been rolled back over the years — the men's muck–ups impact upon the women.

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Recommendations : Conditional release

Recommendation No. 14

That the Department of Corrective Services provides statistical information annually on women who are released at the earliest possible release date (either as conditional release or post–prison community–based release), and the number and percentage of such women who are Indigenous offenders be reported.

Recommendation No. 15

That the Department of Corrective Services takes steps to address potential systemic discrimination issues within the control of the prison authorities, such as valid classification assessments; access to culturally appropriate programs; and development of viable release plans, which may prevent Indigenous women being granted conditional release and post– prison community–based release at the same rate as non–Indigenous women.

Recommendation No. 16

That the Department of Corrective Services evaluates the progress of women with mental health and intellectual disabilities through each stage of the prison regime to identify and take steps to address issues of potential indirect and systemic discrimination.

Recommendation No. 17

That the Department of Corrective Services develops specific programs for Indigenous women to provide opportunities and support for community release.

Recommendation No. 18

That the independent justice strategy reviews associated with the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement be provided with relevant statistics to examine the development, implementation and evaluation of the success of conditional release programs for Indigenous women.

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Endnotes

106. CSA ss 76–78.

107. Figure provided to the ADCQ by DCS on 9 August 2005.

108. DCS Submission to Women in Prison Review (14 December 2005).

109. CSA s 135.

110. Tony Grady Ministerial Guidelines to the Queensland Community Corrections Board (November 2002) para 2.3

111. See 6.1.2 and 6.1.6 of this report.

112. Ibid.

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