28 February 2017
National Audit Office investigation into the Parole Board backlog
The National Audit Office (NAO) today published a report acknowledging the challenges faced by the Board and the progress being made.
The Chair of the Parole Board, Professor Nick Hardwick, has welcomed the publication of the National Audit Office’s findings following its investigation into the work of the Parole Board.
He said: “I am pleased the NAO has recognised the huge challenges the Parole Board faced as it dealt with more cases and more oral hearings with fewer Parole Board members. As a result, the backlog of outstanding cases grew, with unacceptable delays for victims and prisoners. Given the scale of the challenge it has taken time to put things right.
I am pleased the NAO recognises the progress we have made. We have a new strategy, have recruited over a 100 new members and our backlogs are down by over a third. There is more to do and the NAO report helpfully highlights a number of areas for us to focus on. I am confident we will continue to make progress whilst making sure that in each of the approximately 7,000 cases we decide every year we protect the public whilst treating prisoners fairly.”
Martin Jones, Chief Executive said:
“I welcome this report, as a timely examination of the challenges facing the parole system. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of cases needing to be heard by the Parole Board and this has led to excessive, often unacceptable delays. We are now making steady progress in reducing those delays and are committed to ensuring that we deal with all cases fairly and in a timely fashion, whilst ensuring the protection of the public; but there remains more to do.
The appointment of new members, who are now starting to sit on hearings, will enable us to sustain our good progress in bringing the backlog down. Also, our digital project which aims to have paperless hearings by October, is helping to make the Parole Board run more efficiently. The majority of our members have transitioned from paper to digital working, saving the Board time and money. The backlog at present is 2,030 cases, down over a third from its high point of 3,163 cases in 2015, and we are on track to eradicate the delays by the end of the year.”
Notes to Editors
A full copy of the National Audit Office’s investigation report (HC 19/2016-17) is available on the NAO website at www.nao.org.uk
The Parole Board Strategy 2016-2020 is available on the Parole Board web pages at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/parole-board
The Parole Board is an independent body that works with its criminal justice partners to protect the public by risk assessing prisoners to decide whether they can safely be released into the community. The Board has responsibility for considering life sentence prisoners (mandatory life, discretionary life and automatic life sentence prisoners and Her Majesty’s Pleasure detainees; and prisoners given indeterminate sentences for public protection); and determinate sentence cases (discretionary conditional release prisoners serving more than 4 years whose offence was committed before 4 April 2005; prisoners given extended sentences for public protection for offences committed on or after 4 April 2005; and prisoners given an Extended Determinate Sentence or Sentence of Particular Concern after 3 December 2012). The Board considers initial release into the community and re-release following a recall to prison.
The National Audit Office has today published the findings from its investigation into the Parole Board (The Board).
The Board is responsible for deciding whether prisoners can be safely released from prison and advising on movement between closed and open prisons across England and Wales. The NAO examined the Board in 2008 and made a number of recommendations to improve efficiency, in particular to address a backlog of outstanding cases. A Supreme Court ruling in 2013 (The Osborn ruling) broadened the circumstances in which the law requires the Board to hold an oral hearing. This led to an increase demand for oral hearings by the Board. The number of outstanding parole cases increased sharply, leading to increased delays and additional costs.
The key findings of the investigation are as follows:
The Osborn ruling in October 2013 had an immediate impact on the demand for oral hearings conducted by the Board. There were 6,872 oral hearings conducted by the Board in 2014-15, an increase of 48% in comparison to 4,628 in 2012-13. Hearings increased to a high of 7,148 in 2015-16.
The number of outstanding cases increased by more than 140% following the Osborn ruling. The Board had a backlog of cases for several years, but the number of outstanding cases increased by 143% from October 2013 to a peak of 3,163 in January 2015. Of the 2,117 oral cases outstanding in September 2016, 13% were more than a year past their target date for a hearing. A further 16% were more than six months past their target date.
The Board’s ability to reduce the number of outstanding cases is limited by the number of cases it is able to list in any month. For example, the Board listed 701 cases for oral hearings in September 2016, while the queue of cases waiting for a hearing date was 1,257. Once listed, 34% oral hearings were deferred, and more than half of these (21%) were deferred or adjourned on the day of the hearing.
The increase in demand for oral hearings has meant that older and more complex cases have been less likely to be heard. In 2015-16, 64% of cases were provided with an oral hearing date within 90 days of being ready to list, against a 90% target. The oldest of the outstanding cases in September 2016 had an original target date in 2009, with another 404 cases having target dates in 2015 or earlier.
At December 2016, 3,081 prisoners on indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPPs) were in prison beyond their tariff expiry date. IPP prisoners make up around half of the cases waiting more than 90 days for a hearing. Of the 3,683 IPP prisoners still in custody in December 2016, 84% (3,081) were beyond their tariff expiry date. Of these, 48% had been in prison five or more years beyond their tariff and 11% were eight years or more beyond their tariff. In July 2016, the Board announced its intention to reduce the number of IPP prisoners in prison to 1,500 by 2020.
The Board has paid £1.1 million in compensation claims to prisoners since 2011-12 as a result of delayed hearings, with £554,000 paid out in 2015-16. The backlog means some prisoners may have spent longer in prison than needed. Spending on member fees increased by 43% from £4.7 million in 2010-11 to £6.7 million in 2015-16.
In October 2015, the Board set a target to reduce outstanding cases to 1,200 by April 2017, but this level of outstanding cases does not reflect efficiencies it has made since 2013. In June 2016, the Board moved the date to achieve this target to the end of 2017, and has so far not set out what it expects the level of outstanding cases to be after this.
Under its new chair and chief executive, the Board launched a strategy to tackle the backlog in September 2016. The strategy includes aims to prioritise the safe release of IPP prisoners and to improve workflow by listing as many cases as possible and reducing unnecessary deferrals and adjournments.
In 2016, the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Board, launched a major member recruitment exercise for the first time in four years. The Ministry did not recruit new members between 2012 and 2016, and member numbers fell 23% between 2010-11 (284) and 2015-16 (218). In 2016 it recruited 104 members, around half starting in 2016-17 and the remainder in 2017-18.
The Full Report
Parole Board Quarterly Performance Report
The Parole Board is committed to keeping stakeholders informed of our work and progress towards achieving our objectives. As part of this openness we will publish our quarterly performance report which is produced for the Board’s Management Committee. This report represents a summary of Parole Board operational performance in all its key areas of external delivery and internal management. It provides a snapshot of that period which is used to advise and guide on performance and executive decision making.
The data in this pack shows the large volume of business being processed by the Board, and how that business feeds into hearing demand and outcomes. The number of cases outstanding is now falling on a consistent trajectory and it is hoped the Board will make further significant progress during the rest of the year as we aim to increase the number of hearings held to 750-800 a month.
Based on the year so far, the Board can be confident that by the end of this year we will yet again have completed more oral hearings than ever before and, as the backlog clears, will safely release more people. The deferral rate of hearings remains a concern despite falling over the last few years, as it remains at a high level. We are considering what further steps can be taken to tackle these problems by sharing the reasons for deferrals with the Public Protection Casework team within NOMS (National Offender Management Service) and the National Probation Service.
The below information is intended to aid understanding of the attached performance report, which covers quarter two of 2016/2017 (July - September):
- Paper Hearings - MCA assessments This graph shows the outcomes from all paper based hearings on a 12 month rolling basis. All cases, irrespective of sentence type or review category are assessed on the papers in the first instance through the Member Case Assessment (MCA) process.
There are a number of outcomes possible at the MCA stage, depending on the sentence type: no release, direct to oral hearing, release, defer.
- Listing Queue for oral hearings This graph shows the queue of cases deemed ready to be considered at oral hearing and currently waiting to be allocated a confirmed date. The graph additionally records those cases that have been waiting more than 90 days for a confirmed oral hearing date, including a figure specifically for IPP cases. This highlights the capacity constraints across the system to list all those cases that are ready to be heard.
- Oral Hearings Outcomes and Release Rate This graph shows the outcomes from all oral hearings on a 12 month rolling basis. In addition it shows the conduction rate (cases that do actually progress to on the day against the original number of cases listed) and completion rate, i.e. those cases that are concluded on the day. The release rate is also captured in the smaller chart.
- Deferrals These graphs show the number of cases which are deferred on the day for each month in a 12 month rolling period and also by quarter since 2013. Identifying and mitigating against deferrals is a key aim to contribute to reducing the backlog.
- Generic Parole Process - Cases Outstanding This graph shows the volume of Generic Parole Process cases that are outstanding in a 12 month rolling period (it does not include recall cases) Case outstanding is defined as all cases referred to the Parole Board for a GPP review, where the original target date to conclude the review has now passed but the review is still ongoing, and as such overdue. A case may be outstanding for a variety of reasons including complexity of the case, case readiness, justified and reasonable deferral or because of an inability of the Board to list the case.
This is a key metric for the Parole Board and reducing this number down to pre-Osborn figures of around 1200 by the end of 2017 is a core focus of our strategy.
Questions relating to this report please contact our Performance Team on email@example.com https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/592714/PBM_04-17_Quarterly_Performance_Report.pdf
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Petition Elizabeth Truss to use her powers of executive clemency in the cases of 500 IPP https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/173105
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