GREAT EXPECTATIONS – PAROLE IN 2016 AND BEYOND
A little after the last time the England football team last won the World Cup, a new body called the Parole Board for England and Wales was established. It will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in around a year’s time.
The origins of the word ‘parole’ go back a lot further. In the 17th century the French term ‘parole d’honneur’ (word of honour) referred to a promise made by a prisoner of war not to escape. A Scottish Royal Navy captain, Alexander Maconochie, appears to have been responsible for the modern concept of parole. In 1840, he was appointed superintendent of the British penal colonies in Norfolk Island in Australia. He developed a plan to prepare prisoners for eventual return to society that involved progression earned through good behaviour, labour, and study and ultimately led to liberty outside of prison conditional on compliance with rules. Breach of those rules would result in a return to prison.
Two decades after Maconochie’s innovation, Great Expectations, a novel by Charles Dickens was published. One of the key characters is an escaped convict called Magwitch who is deported to Australia for life. It is not clear whether Magwitch was an early beneficiary of Maconochie’s new idea of parole but he is able to return to England and plays a pivotal role in the expectations of Pip, a poor working-class boy who tries to reinvent himself as a gentleman.
Magwitch memorably and succinctly describes his life:
"Dear boy and Pip's comrade. I am not a-going fur to tell you my life, like a song or a story-book. But to give it you short and handy, I'll put it at once into a mouthful of English. In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail. There, you got it. That's my life pretty much, down to such times as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend.”
Modern-day Magwitches are subject to the parole system which is administered by the Parole Board for England and Wales. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State for Justice appointed Nick Hardwick as the new Chair of the Parole Board. Hardwick had been an outspoken Chief Inspector of Prisons and his appointment may have come as a surprise to those who expect government ministers to shy away from appointing people who have been critical of their departments. There are high expectations of both Hardwick and the Parole Board’s new Chief Executive Officer, Martin Jones, to deliver a parole system which works better for prisoners and the public.
I have become quite preoccupied with Great Expectations over the years and, never one to miss the chance to indulge in a play on words, I have put together an event with the same title to explore the modern-day parole system. As a lawyer, I have represented prisoners seeking parole for nearly two decades and was fortunate enough to work at the Parole Board between April of 2014 and December of last year.
The role and powers of the Parole Board have expanded significantly since it was established in 1967 as a small, advisory body. It now operates with Court-like powers to direct the release of prisoners and deals with many thousands of cases each year.
Great Expectations – Parole in 2016 and Beyond is an opportunity to take stock of the current parole system and to discuss what the future might look like.
Nick Hardwick and Martin Jones have both kindly agreed to speak at the event. They will be joined by four other speakers who will consider parole from different angles and perspectives.
Lawyers Jude Bunting from Doughty Street Chambers and Simon Creighton from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors will consider how the Parole Board operates as a Court, whether it is sufficiently independent and whether it has the powers it needs. They will also look at the plight of IPP prisoners and whether any changes are needed in the law to enable the many IPP prisoners still incarcerated to progress towards their release.
Jackie Craissati and Paula Harriott will co-present Service User (Prisoner) Involvement in the Parole Board Process : Innovations and Creative Solutions.
Jackie Craissati is a Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist with extensive experience in the assessment and treatment of high risk sexual, violent and personality disordered offenders. She has developed and managed a number of related projects, often run in partnership with other statutory and third sector organisations. Paula Harriott is the Head of Involvement at Revolving Doors where she leads on service user involvement in policy and practice. She was Head of Programmes of User Voice, a national user led charity working in prisons, probation and youth offending, developing democratically elected user led Prison Councils and through the gate peer mentoring programmes. She is a former prisoner.
There will be a Q and A session after the three presentations.
Great Expectations is held in conjunction with The Association of Prison Lawyers and Doughty Street Chambers. Doughty Street Chambers have kindly agreed to host the event in their conference room at 54 Doughty Street which, incidentally, is next door to the Charles Dickens Museum. Magwitch is not expected to make an appearance.
The event will take place on the evening of Monday 18 July. Reception will be at 5pm and the event will commence at 530pm sharp. There will be a drinks reception from 730-830pm.