The Board’s first strategic planning process involved extensive consultation across the organisation, including two full-day workshops for members in August and December 2015.
This process has enabled the Board to collectively agree upon a set of meaningful objectives, to communicate those objectives within the organisation, and to set priorities. The Board now has a robust strategic framework for anticipating or recognising risks and opportunities and for making decisions about how to respond to them.
The Board’s strategic priorities for 2016–2019 are:
- continue to implement existing reforms to ensure high-quality decisions and processes
- improve external communications and public understanding
- improve how the Board gathers and analyses relevant and accurate data
- gather and analyse information about other parole systems
- inform and participate in policy discussions about parole.
The Board articulates its values as:
- community safety
Adult Parole Board Strategic Plan 2016-2019
Adult Parole Board Strategic Plan 2016-2019 (PDF) 231 KB
The Adult Parole Board has not previously undertaken any formal strategic planning process.
Over the past three years the Victorian Adult Parole system has been the subject of three major external reviews and extensive reform. While the Board was consulted to a greater or lesser degree in each of those reviews and in the course of implementing the reforms, the Board’s role has predominantly been reactive.
The reforms flowing from those reviews have largely been implemented or otherwise acquitted; however, there is still more to be done to improve community understanding of the nature and purpose of parole and the Board’s role. There is also more to be done to improve public confidence in the Board and the parole system. A large number of new members have settled into their roles. A new Chair and an ongoing Chief Administrative Officer has been appointed.
This makes it an ideal time for the Board to take stock of the changes that have been made and to adopt a more pro-active, strategic approach to the way that it operates in the future.
In order to function effectively, every organisation has to adopt and articulate meaningful objectives. The pursuit of those objectives will be affected by a range of uncertainties. Some may hinder the achievement of the objectives. Others may present unanticipated opportunities.
By developing a strategic planning process, the organisation can collectively agree upon a set of meaningful objectives, can communicate those objectives within the organisation and to people beyond the organisation, and can use those objectives and the strategic plan as a framework for anticipating or recognising risks and opportunities and for making decisions about how to respond to them.
Who we are
The Adult Parole Board is a statutory entity which operates primarily under the provisions of the Corrections Act 1986.
The Board is chaired by His Honour Peter Couzens, a retired County Court judge. Its members comprise:
- 16 judicial members. Except for the Board’s full time chair, all of the judicial members are appointed on a sessional basis. The judicial members include serving judges and magistrates, as well as retired and reserve judges and magistrates.
- 17 community members. These members also serve on a sessional basis. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds and bring a wide range of skills and experience to the Board.
- four full time members.
All of the Board’s members are appointed by the Governor in Council for fixed terms. They are independent from the government of the day and from the Department of Justice and Regulation.
The Board is supported by a secretariat of approximately 31 staff. These staff are employees of the Department of Justice and Regulation.
What we do and why
The Board’s purpose is to make decisions under the statutory framework established by the Corrections Act 1986.
The Board does this in order to promote the reintegration of prisoners back into the community in a way that reduces the risk that those prisoners will reoffend.
Through its Detention and Supervision Order Division, the Board also exercises functions and powers under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 in relation to people who have completed a term of imprisonment for a serious sexual offence, who are in the community but are subject to a supervision order imposed by a court.
The functions and powers that the Detention and Supervision Order Division exercises in relation to such people are very different to those the Board exercises in relation to parole. Essentially, the Division’s functions in relation to supervision orders are primarily to issue instructions and directions in relation to the detailed administration of the conditions imposed by the court. The Division may also enquire into alleged breaches of those conditions and, depending on the seriousness of the breach, may take steps such as to formally warn the person subject to the order or to recommend to the Secretary of the Department of Justice that they initiate proceedings for breach of the order. In some circumstances, the Division has the power to direct that the person must reside in a supervised residential facility administered by Corrections Victoria.
The Corrections Act 1986 provides that the safety and protection of the community is the paramount consideration for all of the Board’s decisions relating to parole.
Just as consistency in the imposition of sentences – or the avoidance of unjustifiable discrepancy –is one of the fundamental objectives of the criminal justice system, consistency in the administration of those sentences is also fundamental. The diversity of individual cases means that it is difficult to compare the particular outcomes in different cases to determine whether discrepancies between them are unjustifiable. As in sentencing, precise consistency of outcome may come at the cost of a failure to adequately consider individual aspects of each case. But by using guidelines and a relatively structured decision making process, it is possible to achieve a consistent approach to each case.
Members of the Board are appointed by the Governor in Council and cannot be removed prior to the end of their term of appointment, except in extremely limited circumstances. It is vital that members make decisions based on principles without improper external interference or pressure.
The Board is responsible for making grave decisions about the liberty of eligible prisoners. In the course of making its decisions, the Board has access to extremely sensitive information. It is vital that members and staff behave, and are seen to behave, with the utmost integrity.
There is an unavoidable asymmetry in how the Board’s work is perceived. The Board releases a prisoner on parole. If the prisoner would otherwise have reoffended, but with the support and supervision provided by parole, they make a successful transition back into the community and do not reoffend, the offences that were avoided are in effect invisible. However, if another prisoner does reoffend while on parole, that reoffending is easily seen. Because parole decisions are about the future behaviour of an individual, the outcome of any parole decision involves a degree of uncertainty. The Board takes steps to reduce this uncertainty by carefully examining relevant information prior to release and during parole, and by imposing appropriate conditions. The invisibility of offences avoided and the visibility of offences committed means that parole boards are rarely praised but often blamed. This requires courage and resilience on the part of Board members to make rigorous parole decisions.
The Board is comprised of members from a diverse range of backgrounds. Each decision of the Board is made by a Division of at least three members: ordinarily a judicial member, a full-time member and a community member. The collective nature of Board decisions and the diversity of views that are drawn upon for each decision are crucial aspects of the way that the Board operates.
While the diversity of the Board’s membership cannot fully reflect the diversity of people affected by the Board’s decisions, the Board is conscious of the need to be aware of the complex issues relating to particular groups, such as Koori prisoners.
Many of the prisoners with whom the Board deals have committed serious offences that have had a terrible effect on their direct and indirect victims. The sentencing process properly involves punishing the prisoner and denouncing their offending conduct. This does not mean that a prisoner or their family should be denied basic human respect in their interactions with the Board.
The Board also recognises the particular importance of dealing with victims of crime sensitively and with respect.
It is important that prisoners and others who are affected by, or who have a particular interest in, the Board’s decisions are able to have an accurate understanding of the Board’s role and how and why the Board makes its decisions. The sensitivity and confidentiality of much of the information considered by the Board constrains the extent to which the Board can disclose information in relation to particular cases. However, even with constraints, there is scope for the Board to provide some specific information to prisoners (including some of the reasons for its decisions) as well as more general information such as fact sheets and explanations of the Board’s policies on issues such as the granting and cancellation of parole and time to count.
Our partners and stakeholders
While the Board’s independence is important, the Board does not and cannot operate in isolation. The Board is a part of the criminal justice system, and seeks to operate in a way that promotes the cohesiveness of that system.
The people and organisations with a particular interest or stake in the Board’s work include:
- Victims of crime
- Corrections Victoria
- The courts
- The legal profession
- Non-government interest groups, including the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders
- The Corrections Minister
- Other State Government ministers
- The media
- Sections of the corporate sector (for example, the work done by private sector companies in relation to the employment of ex-offenders)
- The general public.
Our strategic approach
The Board’s overarching strategic objective is to maximise the public value that it produces through its activities. The phrase ‘public value’ is used here in its broad sense to cover more than just the financial efficiency of the Board’s operations: it includes how effectively the Board produces a range of outcomes that are of value to the public.
In order to do so, it is first necessary to clearly identify the Board’s purpose and the things that are of value to the community (community safety, consistency, impartiality, etc) that we seek to provide.
The Board then needs to be able to gather and examine information (both qualitative and quantitative) to gauge the extent to which we are achieving our purpose and fulfilling our values.
In doing so, we can then identify opportunities to increase public value and establish a framework for making decisions about what to do in relation to those opportunities.
We can also then identify obstacles that could inhibit our capacity to produce public value and to decide what to do about such threats.
Our strategic priorities
Continuing to implement existing reforms and to have high quality decisions and processes
Over the past three years the Victorian parole system has undergone more change than at any time in the preceding half century of its existence.
The next three years will be a period of consolidation to enable the many reforms to settle. A major priority for the Board during that period will be to ensure that the reforms are fully implemented. This includes, for example, major work to establish a new electronic case workflow system. It also includes ensuring that the Board continues to make high quality decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information, and that the staff are appropriately equipped and trained to support the Board.
Improving our external communications and public understanding
The Board is subject to few statutory requirements in relation to the provision of information to people affected by, or who have an interest in, the Board’s decisions.
Under the Corrections Act 1986, if the Board revokes or cancels a parole order, the Board is required to provide its reasons for doing so.
The Board is not required to provide reasons for any of its other decisions. In addition, section 69(2) of the Corrections Act 1986 provides that in exercising its functions the Board is not bound by the rules of natural justice. Those rules would ordinarily require a degree of transparency in decision-making: for example, by enabling a person affected by the decision to know the information and criteria upon which a decision was based.
Previously, the volume of cases considered by the Board and the limited resources of the Board meant that even in the case of revocation or cancellation of parole orders, it provided extremely limited information to prisoners.
As the Board now has greater resources and a capacity to record its reasons in more detail, it is desirable to provide more information to prisoners so that, to the extent appropriate (for example, it would not be appropriate to disclose sensitive intelligence or information that could result in harm to another person), they can understand why the Board has made its decisions.
Public confidence in parole decision-making (including decisions about matters such as the denial of parole and the granting or not granting of time to count following cancellation of parole) is also vital to the value that the Board produces. A strategic priority of the Board is to promote better and more accurate public understanding of what the Board does and why. Specific initiatives to achieve this include:
- Producing a new website for the Board
- Participation by the Board in Law Week.
Gathering and analysing data
The Board’s objective is to promote the reintegration of prisoners back into the community in a way that reduces the risk that those prisoners will reoffend.
A strategic priority of the Board is to gather and analyse relevant and accurate data to enable the Board to see the extent to which it is achieving this.
How many prisoners does the Board release on parole? What proportion of all prisoners finish their sentence on parole?
Of those who did not finish their sentence on parole, what proportion were:
- Paroled but cancelled and so finished their sentence in prison?
- Eligible for parole, but not paroled?
- Not eligible for parole?
Parole provides incentive for prisoners to undertake rehabilitative programs. How many prisoners completed programs? (It is not possible to prove that they would not have done so in the absence of the incentive provided by parole, but it is plausible and reasonable to assume that very many would not have).
How many prisoners who are released on parole reoffend while on parole?
How many prisoners who are not released on parole reoffend in the months following their release from prison?
Obtaining accurate answers to questions such as these will assist the Board in refining its policies and approach. It will also assist the Board in publicly explaining the value that it provides to the community and in increasing the community’s understanding and appreciation of the importance of parole.
Gathering and analysing information about other parole systems
Each parole system is the product of its unique history and social and political environment. Despite these differences, parole systems deal with common challenges and dilemmas and can learn much from each other.
The Victorian parole system has recently been through an extensive period of reform and is now in a period of consolidation. As such, in the short to medium term, further major reform is likely to be undesirable given the investments that have been made in training Board members and staff, changing administrative processes and so on.
Nevertheless, it is important that the Board does not become static or complacent and that the Board continues to look for opportunities to build on the reforms that have been made. In addition to monitoring data as outlined above, a strategic priority for the Board is to develop closer ties with other parole boards in Australia and New Zealand and to gain a deeper understanding of how they operate and insights into potential improvements for the Victorian parole system.
Informing and participating in policy discussions about parole
Although further major legislative and policy reform to parole is not an immediate priority, it is important to monitor how the reforms are operating and to identify if they are not operating effectively, or if they are creating negative unanticipated consequences.
A strategic priority is for the Board to ensure that it is able to participate appropriately in policy discussions regarding parole and to ensure that such discussions are based on accurate information.
Detention and Supervision Orders
The functions of the Board’s Detention and Supervision Order Division under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 were independently reviewed in 2015 by a committee chaired by retired Supreme Court Judge, the Hon. David Harper.
The Committee’s report has been provided to government and is currently under consideration. The contents of the report and its recommendations have not been provided to the Board.
Depending on the contents of that report, a strategic priority of the Board is likely to be the implementation of any relevant recommendations of that report and any legislative changes flowing from it.