Major overhaul for parole system to keep Queenslanders safe

Published Thursday, 16 February, 2017 at 09:00 AM


Premier and Minister for the Arts
The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills
The Honourable Yvette D'Ath

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services and Minister for Corrective Services
The Honourable Mark Ryan

The Palaszczuk Government will implement the most comprehensive overhaul of Queensland’s parole system in a century to make the community safer with tougher and stricter supervision of parolees and improved rehabilitation of offenders.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said to implement the reforms, the Government will introduce legislation into State Parliament today and it has committed $265 million over six years and an additional 329 full-time equivalent staff to Queensland Corrective Services and another 18 FTE for Queensland Health for rehabilitation, drug, alcohol and mental health services.

“The legislation and the additional resources are all geared towards reducing the risk of re-offending by parolees,” she said.

The Premier said the reforms would lead to a more efficient parole system though would not compromise the Government’s core objective of ensuring safe, secure communities as well as tackling the complex issues of drugs and mental health.

The Government accepted all but two of the 91 recommendations flowing from last year’s parole system review by Mr Walter Sofronoff QC.

The Government commissioned the review following the death of 81-year-old Elizabeth Kippin in the Townsville in July last year.   A man on parole was charged with her murder.

“Mr Sofronoff’s report highlights how over quite a long period there has been a loss of focus on the purpose of parole, and its rationale,” the Premier said.

“The starting point is that having a parole system promotes safer outcomes for the community than not having one.

“Its purpose is to reintegrate prisoners into the community so as to decrease the chance of their reoffending on their release from prison. Its rationale is to keep the community safe from prisoners re-offending.

“The more effective our parole system is, then the safer the community is from crime.

“These changes are designed to curb crime by being smart on crime and its causes. They are aimed at reducing crime through reducing the risk of reoffending.

“Mr Sofronoff’s report presents a compelling case for change, with the benefits being greater community safety, savings to the public purse and reduced overcrowding in our State’s prisons.

“The reforms put forward by Mr Sofronoff and accepted by the Government are designed to deliver a system that will make prisoners on parole less likely to offend, as well as a more workable and more efficient parole process”.

The Premier said the Government would take immediate steps to:

  • expand the use of GPS monitoring for better surveillance of parolees
  • recruit additional staff and strengthen the Probation and Parole Service, enabling it to provide more effective case management and supervision of parolees
  • expand rehabilitation services for prisoners to address the causes of crime, including drug addiction and mental health issues
  • prepare legislation to provide for “no body, no parole” prison sentences
  • appoint Michael Byrne QC as President-Designate of the Parole Board, who will establish a new fully independent board operating under a new parole process

The Premier said the Government had also was also delivering on its election commitment to reinstate a specialist Drug Court, which would provide greater court oversight to better target high-risk offenders and prevent reoffending.

A targeted, well-designed model has been developed with the Brisbane-based Drug Court being reinforced by referral and support services to be rolled out across four locations.  

Additionally, the Government had acted to ease overcrowding in the State’s prison system with the announcement a fortnight ago that it was bringing forward approval of a $200 million expansion to the Capricornia Correctional Centre.

The Premier said prisons would always be required for people whose offences were such that imprisonment was the only appropriate form of punishment.

However, there was evidence to show that re-imprisoning offenders for relatively minor breaches of parole conditions was rarely effective.

“Experts agree that it is counter-productive to churn parolees in and out of the prison system for minor violations of their parole orders, such as failing to report to the parole office,” the Premier said.

“This type of short-term imprisonment tends to disrupt their access to programs designed to support re-integration and reduce reoffending, such as housing, employment and personal relationships.”

“As well as improving access to programs while they are in prison, parolees require support and supervision when they leave jail, rather than being left to largely fend for themselves.

“Additional parole staff are needed to provide the rehabilitation services and other forms of support to increase the likelihood of successfully reintegrating into the community

As Mr Sofronoff states in his report: “Lack of a job, lack of money, lack of progress in the task of re-integration can lead a prisoner to the comfort of illicit drugs or alcohol. The spiral leading back to prison begins.”

The Premier said the Government did not support two of the Sofronoff Review’s recommendations.

Recommendation 7 sought to give sentencing judges the discretion to depart from mandatory non-parole periods. In Queensland, mandatory non-parole periods only apply to a range of serious violent offences such as murder and unlawful striking causing death.

The Government’s key priority is to build a robust probation and parole system while keeping community safety as our top priority, the Premier said.

In our view the potential risk to community safety by implementing Recommendation 7 outweighs the benefits it could bring to the new parole system and as such, it is not intended to remove mandatory non-parole periods at this point in time.

Recommendation 58 of the report poses similar risks in the Government’s view to community safety. The recommendation seeks a review of the policy restricting placement of sexual offenders and prisoners convicted of murder or serious violent offences with a view to reintroducing appropriate candidates to low security facilities.

Even if it can be argued that some such prisoners constitute a relatively low risk to community safety, the possibility of an escape by an offender in a low security program undermines the community’s confidence in our system.

The Government cannot support this recommendation.

Link to the report and the Government’s response

Media contact: Kirby Anderson (Premier’s office) 0417 263 791