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HOME SECRETARY PLEDGES TO WORK WITH THE PAROLE BOARD TO IMPROVE PUBLIC PROTECTION

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Home secretary John Reid has pledged to work with the Parole Board to improve public protection and restore public...
Home secretary John Reid has pledged to work with the Parole Board to improve public protection and restore public confidence in the wake of recent high-profile cases. Mr Reid was speaking to 200 Parole Board members and staff and a number of invited guests when giving the Parole Board Annual Lecture.

He said:

'I am delighted to be the first home secretary to make the annual lecture of the Parole Board. I wanted to speak to you directly to state that I understand and appreciate what a crucial and difficult role you undertake. The events of the past few months have only highlighted the enormity of the challenges you face, but they have also underlined the need for us to work together to dramatically overhaul our public protection arrangements.

'I do not underestimate the different - often complex - tasks that you face. It can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

That's why I want to speak honestly and bluntly to you today. Keeping the public safe is the first duty of any government. The public has a right to expect that everything possible will be done to minimise the risk from serious, violent and dangerous offenders, and that they feel that this is happening.'

Dr Reid went on to outline some of the reforms that he wants to explore and pledged to do all that he could to ensure that the Parole Board was fully equipped to provide the public with the protection it expects. He said:

'You will not expect me to outline detailed proposals on how to improve the management of offenders at this stage. Indeed, the point is that I want to work with you, as I know that you too share the aim to reform. In particular I would like your views on a number of emerging proposals. We ought to consider whether board decisions, with such serious consequences, should be taken with anything other than unanimous verdicts.

'Also, we should work together to look at the emerging proposals for improving risk assessments, extending interviews of offenders and dealing more effectively with the release of indeterminate and life sentence prisoners. In addition I am looking again at whether current Parole Board directions are fit for purpose, at how to improve public protection representation at oral hearings through 'Public Protection Advocates' who will represent victims' and societies' views, and at the whole process of release and supervision to ensure it is sufficiently joined up.

'The Parole Board is an important institution; you have my full support and appreciation for taking forward these reforms. We both have a clear duty to protect the public. Therefore, it is important that we have an ongoing and continuous dialogue. You have my pledge that I will do all that I can to ensure that you are fully equipped to provide the public with the protection it rightly expects from the criminal justice system.'

The chief executive of the Parole Board, Christine Glenn, responded to the remarks made by the home secretary. She said:

'All of us have been rocked by the recent cases that have rightly received a high degree of public scrutiny. We have fully co-operated with the Chief Inspector's reviews. We accept all his recommendations and we want to learn and further improve our practice for the future.

But we know that risk assessment is not an exact science and that - sadly - a very small minority of prisoners who are released will re-offend.

'The public has a right to expect that public authorities will have in place the most robust systems so that these instances are minimised as much as humanly possible and rest assured Home Secretary, we want to work with our partner agencies and your officials to take all necessary action for improvement.

'Our members - and staff - bring to the decision-making process their intelligence, their integrity, their investigative expertise and their independence. What you acknowledged was that they sometimes lacked was firm and objective information. We welcome the review that you are setting in train here - better and more complete information can only improve the quality of our decisions.

'Home secretary, we are in no doubt that our first duty is to public protection. We have a shared agenda here and will work closely with you and your officials. We are delighted that you have addressed us so soon after your appointment. I hope very much that we will continue our dialogue and that you will visit us and observe the decision-making process in action.'

The home secretary was speaking at the Annual Parole Board Lecture, held in the Gladstone Room at One Whitehall Place, at the invitation of the Board. The full text of the speech can be found on the Parole Board website at www.paroleboard.gov.uk

Notes

The Parole Board is the independent body that protects the public by making risk assessments about prisoners to decide who may safely be released into the community and who must remain in or be returned to custody. The Parole Board was established under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 to advise the Home Secretary on the early release of prisoners. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 established the Board as an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body.

The Parole Board's aims and objectives are linked closely with those of the Home Office in seeking to reduce re-offending and in protecting the public. The board works closely with the Home Office, the Probation Service and the Prison Service, voluntary organisations, the legal profession and others involved in the criminal justice system. The Business Plan 2006/07 has been formally approved by Home Office ministers.

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