Figures released recently by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) suggest that NSW crime rates, including Sydney crime rates, can be affected by whether or not those who have served their time in prison are granted parole.
According to the report, there is a lower chance of inmates offending if they are released under the supervision of parole officers, than if they are released unsupervised.
The report, which was based on a study of two different sets of similar offenders, indicated that those who received supervision and rehabilitative support after release had a lower rate of reoffending and took longer to reoffend than those released without supervision.
How does the parole system work in NSW?
The issuing of parole orders in NSW is set out in the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 and the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999.
Prison sentences of six months or less must be for a ‘fixed term’, which means that there is no non-parole period.
The non-parole period for prison sentences over six months is normally two-thirds of the full term of the sentence.
So, for example, if a person is given a full term of three years in prison, the non parole period will normally be two years – which means that the person will need to spend at least two years in prison before being eligible for release on parole.
However, the court can impose a lower non-parole period if it finds ‘special circumstances’ – for example, if a person is young with good prospects of rehabilitation, and/or has a drug addiction which might be overcome etc.
Equally, there are times when a court may impose a lengthy sentence and decline to impose a non-parole period at all.
A court can do this if it feels that it is ‘appropriate to do so’ – for example, if the offence and the person’s criminal history are so serious that the court feels there is little point in letting him or her out on parole.
This sometimes occurs in murder cases.
To complicate things even more, there are now many offences that carry what is known as a ‘standard non-parole period’ – which courts are required to take as a reference point when imposing the non-parole period for a relevant offence.
There are many offences that carry these standard non-parole periods including serious drug offences, firearms offences, sexual assaults and murder.
Parole acts as an incentive for good behaviour during a jail sentence, and is a way for people to start to reintegrate with the community under supervision from a court-appointed parole officer.
Conditions for parole
According to Section 135 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999, there are a number of criteria that parole applicants have to satisfy in order to be considered eligible for parole.
It also has to be considered in the public interest to release the person.
Some of the factors that are taken into consideration include the safety of the community, the risk that the person will reoffend, and the likely impact early release will have on the victim and their family.
Once parole has been granted, an inmate can be released under certain conditions.
The exact conditions will depend on the nature of the crime and the person’s history and personal circumstances, but can include:
- Agreeing to reside at a certain address or facility
- Undertaking and maintaining gainful employment
- Undergoing rehabilitation or counselling
- Attending regular meetings with a court-appointed parole officer
- Being of good behaviour and refraining from any illegal activities
- Abstaining from drinking alcohol or taking any illegal drugs
If the parolee violates their conditions of parole, they may be required to return to jail and serve out the remainder of their sentence in custody.
This includes if they reoffend while on parole.
What is the difference in reoffending rates on parole?
The BOCSAR study looked at two different groups of recently-released people and tried to match them as closely as possible on age, gender, socioeconomic background, area of release, amount of time in custody, and parole length, as well as controlling for other variables.
The results of the study showed that 12 months after release, 48.6% of those who were unsupervised had reoffended, while 43.6% of the supervised group had done so.
The study also showed that those who were supervised more intensively were less likely to offend than those who were supervised less intensively, as long as the supervision was under parole officers who also provided the normal rehabilitative support.
In a second study conducted around the same time, the effect of parole on the general rate of reoffending was also examined.
The results from this study indicate that reoffending rates by those released on parole are on the decrease, with just over a quarter of offenders reoffending while on parole.
The main offences that were committed by those on parole were drugs offences, driving while disqualified, and proceeds of crime offences.
Violent offences were also lower than anticipated, with only 7.1% of the almost 10,000 offenders studied committing violent offences while on parole.
These overall figures are a big reduction from previous years where there were suggestions of up to 60% of those released reoffending, and it would seem that the parole system is working in NSW.
A few limitations were identified in the studies however; one main one being that they didn’t cover the rate of reoffending once parole had ended.
Parole can’t continue indefinitely, and the research for the studies only focused on the time period during which those released were under direct supervision.
This doesn’t provide much evidence of the effects of parole on the likelihood of offenders reoffending once the supervision ceases, and in the long-term future.