Serial killer Paul Denyer has been refused parole in Victoria, three decades after he received three life sentences for murdering three women over a seven week period in Melbourne’s south-east.
The fact Denyer is eligible to apply for release on parole has triggered debate within Victoria’s parliament, with calls from the opposition Liberal Party to pass specific legislation to ensure that those who commit the most serious and abhorrent of crimes serve out their life sentences for the terms of their natural lives.
Turning to our state, what are the rules for serious offenders like Mr Denyer when it comes to eligibility for release on parole?
Parole is the release of a prison inmate into the community subject to conditions including supervision after the minimum terms of their sentence, also known as the non-parole period, has expired.
Parole is seen as an important step in gradually re-integrating offenders back into the community, and evidence shows undertaking a period of parole reduces the risk of re-offending for most offenders.
An inmate’s parole period is normally determined at the time they are sentenced.
A judge will set a minimum term, or non-parole period, during which the inmate is not permitted to apply for release on parole; he or she must serve the time in prison.
Once the inmate has completed the non-parole period, he or she will assessed for suitability to complete the rest of their sentence in the community on parole.
In circumstances where a person is sentenced to imprisonment for 6 months or less, a non-parole period is not set; in other words, the sentence if for a fixed term behind bars.
Where a person is sentenced to a total term of less than 3 years in prison, he or she will automatically be granted parole after the non-parole period’s expiry.
Those who are sentences to more than 3 years in prison will need to apply for release on parole upon the expiry of the parole period, and whether he or she will be released is a discretionary matter determined by the State Parole Authority.
The NSW State Parole Authority is the independent body charged with. making parole decisions and setting parole conditions.
When Can Parole Be Granted?
Section 135 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences)Act 1999 (NSW) prohibits the State Parole Authority from granting parole unless it is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that granting parole is “appropriate in the public interest”.
What Factors Are Taken Into Account When Determining Parole?
In making this decision, they are to consider a range of factors including:
- The need to protect the safety of the community.
- The need to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice.
- The nature and circumstances of the offence to which the offender’s sentence relates.
- Any relevant comments made by the sentencing court.
- The offender’s criminal history.
- The likelihood of the offender being able to adapt to normal lawful community life.
- The likely effect on any victim of the offender, and on any such victim’s family, of the offender being released to parole.
- Any report in relation to the granting of parole to the offender that has been prepared by or on behalf of the Probation and Parole Service.
If parole is refused, the NSW State Parole Authority will generally review this decision again in 12 months time.
Serious Offenders and Parole
Special rules apply to the granting of parole to “serious offenders”.
A serious offender includes:
- Prisoners serving a life sentence;
- Prisoners who were sentenced to a non-parole period of 12 years or more;
- Prisoners serving a sentence for murder; or
- Prisoners otherwise deemed “serious offenders” by the State Parole Authority or Commissioner of Corrective Services.
Determining the eligibility for parole for serious offenders includes all of the standard considerations for parole outlined above, however the State Parole Authority must also seek advice from the Serious Offenders Review Council.
The Serious Offenders Review Council is a statutory authority responsible for the security classification, placement and case management of inmates classed as serious offenders. This Council will provider the State Parole Authority with expert advice on the suitability of the serious offender for parole.
In cases of serious offenders, the State Parole Authority also must notify any victim of a serious offender that parole is being considered for that offender, and that the victim can apply for reconsideration of the decision.
Conditions of Parole
The NSW State Parole Authority is also responsible for placing conditions on parole. The conditions that can be placed on parole are comprehensive and can include obligations to:
- Not commit any offence whilst on parole;
- Submit to regular drug testing;
- Report regularly and follow the instructions of Corrective Services;
- Notify any change of address or employment;
- Abide by a curfew;
- Undergo assessment and treatment for an alcohol or other drug addiction or a mental illness.
If an offender has been granted parole after receiving a life sentence, they will be supervised in the community and must abide by all parole conditions for the rest of their life.
Following the breach of parole conditions, a Corrective Services officer can take the following actions:
- Record the breach but take no further action;
- Issue an informal warning;
- Issue or arrange a formal warning that further breaches will result in referral to the SPA;
- Give a reasonable direction about the behaviour that led to the breach;
- Impose a curfew.
The State Parole Authority will be notified about any breaches and may revoke parole meaning a person will be imprisoned, or they may make more restricted community based orders like placing a person in home detention for up to 30 days.