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An Innocent Man's Parole

September 19, 2013

Miscarriages of justice happen; a wrongly convicted prisoner is not an urban myth.

The reality, as opposed to fiction, is that there are prisoners who are currently within the closed estate who are wholly innocent of the crime of which they have been convicted. In such cases, the Applicant’s task before the Parole Board of securing a recommendation for transfer to Open Conditions (or a direction for release) is difficult. However, the Parole Board is placed in a similarly difficult position, for they have to determine an Applicant’s risk when the person sat before them does not accept that they pose any risk at all.

This article seeks to assist prisoners in approaching the issue of protesting innocence in the context of Parole Boards, and to offer some practical guidance on how to ensure that you are in the strongest possible position for transfer/release without comprising your denial of guilt.

Often, the most rehearsed criticism of Offender Managers and Offender Supervisors in such cases are that Applicants "just do not get it". Get what, you ask? Namely that the Parole Board must approach its consideration of any application for parole on the basis that the Applicant has committed the offences of which he has been convicted. That may not be fair, but that is the position. If you can demonstrate your understanding of the same and can evidence an appreciation that it is not the function of the Parole Board to investigate possible miscarriages of justice then your approach shall be better focused. Accordingly, resist temptation to rehearse at length your concerns as to the fairness of your trial or to spend time on attempting to persuade your Offender Manager that you are innocent. Instead, focus your efforts on working towards release. The Parole Board is not the forum in which you can secure an acquittal.

You do not need to admit guilt. You need to admit that a Jury has found you guilty. In admitting the same, you are not weakening your position; you are strengthening it. Approaching any subject in a pragmatic and realistic frame of mind encourages others to approach you in a similar light. A prisoner, who refuses to talk to his Offender Manager because he does not want to be seen to derogate from his protest of innocence, is doing himself a disservice. Such a stance often prevents the prisoner from developing a relationship with those closest to him and most influential in the parole system. Talking openly and being mindful of the assessment the Parole Board must undertake, will allow you to demonstrate rational thought, appropriate levels of maturity and may even allow a springboard for the Parole Board to satisfy themselves that your risk level is manageable. For example, you do not need to be a convicted criminal to understand the impact of crime on victims. Accordingly, even if you are innocent, discussing the impact of crime on victims and wider public confidence, can give your Offender Manager/Supervisor (and the Parole Board) an idea of your character and your ability to empathise.

An outright admission of guilt is of course required for some accredited programmes; for example SOTP (sex offender treatment programme). There is admittedly logic in the same, because for the course to be effective there must be an open discussion as to the mechanics of, and the reason for, the commission of the offence. However, that does not mean that you should simply resign from your protest of innocence. There are other courses that do not need an admission of guilt, for example ETS (enhanced thinking skills) and the Parole Board should (and must) look for evidence of risk reduction from other sources in such cases.

To that end, it is important that you do not take the attitude that "because I am innocent, I do not need to do any courses". Such a thought is, in of itself, potentially indicative of a lack of consequential thinking. For example, if you know that the Parole Board must satisfy itself of risk, why would you not undertake a course which evidences that you pose little or no risk? That is distinct from simply throwing the towel in.

Similarly, as well as undertaking traditional courses, consider education and employment; constructive use of time, is a powerful argument. Positions within the kitchen and garden for example, demonstrate responsibility and maturity. Further, academic courses, can in fact help support an argument as to risk reduction; financial management, team work, and leadership skills should not be overlooked. Similarly, becoming a Prison Buddy or Listener can only but impress the Parole Board. It is also important to remain adjudication free.

The Parole Board's decision making process is centred, admittedly, on a formulaic approach of quantifying and measuring risk. We would be lying if we were not to accept that denying guilt shall make a Prisoner's case more difficult. However, the Parole Board cannot refuse to release a Prisoner on the grounds that he has failed to admit his guilt. It is therefore crucial, that in all other areas, you are well placed to challenge your risk assessment. The risk assessment can also be challenged (and the inherent failings of “scoring systems” demonstrated) by asking your legal team to instruct a psychologist and or psychiatrist.

The message is simple. Understand the Parole Board's approach (which is non-negotiable) and half the battle is won. Thereafter, work constructively towards achieving your goal being mindful that all actions have a consequence. We recommend developing an early relationship with a prison law advisor so that you can work together to build a strong argument for a move to open conditions and/or release in to the community on licence.