Giving and getting parole: The changing characteristics of parole in England and Wales

Publication Date01 December 2019
AuthorNicola Padfield
SubjectOriginal Articles
European Journal of Probation
2019, Vol. 11(3) 153 –168
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/2066220319895798
Giving and getting parole: The
changing characteristics of
parole in England and Wales
Nicola Padfield
University of Cambridge, UK
This article is written as part of a special issue of the European Journal of Probation,
which seeks not simply to describe and to critique ‘parole’ as it has evolved over time,
but to focus on the justifications and the actors involved in parole decision-making
and supervision. This article explores the changing face of ‘parole’ in England and
Wales. The Parole Board today has little in common with the Parole Board of 1967.
The characteristics of the prisoners who appear before panels of the Board have also
changed. ‘Parole’ is now a very different process, no longer ‘early conditional release’,
but what might better be described as ‘delayed conditional release’. This requires a
fundamental re-analysis of its purpose and the justifications for its use.
Conditional release, England and Wales, parole
The Parole Board of England and Wales was created in 1967. There have been a number
of empirical studies and many academic critiques of the Board’s decision-making over
that time, and a number of ‘retrospectives’ were published as the Board celebrated its
50th anniversary.1 This article will explore this literature, commenting on the methods of
academic analysis. A more detailed discussion of the changing ‘faces’ both of the Board,
and the prisoners who appear before it, will result in two conclusions. First, that much
more attention should be given by researchers to the ‘actors’ involved in parole pro-
cesses, and their characteristics, including those on the ‘receiving end’ of those deci-
sions. Secondly, much greater clarity is needed about the purpose of ‘parole’. In 1967,
the Parole Board decided ‘early release’ (the early release, on conditions, of determinate
Corresponding author:
Nicola Padfield, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 1TN, UK.
895798EJP0010.1177/2066220319895798European Journal of ProbationPadeld
Original Article
154 European Journal of Probation 11(3)
sentence prisoners). Today it is concerned with ‘delayed release’ (the release of indeter-
minate sentence prisoners after they have served the minimum term, or proportionate
‘tariff’, fixed by the sentencing court and the release of those who have been recalled to
prison during the community part of their sentence). We need to ask not just why we have
‘parole’, but why we have this particular system at this particular moment in history (see
Canton, 2017).
This article therefore starts with a history of ‘parole’ in England and Wales, with refer-
ence to key research conducted during the main phases of development. It then considers
the value of looking at this history, taking a historical comparative perspective: compar-
ing institutions and practices over time. This reveals how the characteristics of the Parole
Board have changed enormously since 1967. The original Board was made up of only 17
members; today there are over 200. As we shall see, they are also very differently quali-
fied, bringing very different professional skills to their decision-making. The prisoners
whose cases the Board has to consider have also changed in that, originally, they were
determinate sentence prisoners, serving much shorter sentences than today (and, in those
far-off days, sentences were very much shorter than they are today). Now they are mostly
serving long indeterminate sentences, or have been recalled to prison during the ‘com-
munity’ part of their sentence. Thus, the idea of ‘parole’ in England and Wales has been
stood on its head: the article concludes that once we see how different the Parole Board
is today, more involved in adjudicating ‘late’, post-tariff, release, rather than ‘early’
release, we have to re-think its purpose and justifications.
Evolving parole – and the research literature
Whilst recognising that change in practice has been continuous, we can divide the history
of ‘parole’ in England and Wales into three periods, reflecting the key legislative over-
hauls. These ‘chapters’ in history provide useful headings under which to summarise
both the law and practice, and to mention relevant research:
(1) 1967–1991: The rehabilitative ideal and penal pragmatism.
As a result of the Criminal Justice Act 1967, a small Parole Board based in London, and
Local Review Committees2 attached to every prison, started work in April 1968. Prisoners
were originally eligible to be considered for early release after they had served one-third
of their sentence. The process had a three-tier structure: Local Review Committees made
recommendations for cases to be considered by the Parole Board, the Parole Board
reviewed these and made their own recommendations, and the Home Secretary had a
veto on decisions. There were many changes in the early years, particularly to the referral
rules and the minimum qualifying period for parole consideration (soon reduced from 12
to six months), aimed principally at reducing the prison population (see Guiney, 2018a;
Morgan, 1983; Shute, 2003, 2004). Also, when the Home Office realised how cautious
the Parole Board was, they decided to release many prisoners simply on the recommen-
dation of the Local Review Committee.
There was much to understand about this new process – who got parole, who did not,
and where the barriers to early release lay. It was a statutory requirement from the

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