The Future of Parole: Ideas, Institutions and Practices

De 01 Jun hasta 02 Jun

Coordinadores: Harry Annison (Southampton Law School, University of Southampton), Thomas Guiney (School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK), Nicola Carr (School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Descripción del encuentro

The introduction of modern systems of parole across many countries was one of the defining penal developments of the 20th Century. These practices continue to shape the contemporary penological landscape (Padfield 2020). However, their long-term prospects are far from clear. Across the globe, a growing comparative literature suggests that the parole systems we rely upon to administer the release of prisoners in a fair, consistent, and efficient manner are under increasing strain (Carr and Blay, 2019).

An ascendant ‘parole populism’, associated with increased media and political interest in the decision to release, and a rhetorical foregrounding of victims’ perspectives as a central concern of parole proceedings, has eroded the rights of prisoners and promoted an all-encompassing ‘public protection’ (Freiberg et al, 2018). Moments of crisis and scandal, such as the Jill Meagher case in Australia or the Dutroux scandal in Belgium, are now major drivers of penal policy. The decision to release is increasingly conditional and parole boards are firmly established within a broader apparatus of risk management, community supervision and control (Annison 2020). The extraordinary growth of indeterminate sentencing has seen the locus of sentencing discretion move ‘downstream’ from the criminal courts and an expanding cohort of recall prisoners has renewed longstanding concerns about executive overreach and the limits of the liberal democratic state (Rhine et al, 2017).

A series of government sponsored reviews, consultations and independent enquiries in many nations have been tasked with developing parole systems that are fit for purpose in the 21st Century. At the same time, recent socio-legal studies have demonstrated the resilience of parole board occupational cultures and the difficulties of reforming these decision-making structures (Griffin, 2018; Ruhland, 2020).

In the applicants’ own research (Annison 2020; Guiney 2019; Carr and Blay, 2019) we have shown that the institutions of prison release have struggled to overcome three longstanding and interconnected ‘penal crises’ that have undermined public trust, weakened human rights protections and promoted populist reforms that prioritise the electoral success of a policy over its penal effectiveness:

  • A crisis of administration: In recent decades the administrative demands of a large and increasingly complex prison population – the practice of parole, by and within relevant institutions – has presented huge challenges to state decision-makers.
  • A crisis of legitimacy: Parole Boards now suffer from a serious legitimacy crisis. There remains a lack of clarity about how decision-making discretion is exercised and, by extension, what prisoners, prisoner families, victims and the general public can legitimately expect from this process.
  • A crisis of ideas: As crime control has developed into a less certain field penal policymakers have struggled to articulate a clear strategic vision outlining the purpose(s) of prison release.

This sense of crisis is also underscored by the extent to which parole and prisoner release is irrecvocably bound to wider questions about the purposes of punishment, such as longstanding questions about the the balance between different rationalities - rehabilitation, retribution, public protection - and the manner in which the prominence of these rationalities fluctuate across time and place. Concerns regarding burgeoning prison populations in the contect of ‘mass incarceration’ or more recently directed towards the pheonomenon of ‘mass supervision’ are also symptomatic of systems in crisis. Moreover the extent to which penal populations reflect broader strucutural discrimination, evident in data on racial disproportionality across the criminal justice system and in prison populations in particular, all point towards the urgent need to stimulate new thinking.

In this workshop we will bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of researchers to discuss the future of parole. It will reflect upon the past, present, and possible futures of parole. This project will provide a forum for fresh thinking. It will challenge, disrupt, and critique current approaches. It will invite new perspectives on the overarching themes of ideas, institutions, and practices:

A.    Ideas: What is the parole system for? Can a system of parole be justified, or should the current system be abolished? What are the big ideas that connect everyday policy and practice with broader penological ideas and techniques? What role should risk play in contemporary prison release and how does this intersect with ideas like just deserts, rehabilitation and forgiveness? What would a better politics of parole look like and how do we encourage greater democratic engagement on these questions?

B.    Institutions: How can we build penal institutions that are more resilient to the forces of penal populism, insecurity and risk? How is parole decision-making influenced and shaped by parole board occupational culture? Can (and should) victims be given a fuller voice in parole hearings and what are the potential impacts of this upon parole boards risk appetites? To what extent is parole becoming a more complex site of penal governance or are these decisions still made in the shadow of state authority?

C.    Practices: How can the parole process be modernised to better reflect the needs of procedural justice? How are parole processes experienced by its subjects, and what questions might this raise for access to justice and wider legitimacy? What is the appropriate balance between discretionary and automatic prison release mechanisms? How has prison release developed in non-Anglophone jurisdictions and what can we learn from the experiences of the global south? To what extent should victims and other ‘publics’ be given a greater role in parole decision-making?

Reference List
Annison H (2020) Re-examining risk and blame in penal controversies: Parole in England and Wales.
Carr, N. and Blay, E. (2019) Parole and prisoner release: Exploring rationalities across time and place. European Journal of Probation, 11(3):119-123.
Griffin D (2018) Killing Time: Life Imprisonment and Parole in Ireland. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Guiney, T. (2019) Marginal gains or diminishing returns? European Journal of Probation. 11(3):139-152
Padfield N (2020) The function of the Parole Board – avoiding failure or promoting success? Public Law July: 468-487.
Rhine EE et al (2017) The future of parole release. Crime and Justice 46(1): 279-338
Ruhland EL (2020) Philosophies and decision making in Parole Board members. The Prison Journal 100(5): 640-661.
van Zyl Smit D and Corda A (2018) American Exceptionalism in Parole Release and Supervision: A European Perspective.

Nuestra experiencia en Oñati

International Workshop on the Future of Parole

Dr Harry Annison (Southampton), Dr Tom Guiney and Professor Nicola Carr (Nottingham) recently hosted a workshop on ‘The Future(s) of Parole’ at the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law in the Basque country in Northern Spain.  The workshop explored the ideas, institutions and practices shaping parole and prison release from a range of different perspectives and included contributions from researchers from Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States, as well as presentations from practice perspectives from Ireland, England and Wales and the Basque Region. Applications to hold workshops in the Oñati Institute on topics broadly focusing on the sociology of law are highly competitive. The Institute provides the ideal setting for considered scholarship and discussions integrating theory and practice. The specific focus on parole, which is a topic of interest in many countries, where decision-making around prisoner release is often freighted with wider concerns regarding the operation and efficacy of the criminal justice system, also prompted media interest and featured in coverage on a local news channel. The workshop organisers are currently developing a proposal for an edited book collection building on contributions from the workshop, which they hope will be published as part of the prestigious Hart Oñati International Series in Law and Society.

Workshop organisers picture L-R: Dr Harry Annison, Dr Tom Guiney and Prof Nicola Carr

Pictured: Participants at The Future(s) of Parole: Ideas, Institutions and Practices Workshop, Oñati Institute 1-2 June 2023

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Workshop Coordination Team

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