Longer prison time before parole

Amendment in crime package

An amendment to the Prisons Law will now ensure that certain convicted persons serve more than half of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Tabled in the Legislative Assembly by Chief Secretary George McCarthy, the Prisons Amendment Bill requires that convicted drug dealers, thieves, rapists, kidnappers, arsonists, persons in unlawful possession of firearms and those who conspire to commit murder are among those who must spend at least five-ninths of their sentence before they could be considered for parole, said a GIS press release

The bill, which was passed by the House on 13 October, sets out a total of 59 offences for which convicts must remain imprisoned for this minimum time before any early release is contemplated. These range from violent crime to others that may pose a threat to public safety such as rioting, the release explained.

In making this amendment, Government also signalled its unhappiness with the almost automatic granting of parole to prisoners with good behaviour after their mandatory time is served.

Mr. McCarthy explained that the law had originally required prisoners to serve one-half of their sentences, but it was changed in 1992 to stipulate that convicts need to serve a third of their prison time handed down by the court before early release can be considered.

‘Not only is the threshold of one-third unacceptably low but unfortunately the law has been interpreted for some time as giving a convicted person a right to parole,’ the Chief Secretary told parliament.

‘This liberal interpretation of the law allows for persons who are convicted of violent offences to be released from prison too quickly, long before they would have fully reflected on their offensive behaviour and atoned for their actions.

‘Most importantly, it is hoped that increasing the time before eligibility for parole can occur will serve as a deterrent and, consequently, modification in behaviour.’

This amendment will not affect any person already imprisoned at the time it comes into force.

The Chief Secretary said that among the major concerns of Government that prompted introduction of the amendment were the increase in crime and the high number of offenders who revert to their criminal ways when released from prison. He spoke of recent cases of persons appearing before the courts with more than 50 previous convictions.

‘This bill is part of Government’s legislative reform which is aimed at diminishing the high number of crimes which, until very recently, was so foreign to our peaceful islands,’ he said on the day that eight other crime-fighting bills were passed in the House.

He said that based on current practices in the granting of parole, many repeat offenders are aware that through good behaviour they are assured of early release from jail. He indicated an intention to change this approach.

‘The Parole Board has interpreted the provisions of the law to mean that the first eligibility period for consideration for parole means that a prisoner ought to be paroled at the first opportunity,’ Mr. McCarthy said. ‘We reiterate, however, that we intend to have in place a Parole Board which will consider each parole request carefully and understand that parole does not have to be granted upon a first application.’

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