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Pathways beyond prison

Deakin Law School (DLS) hosts leading experts to demystify parole and post-sentencing decisions

What happens when a prisoner is nearing the end of their sentence?  What about the offender who completes their sentence but is still deemed a risk to society?

Issues around parole and post-sentencing can be controversial and challenging but a DLS event has helped shed important light on post-prison pathways.

Two of Victoria’s leading experts – His Honour Judge Peter Couzens (Chairperson of the Adult Parole Board) and Ms Michelle Williams QC (Chair of the Post Sentence Authority) – recently addressed an audience of academics, students, alumni, psychologists, and corrections and forensic professionals to explain the role and decision-making processes of their organisations.

His Honour Judge Peter Couzens, Ms Michelle Williams QC and Professor Marilyn McMahon

The event was chaired by DLS Deputy Dean Professor Marilyn McMahon who says both bodies perform work that has become increasingly important in the Victorian criminal justice system in recent years.

‘There has been some controversy about whether parole is now refused too frequently. There is also considerable legal discussion about the legitimacy of constraining the behaviour of people who have completed their sentence. DLS thought it useful and informative to have two leading experts talk about these issues while discussing their respective roles and the activities of the organisations which they lead.’

Prof. McMahon says it’s important to understand the difference between parole and a post-sentence supervision order.

‘People on parole are still serving a prison sentence even though they have been released from prison and are living in the community. If a person on parole breaches a condition of their parole, they can have their parole cancelled and will be returned to prison. However, a person on a post-sentence supervision order has completed their sentence but is subject to an order made by a court that imposes further significant restraints upon them,’ she explains.

Presenting detailed insights into the daily operations of their organisations, Judge Couzens and Ms Williams QC outlined how hearings take place, who is present, and the type of evidence that is presented. They also identified the factors that are most influential in the decision-making of the Parole Board and the Post Sentence Authority.

To illustrate this further, they used a case study of a fictional character’s journey through the courts, prison, parole hearings and appearances before the Post Sentence Authority. This allowed the audience to obtain realistic insights into the complexities that can arise in some complex cases.

‘Based on their experience, both speakers were able to provide detailed and rich analyses of the issues that confront prisoners as they contemplate parole or must comply with the requirements of a post sentence order,’ says Prof. McMahon.

She adds that a key feature of the event was that it delivered detailed, up-to-date information on parts of the Victorian criminal justice system that have “low visibility” but can fundamentally affect the rights of offenders.

‘Both the Parole Board and the Post Sentence Authority are admirable in the way that they want members of the community to be better informed about what they do. For DLS, these connections are vitally important. They keep us informed about “the law in action” – what is actually happening, rather than just “the law on the books”. This provides space for research initiatives, better informs our teaching, and exposes our law students to legal practicalities that complement their more academic studies.’

DLS acknowledges and thanks His Honour Judge Peter Couzens and Ms Michele Williams QC for their energy and willingness to contribute to this event.

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