The COIPE Project
An innovative way to streamline the parole applications of prisoners who the sentencing courts decide are eligible for parole immediately from the day of their sentence. It by no means guarantees a prisoner’s release to parole; instead, it ensures that their application is considered by the Parole Board within 14 days of their sentence date. In real terms, it means a prisoner does not remain in jail longer (than their risk to community safety dictates) purely on account of an administrative process.
The COIPE Project
‘COIPE’ is the acronym for court-ordered immediate parole eligibility.
The COIPE Project started on 2 September 2019 and aims is to develop a sustainable and efficient administrative way to promptly process the parole applications of prisoners who are sentenced to a term of imprisonment with an immediate parole eligibility date. That is, prisoners who become eligible for parole on the same day of their sentence hearing.
The COIPE Project initially relied upon the cases from the Ipswich District and Magistrates Courts but on 2 March 2020, the pilot was expanded to cases from the Beenleigh District and Magistrates Courts.
On 5 May 2020, the pilot was further extended to also capture cases from the Brisbane Supreme Court and District Court. It is also to be rolled out in Cairns.
The origins of the COIPE Project
The impetus for the Project was data collected by Deputy President, Peter Shields, which revealed that prisoners with an immediate parole eligibility date were spending, on average, 132 days in custody past their eligibility date before release to the community, as compared to prisoners with a parole eligibility date that was set at a point in the future from the date of sentencing. For the latter cohort, the data revealed they were spending, on average, 69 days in custody past the eligibility date.
This data raised an unusual trend. It was anomalous that a prisoner, who the court considered ready for immediate consideration of parole release, would spend longer in custody beyond their eligibility date than a prisoner who the court, at the point of sentencing, considered further time in custody was required before even becoming eligible for parole. Deputy President Shields resolved to determine what was causing this apparent irregularity.
As a result of his examination, it was clear that the key reason for the disparity between the two groups of prisoners was that the same, longstanding administrative process for applying for parole was being applied to both types of prisoners, leading to an unintended outcome that potentially disadvantaged prisoners with an immediate parole eligibility date.
In Queensland, the Corrective Services Act 2006 (the Act) in effect mandates that a prisoner should be released on, or as close as possible, to their court determined parole eligibility date unless the Parole Board Queensland (the Board) receives information about the prisoner that was not before the court at the time of sentencing, and after considering the information, the Board considers the prisoner is not suitable for parole release at the time recommended or fixed by the court (section 193 read with section 192). Only the Board can grant a parole order for a prisoner with an eligibility date. A prisoner can apply for parole at any time within six months of their eligibility date (section 180). Once lodged, the Board has 120 days (possibly 150 days if additional information is needed) to decide the matter.
Essentially, in practice, prisoners sentenced to a term of imprisonment with an eligibility date set in the future can lodge their application in advance as they await the date. Whereas, for a prisoner given immediate parole eligibility, to lodge an application for parole in advance of that date, is an absolute impossibility. That is, there is no window of time before the prisoner becomes eligible because they become eligible immediately (i.e. before the day of sentence, these prisoners are either in the community on bail or in custody on remand or in custody serving a separate sentence order – in effect, they cannot lodge an application for parole in advance of knowing their sentencing fate).
Furthermore, at that time, from an operational perspective, the Board was prioritising the consideration of all parole applications in accordance with the 120 day legislative timeframes.
Additionally, before the COIPE Project began, the parole application process included the provision of a Parole Board Assessment Report (PBAR) completed by Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) for all prisoners; a report that takes on average six weeks to compile and provide to the Board. The practice applied equally to a prisoner sentenced to an immediate parole eligibility date.
Accordingly, a prisoner sentenced to an immediate parole eligibility date was spending, on average, longer in custody beyond their eligibility date as compared to a prisoner with a delayed eligibility date due to operational and administrative processes outside of the prisoner’s control.
The Board set about to reframe the administrative process for this discrete cohort of prisoners. The COIPE Project was developed in consultation with key stakeholders including: QCS; the Department of Justice and Attorney-General; Legal Aid Queensland; Bar Association of Queensland; Queensland Law Society and other criminal law practitioners; and the Heads of Jurisdiction.
Ipswich was chosen as the pilot jurisdiction for the Project because of the diversity and volume of matters in that jurisdiction, multiple courts sitting daily, and its proximity to all of the correctional centres located in Queensland’s South East corner, thereby enabling the innovative new process to be trialled by men and women, and who were/are being held across a range of different correctional centres.
A new innovative and efficient process
The application process under the COIPE Project differs to the ordinary parole application process in several key ways.
Most significantly, the prisoner can immediately and electronically lodge their application for parole on the day of sentence via a new dedicated email set up to help progress consideration of these applications.
A clear and concise Information Sheet has been developed for prisoners to outline the new process; it and the necessary Form 29 (Application by prisoner for parole order) is available to every prisoner on the day of their sentence hearing. The Information Sheet also makes it clear to the that it does not matter who emails the application to the Board, whether it be the prisoner or done through their legal representative, their correctional centre or a third party.
The process also ensures that relevant court materials, such as the Verdict and Judgement Record, any pre-sentence reports and sentencing remarks, are provided directly to the Board by order of the sentencing court and via the dedicated email address. A PBAR will only be prepared upon the request of the Board. The Public Service Representative attached to the Board will provide the QCS information needed when considering any application (such as accommodation risk assessments and behavioural violation histories).
As a further proactive measure, a process is in place whereby if the Board has not received a parole application for a relevant prisoner it will send a letter to that prisoner’s correctional centre who will then take up with that prisoner to advise of the new process (acknowledging that some prisoners simply may not wish to apply).
The Board considers the parole application within 14 days of receipt of the application. The new process is by no means a guarantee of parole release. Under the COIPE Project, as with any parole application, when the Board considers the application one of two things will happen: the Board will make a decision in relation to the application (i.e. to grant parole or advise of its preliminary view not to grant parole); or the Board will defer to obtain further material needed to assess the risk to community safety.
Where to next?
The preliminary data relating to the COIPE Project has yielded encouraging results. Accordingly, the Board intends seeking an external, independent evaluation of the COIPE Project, including identification and analysis of any systemic benefits it may yield.
In real terms, the change in procedure for this discrete cohort of prisoners, means that these prisoners do not remain in jail longer (than their risk to community safety dictates) purely on account of longstanding operational and administrative processes.
The Board anticipates other tangible benefits to also flow from the COIPE Project.
A more efficient process necessarily translates into more timely consideration and determination of these parole matters, which may lead to positive resource implications for QCS, for example resource savings due to:
- reduction in ‘bed days’ in prisons (meaning the number of days that a prisoner is using a jail bed as compared to the position prior to the COIPE Project) and
- reduced numbers of PBARs required, which includes the cost of generating the document plus the bed days saved given it takes about six weeks to generate the document.
A reduction in daily prisoner numbers should mean a reduction in prisoner overcrowding within correctional centres, which is likely to lead to improved prison conditions and thereby reduced risk to correctional officer safety and prisoner safety.
The COIPE Project is also likely to enhance stakeholder confidence in the integrity of sentencing orders.
Ultimately, the Board hopes this new innovative and efficient process (refined, if needed, following its evaluation) can be rolled out across the State in the future so it is accessible to all eligible prisoners.