Tougher parole conditions for terror prisoners reduces chances of reha

9th Jun 2017

Making it harder for a person convicted of terror offences to get parole will merely increase the risk that they will reoffend when eventually released, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

Following a COAG meeting today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that all state and territory governments had agreed to “ensure that there is a strong presumption against the granting of parole or bail, consistently, across the country, to persons who have shown support or had links to violent extremism and violence."

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said that this approach only increased the risk of prisoners reoffending once they are eventually released back into the community. Suggestions that politicians might seek to be involved in the decision to grant parole were particularly concerning, according to Mr Barns.

“When prisoners are unable to access parole there is little incentive for them to rehabilitate,” Mr Barns said.

“A presumption against parole for those convicted of terror or violent offences will create a fertile climate for radicalisation in prisons. Prisoners will understandably feel that lack of access to parole is discriminatory. What incentive can be offered to prisoners to divert them from the path of radicalisation if parole is taken off the table?

“The issue that COAG failed to deal with is the mistreatment of people who are awaiting trial on terrorism offences and those who have been convicted of terror offences,” Mr Barns said.

Mr Barns said the calls for ‘terror criminals to rot in jail’ are just another example of kneejerk politics. They highlight the dangers of the suggestion by Commonwealth Attorney General George Brandis that Attorneys-General should have any say in if or when parole is granted.

“The Australian Lawyers Alliance agrees with those state Premiers who have said that politicians should have no role in deciding who should be released on bail,” Mr Barns said. Terrorism allegations are especially politically fraught. Political involvement in these cases is totally inappropriate.”

“The reality is that no politician would be inclined to grant any leniency towards anyone who had a hint of terrorist connections. There is a very good reason for these decisions to be made on the basis of impartial criteria by people who are not a part of the political process.

“It is also unclear how ‘links to violent extremism and violence’ will be measured. The idea that people could be refused parole on the basis of rumour and innuendo, rather than measurable data and concrete evidence, undermines the very fabric of our legal system,” Mr Barns said.

“If we allow the threat of terrorism to take away our most fundamental rights, we all lose. Rather than focusing on more punishment, we should be figuring out how best to support people in finding pathways away from violence. Investing in essential services in prisons, like mental health support, will do a lot more to keep us safe than removing access to parole will,” Mr Barns said.  

“Parole is a means to support people in their reintroduction to the community after time in prison. Without it, people might spend longer in prison, but when their sentence was up they would be released without any support or monitoring,” Mr Barns said.

 “The Prime Minister’s statement is another example of using the fear around terrorism to expand criminal punishment generally,” Mr Barns said. “He does not just focus on terrorism, but includes violence as well – it’s classic mission creep. Rather than making policy to grab headlines and ‘look tough on terror’, the Prime Minister should leave parole policy to the experts.

“If politicians want to have an impact in reducing the danger of terrorism to the community, treating everyone in prison with humanity, whether they are on remand or convicted of a crime, must be the first step.”

Tags: terrorism