August 15, 2023

The Importance of Research at the Parole Board

Martin Jones CBE
Chief Executive of the Parole Board for England and Wales
The Parole Board

A central theme of the Insights Festival is the importance of evidence and research in informing decision-making and operational practice. In this guest blog, Martin Jones CBE, Chief Executive of the Parole Board for England and Wales, explains why research is important at the Parole Board and points to some recent publications.

The Parole Board is an independent body that considers whether a prisoner’s continued imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public. We make thousands of decisions a year for those who have committed some of the most serious offences.

As Chief Executive, I am committed to the Board using evidence to inform policy and practice related to parole.  Using outcomes and recommendations from good quality research and thematic studies can help the continuous improvement of the parole system.  That’s why we support research by providing access to our staff and members, case management and other data and information.

Our Research Framework ensures that research involving the Parole Board is conducted ethically and benefits the Parole Board, victims, and prisoners with whom we work. Research related to parole and accessing Parole Board data or people, requires approval from the Parole Board Research Governance Group (RGG), which I chair. The RGG reviews the feasibility of all research proposals and their relevance to the work of the Board and wider parole system.

Our current research priority areas, approved by the Board’s Management Committee, are:

  • procedural justice and impact of parole reforms on the system and people
  • the experiences of vulnerable prisoners
  • the experiences of minority group prisoners
  • terrorism risk offending cases, and
  • Serious Further Offences

We also consider other areas that may contribute to improving understanding of the parole process. Since the RGG was established in 2018, it has approved 14 research studies by academics, Parole Board members, and HMPPS practitioners. Highlights include:

  • ‘Investigating the effects of setting on the structure of questioning in Parole Board hearings: a comparison between remote hearings and in-person hearings’ – Sheffield Hallam University

The research looked at the potential benefits of remote oral hearings, drawbacks of using remote technology, and practice implications for parole hearings. Following the COVID pandemic, 95% of parole oral hearings are now held remotely. Therefore, I was particularly keen to review how research in this area could shape our business model for the future. The findings from the research were presented as part of Insights22. You can watch the recording here.

  • The Use of Intermediaries (communication specialists) at Parole Board Oral Hearings in England and Wales – Portsmouth University.

This research has provided the Board with recommendations to ensure that those prisoners who have communication needs are supported to engage in their parole hearing fairly and effectively. We are working with colleagues in HMPPS Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS), to identify implications for practice and how we can work collaboratively to ensure that the findings are fed into practice.  

HMPPS have told us: “The findings were insightful and will continue to develop our understanding and shape our response(s) including where appropriate, to policy and practice. Early identification remains a priority as we continue to raise awareness and improve our ability to support all Prisoners with communication and other neurodivergent needs accessing the parole process”.

  • How Parole Board members (and judges) make decisions about perpetrators of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence) – University College London

This research demonstrated the significance of a probation practitioner’s contribution to the parole decision, and how parole panels take account of the risk management plans provided by professionals. An article was published in Probation Quarterly PQ27.

I have been impressed by the interest and quality of applications that the RGG has reviewed and would encourage anyone wishing to undertake research related to parole to get in touch.

Want to learn more? Our website research page has more information on research at the Parole Board and lists more completed research.  

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