Frequently Asked Questions

What is parole?

Parole is a system that enables offenders to be released on licence in the community under the supervision of a community based social worker. If an offender is released on parole, they are subject to be recalled to prison at any time if they breach the terms of their licence. Parole is only granted where the Parole Board is satisfied that the risk presented by the offender can be managed in the community.

What is the Parole Board?

The Parole Board for Scotland (the Board) is a Tribunal Non-departmental Public Body whose members are appointed by the Scottish Ministers. The Board has a number of statutory functions but operates independently from the Scottish Government. Directions made to Scottish Ministers by the Board about early release of an offender are binding, with the exception of deportation cases and applications for compassionate release where the Board will offer advice only.

What category of offender can qualify for parole?

The Parole Board has a role in the following types of cases:

Short term determinate sentence offenders (those sentenced to less than 4 years) are released into the community unconditionally at the half way point in their sentence. The Parole Board has no role in these cases. Short term sex offenders are released on licence at the half way point and their licence conditions are set by the Scottish Government Justice Directorate. The Parole Board will only become involved if the offender breaches their licence and are recalled or are seeking re-release following recall.

Long Term determinate sentence offenders (those serving more than 4 years) are entitled by law to be considered for parole once they have served half of their sentence (this is known as the Parole Qualifying Date). If early release is not directed at the first review then the Board will reconsider the offender’s case at no more than 12 month intervals until the offender reaches their Earliest Date of Liberation (the two thirds point of their sentence or 6 months before the expiry of the sentence depending on when they were sentenced (and type of sentence – e.g. extended aren’t released 6 months prior) at which point the Scottish Ministers are statutorily required to release the prisoner into the community on licence.

Extended sentence offenders are given a custodial part and an extended part of sentence by the court. The Board will deal with two types of extended sentence offenders. Those sentenced to a short term custodial part but the extended part takes the sentence overall to more than 4 years will be referred to the Board for licence conditions only. If the custodial part is more than 4 years they will considered in the same way as long term determinate offenders. Their licence will run to the end of the extended part of the sentence.

A life sentence prisoner is told at the time of sentencing in the court what the minimum period is that they must spend in prison. This is known as the punishment part of the sentence. They will have their case considered by a Tribunal of the Board as soon as possible after the punishment part has expired. If they are not released at the first review they are required by law to have a further review within 2 years. Subsequent reviews will be set by the tribunal.

How does an offender apply for parole?

An offender does not apply for parole. Scottish Ministers will refer cases to the Parole Board at the appropriate stage in their sentence. The Board can only consider cases referred to it by Scottish Ministers.

What is a non parole licence?

If a long term determinate or extended sentence offender is refused parole they remain in prison until they are released automatically once they have served 2/3 of their sentence or 6 months before the expiry of the sentence depending on when they were sentenced. The offender is then released into the community on a non parole licence for the final part of their sentence but is still subject to be recalled to prison to serve the remaining term if they breach the terms of their licence. The Board is responsible for setting licence conditions in these cases.

Is parole a reward for good behaviour in prison?

No. Bad behaviour and breaching prison rules certainly does not help an offender’s case for parole. However, the Parole Board must look at wider issues than the offender’s behaviour in custody. The Board has regard to a wide range of information when considering the case from a variety of sources. The prisoner’s criminal record, his/her family background, what counselling/courses he/she has undertaken while in custody in order to address the causes of offending, the response to such counselling and the prisoner’s plans for release are all important.

Do sex offenders get parole?

Yes, sex offenders may be released on parole because release does not depend upon the type of offence committed. The offender has to demonstrate to the Board that the risk they present can be safely managed in the community.

Will the Board release an offender who denies his/her guilt?

Release on parole does not depend upon an offender admitting his/her guilt. It is not the function of the Board to investigate possible miscarriages of justice or to raise any misgivings about the correctness of a conviction. The Board will consider the likelihood of re-offending by taking account of the nature of the offence of which the offender has been convicted in a court, any previous convictions, attitude and response in prison and reports from prison staff and social work reports.

When does an offender qualify for consideration for early release on parole?

A determinate sentence prisoner serving a sentence of 4 years or more usually has his/her case referred to the Board about 16 weeks before reaching the half way point of the sentence. If parole is granted, they will be released at their parole qualifying date (PQD), which is the half way point of the sentence, or at a later date set by the Parole Board.

Can an offender opt out of the parole system?

A determinate or extended sentence offender may opt out of the review of his/her case for release on parole.

When does an offender qualify for consideration for release on life licence?

A life prisoner qualifies for consideration for release on life licence when the punishment part set by the court has expired.

Who writes the reports for the parole review dossier?

A parole review dossier contains a number of reports. The dossier usually includes a report from the judge who presided at the trial; details of any previous convictions; reports from prison staff; a report from those involved in providing any counselling/programme work in custody; a report from the prison based social worker; and a report from a community based social worker.

Does the offender get to see all the reports in their parole review dossier?

The offender will normally see all of the reports in the dossier. If a report is withheld they will be told that this has been done and you will, as far as is practicable, be advised of the substance of the information that is not being disclosed.

What if the offender doesn’t agree with a report written about them?

The offender may make written representations about the terms of any of the reports in the parole review dossier. A life prisoner may raise the matter with the members of the Tribunal considering the case. They are not, however, entitled to tell the author of a report what he/she should write about them.

What does the Parole Board take into account when considering an offenders case?

The Board takes into account all of the information contained in the reports in the dossier. It will take into account information about the original offence from the trial judge’s report. The Board is interested in behaviour in prison, offending history, family and social background and plans for release. The Board also considers whether the offender has taken any steps to address issues or problems which may have contributed to their offending behaviour. The main consideration for the Board will be to assess whether an offender is likely to be a risk to the community if they are released on licence.

Can a parole release date be withdrawn?

Yes. If something goes wrong, for example, if the offender breaks the prison rules or fails to co-operate with the plans for their release, the case will be referred back to the Board for further consideration.

What will the licence say?

The licence will require the offender to report promptly to their supervising officer and abide by all conditions named on the licence – for example, informing their supervising officer of a change of circumstances which could include: a they change of address or a change of employment. They may also be required to stay at specific accommodation or to undertake counselling on particular problems such as alcohol, drugs or anger management.

If they do not keep in touch with their supervising officer, break the law or fail to co-operate with any other licence conditions they may be recalled to custody to serve the remainder of their sentence.

Can an appeal be made against the decision of the Parole Board?

There is no appeal against the decision of the Board. However, if you feel the case was not dealt with in the appropriate manner, you can apply for a Judicial Review of the case.