THE state’s worst criminals would be more likely to have their bid for release approved under reforms which would take the decision out of the hands of politicians.
The Sunday Mail understands Cabinet will this week consider relinquishing its power to veto recommendations of the SA Parole Board, currently headed by Frances Nelson, QC.
The Sunday Mail can reveal that in the past 18 months, Cabinet has denied parole for 10 of 14 life-sentence prisoners recommended for release by the Parole Board.
Another 15 criminals who are serving life sentences are eligible for parole.
It comes as Corrections Minister Tony Piccolo announced the Government would deliver on its election commitments of “no body, no parole” and “life means life”.
He said murderers who did not help police locate their victims’ bodies would be denied parole — and any life-sentence prisoners given parole would be under those strict conditions until their death.
Sources said under a major plank of reforms, the Parole Board would be left to determine whether prisoners serving life sentences were released instead of giving politicians the final say.
There would be an appeal process for aggrieved parties that would be overseen by a retired Supreme Court justice.
The Parole Board only recommends that prisoners be released if it believes they pose no risk to public safety.
SA is one of only two states that has retained parole sign-off by the Governor, who acts on the advice of the Executive Council which is made up of the state’s Cabinet Ministers.
Parole Board chairwoman Frances Nelson QC and justice advocates have long argued that this process meant decisions about parole for life-sentence prisoners had been based on politics rather than the merits of a case.
Mr Piccolo would not comment on the matter but sources said the proposal may spark division in Cabinet as senior ministers from Labor’s Right faction would likely oppose measures that appeared soft on crime.
The reforms go hand-in-hand with Attorney-General John Rau’s justice review, which seeks to improve court efficiencies and reduce pressure on overcrowded prisons while balancing the rights of victims.
Mr Piccolo said the Government was committed to community safety and the rights of victims, and stressed: “Currently life-sentenced prisoners remain on parole from three to 10 years but under (the “life means life”) changes, even if the person is afforded parole they will be required to serve their life sentence.
“If you have committed a crime so heinous that you are given a life sentence, then the community expects life to mean life.”
Mr Piccolo said the “no body, no parole” reforms would provide an incentive for offenders to co-operate with authorities and hopefully bring some closure to the families of those victims whose remains have never been found.
“I could not think of anything more awful than to have a loved one missing while their killer serves time in prison,” Mr Piccolo said.
The Minister said the changes would also allow the Parole Board to order a life- sentenced offender on parole to be monitored by GPS.
Victims’ Rights commissioner Michael O’Connell said he supported the “depoliticisation” of the parole process but stressed that any changes should not reduce the involvement of victims. “Life should mean life was a recommendation I made because victims’ families often say the murderer has sentenced their loved one to death,” he said.
See article: Judicial reforms may end government’s veto powers over SA Parole Board recommendations