Last updated 30 May 2017     This chapter is currently under review.

Leave of absence

The chief executive may grant an order for leave of absence to an incarcerated person for any one of a number of purposes, including community service, compassionate purposes (e.g. to visit a seriously ill family member), educational or vocational activities, medical, dental or optical treatment (health leave), or another purpose that justifies the granting of leave.

Potential contact with victims can be taken into account when granting leave of absence (LOA). Most LOAs will be supervised by a corrective services officer.

Where it is suspected that a person has not complied with an LOA order or Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) reasonably suspects the person poses a serious and immediate risk of harm either to themselves or someone else, the order may be suspended and the person returned to secure custody. If there is no serious and immediate risk of harm to someone else, notification must be given prior to return to custody.

There are no internal appeal procedures by which people can challenge decisions to revoke an LOA order or to return them to secure custody. However, the usual rules of procedural fairness still apply to such decisions, and people should be given an opportunity to answer allegations against them, even if that opportunity is given after they have been returned to a secure custody centre because of the security risk they are perceived to represent.

Parole

The first step in understanding a person’s sentence and eligibility for parole is to obtain a copy of their sentence calculation sheet. Every incarcerated person is entitled to access their sentence calculation sheet. It may also be necessary to obtain the sentencing remarks from the sentencing court.

If there is an error, the Queensland Ombudsman or Prisoners’ Legal Service may be able to assist.

The only basis on which prisoners can be released before their full time date (apart from LOA) is on parole. Parole is granted subject to the conditions set out in a parole order. The person is still under sentence and, if someone breaches the terms of their parole, they can be returned to custody. Any time they have served on parole prior to the breach is counted as time served under their sentence. Life-sentenced prisoners remain under sentence and subject to parole conditions for the rest of their lives. If a person is found to be a dangerous sexual offender, they can be detained beyond their full sentence if the Supreme Court finds that they are an unacceptable risk to the community.

Parole orders can include restrictions on a parolee’s movements. A person on parole cannot leave the state without permission and cannot travel overseas except in exceptional circumstances for compassionate reasons. Parole conditions are listed in s 200 of the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) (Corrective Services Act) and further conditions may be placed on the relevant order. The consumption of alcohol is often prohibited. A person on parole may also be obliged to participate in a community-based rehabilitative program under the terms of their order. They must report regularly to a parole officer and notify community corrections of any change of address or employment. A parole board can amend or remove a condition of a parole order.

Decisions about releasing a prisoner on parole are made by one of two regional parole boards (for prisoners serving terms up to eight years) and by the Queensland Parole Board (QPB) for terms over eight years.

Section 227 of the Corrective Services Act provides that the Minister for Police and Corrective Services may issue guidelines to the QPB in relation to performing its functions. The QPB may also provide guidelines to the regional boards in similar terms to those issued by the minister:

  • to give the highest priority to the safety of the community
  • to consider whether there is an unacceptable risk to the community if the prisoner is released on parole, and whether the risk would be greater if the prisoner does not spend a period of time on parole
  • to assess suitability factors
  • to ensure that a prisoner has been classified as low security prior to parole being granted. However, there can be exceptions to this.

The ministerial guidelines also state the following:

  • If a prisoner has been convicted of a sexual offence, the board should exercise extreme caution when determining the prisoner’s suitability.
  • Prior to deciding whether to grant a person parole, the board should be satisfied that the prisoner’s residential and release plans are acceptable, in light of the person’s past offences.
  • Ordinarily, a prisoner should be classified as low security prior to parole being granted. However, at the board’s discretion, a person may be approved for parole if a parole eligibility date has been set by a court or exceptional circumstances exist.
  • Consideration for parole for a person who has failed to make a genuine effort in undertaking available rehabilitation opportunities while in custody should be undertaken with extreme caution.
  • All prisoners who have reached their parole eligibility date are entitled to have their application considered by the relevant board and their individual circumstances assessed.

After receiving an application for parole, sentence management requests a home assessment and a copy of the application are sent to the parole board. The board must either grant or refuse a parole application within 180 days of receiving it. However, the board may decide to defer a decision until they obtain further information (e.g. a psychiatric evaluation). If the board defers the decision, the timeframe for making a decision becomes 210 days. However, if the board fails to make a decision within 180 days (or 210 days if deferred), it can continue to consider the application.

If a board refuses an application, they must give the applicant written reasons for the refusal, and they must set a date not more than six months after the refusal when they will consider a fresh application.

The responsibility for making a timely application for parole lies with the person in prison. Application forms should be available in the prison. People who have literacy or language problems should be provided with assistance, either by staff or by the Prisoners’ Legal Service.

A parole application should try to cover the following matters:

  • social background
  • criminal history and offences
  • relevant attitudes (e.g. victim empathy)
  • prison activities
  • relapse prevention plan
  • release/reintegration plan
  • support networks
  • future plans
  • accommodation
  • future employment
  • attitude to parole.

Incarcerated people in Queensland are not entitled to legal representation when appearing before the parole board. The applicant may apply to appear personally or apply to have an agent appear on their behalf before a board. Current practice is that only a handful of applications to appear are granted every year.

Types of parole

Exceptional circumstances parole

Exceptional circumstances parole (s 176 Corrective Services Act) is unusual but available in limited situations. A person may apply on the approved form to a parole board for an exceptional circumstances parole order at any time during their sentence, even before their parole eligibility date. The circumstances have to be serious or extreme and need to have come about after the sentencing process. If serious or extreme circumstances were considered by the sentencing court, they will not form a basis for exceptional circumstances parole.

The explanatory notes to the Corrective Services Act provide two non-exhaustive examples of exceptional circumstances:

  • an incarcerated person who develops a terminal illness
  • an incarcerated person who is the sole carer of a spouse who contracts a chronic disease requiring constant attention.

Parole boards very rarely exercise this discretionary power. In making an application for exceptional circumstances parole, it is important to provide all relevant supporting evidence such as medical certificates, a letter of the doctor’s prognosis in relation to any illness and evidence of proposed living arrangements and support networks.

Court ordered parole

People sentenced to three years or less will be automatically released on the parole date set by the court, without needing to apply for parole. Court-ordered parole is subject to the conditions listed in s 200 of the Corrective Services Act.

Parole board applications

People must apply to the parole board for a parole decision in the following circumstances:

  • sentenced for longer than three years
  • sentenced after 28 August 2006 for less than three years but the imprisonment includes a term for a serious violent offence or a sexual offence
  • subject to a court-ordered parole order which has subsequently been cancelled or suspended under the Corrective Services Act.

Parole eligibility date

An eligibility date is the date on which a person is eligible to be considered for parole and can make a parole application, which may be refused or granted by the parole board. Eligibility dates are generally set by the court (or 50% of the sentence) or:

  • for serious violent offence 80% or 15 years
  • for life (unless later date set by court):
    • 15 years
    • for repeat child sex offence 20 years
    • for murder of police officer 25 years
    • for multiple murders 30 years.

Appealing a refusal of parole

Where a regional board refuses three or more successive applications for parole, the applicant is entitled to have the last refusal reviewed by the QPB on its merits. An application for review must be made within seven days of the receipt of written notice of the refusal.

There is no other mechanism for a merits review of a parole board decision. However, if they are considering refusing parole, the parole board usually give reasons and grant 14 days to respond. This is because parole applicants are entitled to procedural fairness, which means among other things that they should be advised of any adverse matters that have been taken into account and that affected the decision so they can consider whether proper considerations were made.

Breach, suspension and cancellation

The chief executive may amend or suspend a parole order if they reasonably believe that the person on parole has either failed to comply with the order or poses a serious and immediate risk of harm to themselves or someone else (s 201 Corrective Services Act). If parole is suspended, an arrest warrant is issued (s 202 Corrective Services Act) and the chief executive must advise the relevant parole board.

The board may then do one of the following:

  • lift the suspension and return the person to the community
  • suspend for a particular period of time or indefinitely
  • amend the parole order
  • cancel the parole order, which would require a new application for release to be made to a parole board.

The Corrective Services Act also provides the parole board with wide powers to amend, suspend or cancel a parole order for a range of reasons including if the board receives information that, had it been received before the order was made, would have resulted in the board making a different order or no order.

The board is required to give the person on parole notice and a chance to be heard if it intends to amend the order, but need not advise the prisoner if it intends to suspend or cancel the order.

If a regional board cancels a person’s court ordered parole then any further application for parole must be made to that board.

There is no formal ‘show cause’ procedure by which a person can dispute the suspension or cancellation of their parole before it is suspended or cancelled. The board must, however, give the person a written information notice on their return to prison. Under requirements of procedural fairness, the person must be provided with the reasons for the revocation and an opportunity to be heard on those matters. Submissions must be made within 21 days of receiving notification of the intended suspension or cancellation.

If a person on parole commits an offence whilst on parole for which they are sentenced to another term of imprisonment, their parole is automatically cancelled, even if the parole order has expired by the time they are sentenced. However, time spent on parole before they committed the further offence counts as time served.

Early discharge

The chief executive may grant up to seven days early release to a prisoner who has served at least half of their period of imprisonment (s 110 Corrective Services Act). This will normally allow people to catch timely transport where alternative transport options are unavailable on the scheduled release day.