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Evans: Exiting jail should be a politician-free zone

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The Government decision to end politicians’ involvement in the parole process is correct.

The independent parole board should decide when a prisoner has served their time and been rehabilitated in line with the prisoner’s sentence set by an independent court, and not politicians hungry for the next vote.

Currently it is Cabinet (politicians) that decides to recommend to the Governor whether prisoners serving life sentences but due for parole should be set free or not. Tradition is that the Governor acts on Cabinet advice, so effectively the politicians decide.

The justice system provides protection to our citizens through the separation of powers and functions. The Parliament makes the laws representing community values at the time.

The police, who can’t be directed by the politicians, Ministers or Cabinet, investigate alleged breaches of the law.

The court, which can’t be directed by the politicians, Ministers or Cabinet in regards to findings or sentencing, hears the police evidence and the accused’s explanation in defence and decide if the accused is guilty.

Having decided the accused is guilty, the court, free of direction by the politicians, Ministers or Cabinet, then independently sets the sentence for the accused.

While there are opportunities for the Attorney General to appeal at certain points, in the community interest, these appeals are heard by the independent courts free of political direction as to the outcome of the appeal.

Then, having served their term as determined by the independent process, when do prisoners get set free? Well, for those sentenced to life imprisonment in South Australia, they currently get set free when the politicians (Cabinet) say so.

So the process of investigation, trial and sentencing are all free of political direction but when it comes time to get out, it all relies on political direction – Cabinet’s will – for some prisoners.

What this means is that it leaves the door open for prisoners who have served their time to be used as political footballs for votes. What’s the chance of a notorious prisoner, who is eligible for parole, being released weeks before a state election?

More likely their parole rejection would be a media event because of “tough on crime politics”.

While society always has concerns about prisoners re-entering the community, that question should be left to highly trained, well-resourced independent experts on the parole board, not untrained politicians who may be chasing votes.

Think about your local MP – what do they really know about prisoner rehabilitation?

Just as entering prison is a politician-free zone, exiting prison should be the same.

The politicians’ role, through Parliament, is to make the law reflect community standards and be clear, so that the independent courts sentence and the parole board releases, according to those community standards set by Parliament.

Mistakes will happen – they happen now – but having a system that can deny people their freedom because of politics has no place in a modern society like that of South Australia.

The Government has got the policy principle right on this issue.

Iain Evans is former State Minister for Police and Corrections.

 

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