A commitment on improving diversity
This is a guest blog by Martin Jones, Chief Exec of the Parole Board.
I have been delighted to write for Russell Webster about IPPs, recalls and improving the performance of the Parole Board. These are all important issues where we have made progress. But there is one vital issue where we still need to do better – Improving the diversity of our membership.
About a year ago I attended a National Prison Radio event where I was asked questions about parole by prisoners. A young black prisoner asked me whether it would be a good idea if each parole panel should include a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic person to help build trust in our decisions? I answered him honestly – it was a fantastic idea, but we simply do not have enough current members from a BAME background to make this remotely feasible. And I was clear with him – we must do better to address this.
Whilst 14% of the general population and over 25% of people in prison are from a BAME background; over 95% of our Parole Board members are from a white background and we currently have no black members. In my view that is indefensible and must be damaging to the confidence of prisoners and those working in the system.
Since joining the Parole Board, I have been keen to be more open about our performance. That is why I worked with the Ministry of Justice to include outcomes of parole hearings in the biennial race in the Criminal Justice system publication Race in CJS for the first time. The statistics in that document, which are also shown in the Lammy Report, remain a source of real concern to anyone working in the CJS. There are still disparities at all stages in the CJS. And there are disparities in the Parole Board. Recent years have seen increases in the number of people released as we have held more oral hearings than ever. But certain groups have benefited more than others:
Those statistics are concerning. Whilst we are looking to undertake research to help us better understand the reasons for these disparities PB Research I think it underlines the importance of increasing our member diversity.
So, for the last 12 to 18 months I have been working to prepare the ground for our next recruitment campaign.
My focus has been threefold:
- Do people understand the work of the Parole Board and the important decisions we make?
- How do we attract more interest in these roles from people from a BAME background?
- Are there obstacles in the way of making progress – do we have the right recruitment processes?
Work with us – New member recruitment now open
I am delighted to say that our next independent recruitment campaign for independent members has now launched in the North of England. I have been overwhelmed by the people who have been generous enough to give me their ideas, time, and energy – and also offer us some challenge.
So, what are we doing differently this time around? The application process is much clearer than in previous recruitment campaigns – it is simply a written application and an interview. We are also working with organisations who can help us reach people from all backgrounds who have the skills but may never have thought about applying for something like this before.
You do not need to be a lawyer or a CJS professional to join the Parole Board – our primary focus is on recruiting capable people who can help us make rigorous, evidence-based decisions, which are both fair to the prisoner and ensure the protection of the public. Training and mentoring is provided after appointment.
I expect this to be the start of a programme of work, running through a series of regional campaigns over the next two years. I am sure we will learn from these campaigns about how to further improve our outreach and lessons will then be embedded into every campaign in the future.
Information to help people who might be interested, including blogs from current members about their experiences, has been added to our website. People can follow us on Twitter @Parole_Board or email us at [email protected] to help share the campaign as widely as possible and engage with us.
But why does this matter? Surely every Parole Board member seeks to make every decision fairly, and without fear or favour? I am certain that all of my members seek to make fair decisions in the light of the evidence provided. I am also certain that we can improve; and that improved diversity will crucially help improve public confidence and the confidence of people in the system.