One woman, “Paula”, who submitted her parole application 220 days ago, contacted Sisters Inside in a distressed state as her family said she would not be able to live with them as she had “clearly done something wrong or she would have been released”.
Prisoners Legal Service director Helen Blaber said a “crisis point” had been reached and extra emergency funding should be allocated to the parole board and legal support services.
She also called for an overhaul of the parole board to enable it to operate more like a tribunal, conducting hearings.
Ms Blaber said the problem was exacerbated by people being returned to custody for low-level breaches and then facing delays in having their parole suspensions dealt with.
She said delayed parole decisions could result in people spending additional time in prison when they did not pose a risk to the community, increasing the chances of institutionalisation and people being released at the end of their sentence without the benefit of supervision.
“Lots of people are getting out with no supervision [because their parole has ended],” she said.
“For example, if you’re released on parole, you can’t get out until you’re living at an address that the parole board approves. If you’re not on parole, you can live wherever you want.
“The vast majority of people in prison are released, and it’s all about in what circumstances do you want that release to be?”
Keeping people in prison also costs taxpayers $285.67 per prisoner daily, compared with the $14.61 it costs Queensland Corrective Services to administer a non-custodial order.
Prisoners Legal Service has estimated the total cost of the delays at $3.9 million each month.
Greens MP Michael Berkman described the backlog as a “major human rights crisis”, accusing the government of “kicking the can down the road”.
“This won’t end until the government ditches its ‘tough on crime’ mentality and looks at real solutions like building more public housing, raising the age of criminal responsibility, and shifting to drug harm reduction rather than criminalisation,” he said.
“The longer these people are stuck in prison, the more difficult it will be for them to get back on their feet, and the more likely they are to reoffend.
“After all, nothing makes a criminal like prison does.”
However, Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan said the government had boosted resources for the parole board.
“In fact, there is now a fourth temporary operating board to process applications,” he said during question time in Parliament.
“As a result of COVID-19, we saw an overwhelming number of applications for extraordinary circumstances parole.
“This meant that there was additional workload on the parole board, but we boosted resources last year to support that.
“We are also investing in community safety when it comes to prison capacity, [including] … the massive expansion at Gatton – over 1000 beds.”
Mr Ryan added that just because a person’s parole eligibility date was reached, it did not mean they would automatically be granted parole.
Felicity Caldwell is state political correspondent at the Brisbane Times