Queensland Law Society

COVID-19 not grounds for early jail release: Parole Board Queensland

The independent Queensland body tasked with assessing prisoner eligibility for return to the community on parole has sent a clear message that “vulnerability, exposure to or a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19’ was not sufficient grounds for early release from jail.

Parole Board Queensland President Michael Byrne QC said processes had been put in place to prioritise the consideration of parole applications by people identified to have a vulnerability to COVID-19.

However, Mr Byrne exclusively told QLS everyone should feel comfortable in the knowledge any decision to release an inmate on parole would not be based on the risks and exposure to the potentially deadly virus to the prisoner, but always in the best interests of wider community safety.

“(Queensland Government) guidelines require that the Board is to seek advice from Queensland Health or other approved medical specialist on the seriousness, and management of the prisoner’s medical condition (when considering a parole application),’’ Mr Byrne said.

“To be clear, vulnerability, exposure to, or a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 is not sufficient to be granted a parole order.

“It is just one of the many factors the Board takes into account.  The highest priority for the Board is always the safety of the community.’’

Mr Byrne said PBQ was an independent statutory authority and operated to ensure lawful, objective, evidence-based parole decisions were made in accordance with current legislation and Ministerial Guidelines, with community safety always being the highest priority.

The Board has put in place processes to prioritise the consideration of parole applications by people identified to have a vulnerability to COVID-19.

Based on current Queensland Health advice, the following prisoners may fall into the category of people vulnerable to COVID-19:

  • who are aged 60 or over;
  • who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander;
  • who have a chronic medical condition;
  • who have asthma or a respiratory condition; and
  • who have a weakened or compromised immune system.

Mr Byrne also revealed that in a bid to increase the number of parole applications the Board had appointed an Acting Deputy President – alongside permanent appointees Peter Shields and Julie Sharpe – to increase the total matters considered by the Board during the pandemic.

“From 20 April 2020, the Board has a further Acting Deputy President who will be chairing two extra Board hearings each week,” Mr Byrne said. 

“These extra Board hearings will increase the number of matters considered by the Board by approximately 25 percent. The Board is currently utilising all available technologies to mitigate the risk of contagion to Board members, staff and prisoners.”