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The National Audit Office says the work of the Parole Board is hampered by the lack of timely information from other parts of the criminal justice system.

Prisoners who may be eligible for parole are having their case hearings delayed because of poor information handling by the criminal justice system. One of the most common reasons for delay is that the Parole Board does not receive the information required to make a decision.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO), published on 5 March 2008, found although the board has performance targets for each of the main types of case it considers, only 32 per cent of oral hearings for indeterminate sentences are being held on time. Two thirds of oral hearing cases examined by the audit office had been deferred at least once, including 45 per cent deferred on the day of the hearing.

The report, Protecting the public: the work of the Parole Board, says only 65 per cent of the cases deferred are recorded on the board's database. Although the board is working hard to improve its performance, it is not able to handle its own workload, and is "heavily constrained" by the failure of the Ministry of Justice, the Prison Service and the Probation Service in providing timely and complete data for the parole system.

"Incomplete and late information makes it harder for the board's members to make their decisions, posing a greater risk that the wrong decision may be made," the report says.

Tim Burr, head of the NAO, said: "If the Parole Board is to make decisions about the release of prisoners which are both fair and minimise the risk of harm to the public, for the board to do its job properly it must have access to complete information. Currently, that is not always happening."

Delays in the parole process mean prisoners are sometimes being kept in prison or held in closed conditions longer than they should be. The NAO found that failures to release on time and the cost of the administrative delays at the Parole Board resulted in an additional cost of nearly £3m in the nine months to 1 June 2007.

Furthermore, this is happening at a time when the government is looking for ways to reduce the prison population.

Victor Almeida, criminal justice analyst at Kable, commented: "This is very disappointing news, especially as the Criminal Justice IT (CJIT) programme reaches its completion this month.

"The initiative, which started five years ago with a £2bn budget, aimed to modernise and improve data sharing within the criminal justice system in England and Wales, as well as generate cost savings of £2.6bn. With setbacks such as this, it is questionable whether the CJIT will achieve its targets."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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