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Probation and custody

Offenders sentenced to less than 12 months (short term detainee) are released from prison at the halfway point and are not on supervision. For example - someone sentenced to 6 months will be released after 3 months. An exception is that certain sexual offenders sentenced to less than 12 months will be subject to supervision by a probation officer; supervision will run from release to the three-quarter point of their sentence.

Those sentenced from 12 months up to but not including 4 years (short term detainee) are released half way through their sentence and subject to supervision by a probation officer until the three-quarter point. If an offender fails to co-operate with the conditions of supervision they can be summoned before the courts. The court may return them to custody. For example - someone sentenced to 2 years will be released after 1 year and supervised by a probation officer for 6 months. 

Those sentenced to 4 years or more (long term detainee) are considered for release at the half way point by the Parole Committee. If released they are subject to supervision by a probation officer until the three-quarter point of their sentence. Prisoners not granted parole are automatically released at the two thirds point and subject to supervision until the three-quarter point. If an offender fails to co-operate with the conditions of parole supervision they can be referred to the Parole Committee. The Parole Committee may recommend to the Minister of Home Affairs a return to custody. In an emergency situation, where there is an imminent risk to the public, the Department of Home Affairs may recall the offender immediately. In this event, the case will be referred to the Parole Committee as soon as practicable. The Parole Committee may recommend release or continued custody. For example - if an offender is sentenced to 4 years and not granted parole, they will be released after serving 32 months and supervised until 36 months. In these cases they are still under the parole system for recall and subject to the same conditions as for parole.

There are exceptions to the above. The courts are able to apply extended supervision periods for those offenders convicted of sexual, violence and arson offences (Criminal Justice Act 2001 section 38). Violent and arson offenders can have their licence extended by up to 5 years and sexual offenders can have it extended to 10 years. All cases subject to extended supervision periods are referred to the Parole Committee for consideration of recall should they not comply with their supervision requirements. In an emergency situation, where there is an imminent risk to the public, the Department of Home Affairs may recall them immediately.

In serious cases of murder, certain sexual, arson or violent offences the court can impose a life sentence. This is mandatory in the case of murder.  Life sentence prisoners have a tariff - the minimum amount they must serve before the can be considered for release. Life sentence prisoners may only be released when they are assessed as no longer presenting a risk to the public and after reaching their tariff date. A life sentence prisoner is released on life licence and can be supervised for the rest of their life, although the supervision requirement may be removed after a number of years. All life sentence prisoners are transferred to the United Kingdom prison system to serve the custodial part of their life sentence.

All supervision licences have a number of standard conditions as well as optional additional conditions designed to protect the public. For example, a sexual offender may be prevented from working with children or a drug user may have a condition that he or she be randomly drug tested.

All released prisoners are considered 'at risk' until their sentence expiry date. This means the court may return them to custody to complete their sentence in its entirety should they commit a further imprisonable offence. This is served as well as any other sentence passed for the re-offending.

Probation order

The courts can impose a probation order on an offender for a minimum of 6 months, up to a maximum of 3 years.

Probation officers work to pre-agreed national standards approved by the Department of Home Affairs, setting out the minimum levels of contact expected between an offender and the assigned probation officer.

There are 14 national standards in relation to the supervision of offenders and a separate 7 national standards specifically relating to community service orders. In addition there are a set of quality standards to which the service works.

The orders are designed to reduce the risk of re-offending. Each order is individually tailored to an offender and takes into consideration many factors including, drink or drug abuse, relationships, employment and their accommodation situation.

Many offenders are encouraged to undertake a schedule of work designed to address their offending behaviour. Such work include, but are not limited to, victim awareness, thinking skills, domestic violence, drink driving rehabilitation and drug and alchohol awareness.

Offenders who require assistance with issues such as addiction, debt, health, employment etc can be referred to other Government and third sector agencies.

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