‘No body, no parole’ laws could be disastrous for wrongfully convicted

New South Wales government plans to introduce new “no body, no parole” laws, which will deny parole to murderers who refuse to provide information or assist in locating their victim’s remains .

This follows Chris Dawson’s murder conviction of Lynette Dawson, whose remains have yet to be found.

Such laws provide inmates with an incentive to provide information about the location of their victims’ remains. Similar laws have already been introduced in Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

In general, “no body, no parole” laws require probation authorities to refuse parole unless they are satisfied with the inmate’s level of cooperation in identifying remains, including how early the information was provided.

These laws are designed to cut off friends and families of murder victims so they can bury their loved ones. However, there is little evidence that they are effective. And they can be disastrous for people in Australian prisons who have been wrongly convicted.

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What is parole and why is it important?

Parole is the conditional early release of prisoners, which allows them to serve part of their sentences in the community.

When a prison sentence is imposed, a judge determines how long an offender must remain in custody (a non-parole period) and when he may be eligible to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community.

Parole recognizes that the goals of rehabilitation are best served by providing inmates with opportunities to return to the community. The courts decide whether a person is eligible for parole, but the state authorities decide whether or not they will be released when the time comes.

There is some evidence that offenders who complete a certain period of parole before the end of their sentence are less likely to reoffend.

While completing their sentence in the community, parolees must also meet the conditions of parole. This includes reporting conditions and mandatory behavioral programs that reduce the risk of recidivism.

The tightening of parole exacerbates the problem of overcrowded prisons, with community-run delinquents being housed in penitentiaries at government expense.

There is great concern in Australia about prisoners making their custodial sentences “maximum”, either by choosing not to apply for parole to avoid parole, or because of restrictions on eligibility for parole, such as “no body , no parole” laws.

The effectiveness of ‘no body’ laws

We recently examined the effectiveness of Queensland’s “no body, no parole” laws, which were passed in 2017.

Since our work with RMIT University’s Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative often involves working with people serving prison terms while claiming their innocence, it is vital to assess the effectiveness of such laws and their risk to wrongly convicted persons. to evaluate.

Most Australian jurisdictions do not publish their parole decisions. But Queensland does – specifically for “no body” law results.

Our analysis revealed that out of the ten cases that came to probation during our collection period, six involved the applicant’s cooperation, but none resulted in the discovery of remains.

The Queensland case of Graeme Evans, who was convicted of manslaughter for the death of his former partner Leeann Lapham in 2018, has been cited in the media as an example of effectively working “no body” laws.

However, Evans pleaded guilty to the crime and was ineligible for parole at the time helping investigators find Lapham’s remains.

This example only pertains to “no body” laws because the detective in charge of the case has alleged that he used the threat of those laws to convince Evans to cooperate.

We believe that the “no body” laws have no evidence to support their use and may offer false hope to the families of the victims if no remains can be found. They rely on many assumptions about how crimes happen, how offenders can work together, and effective police investigations after disclosure.

They can also be disastrous for the wrongfully convicted.

What about the wrongly convicted?

We have no idea how many people have been wrongly convicted in Australia. An estimate based on research from the United States indicates that up to 3% of all convictions can be wrong. But the reality is, there’s no way we can find out.

A person can be found guilty of a crime he did not commit for a variety of reasons, including misidentification of eyewitnesses, inappropriate forensic evidence, forced or otherwise false confessions, or police misconduct.

Wrongful convictions remain a persistent risk within our criminal justice system, even when high standards of procedural justice are maintained.

Inmates wrongly convicted face what has been referred to as “the innocent prisoner’s dilemma” when they qualify for parole. If they maintain their innocence and refuse to admit responsibility or express remorse, their parole may be denied. If they accept responsibility for a crime they didn’t commit, they may limit their ability to overturn their convictions in the future.

“No body” laws add a further complication for the wrongfully convicted. The de facto innocents are clearly unable to provide the authorities with information about the victim’s location, as they did not commit the crime and would not know where the body is.

A well-known example is Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, who was wrongly convicted in 1982 for the murder of her daughter Azaria.

Chamberlain was publicly demonized for not admitting guilt and leading investigators to Azaria’s body. A 2012 investigation later found that Azaria was killed by a dingo.

“No body” laws, on the face of it, seem to act in the public interest to ensure that families can bury their loved ones. But the lack of evidence of real results and the very real risk of it disproportionately punishing those wrongly convicted should give us a pause before expanding this policy further.

Authors: Jarryd Bartle – Associate Lecturer, RMIT University | Greg Stratton – Lecturer – Criminology and Justice Studies, RMIT University | Michele Ruyters – Associate Dean, Criminology and Justice Studies, RMIT University | Monique Moffa – Assistant Professor, Criminology & Justice, RMIT University The conversation

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