Some inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison could soon have their sentences reduced by as much as 50 percent now that the territory’s Parole Board has started hearing cases — six years after legislation was passed to establish the institution.


Parole Board Chairman Denniston Fraser said Friday that the board held its first sitting on April 9, hearing a total of three cases. He declined to discuss details of the cases, but said that the seven-member panel hadn’t decided whether to recommend an early release for any of the applicants to Governor John Duncan.

The Parole Board will meet at least twice a year – in April and October – and hold extra sittings if needed, Mr. Fraser said.

Eligible prisoners are those who have served at least half of a sentence of at least four years, and who have completed approved counselling or rehabilitation programmes when applicable, according to the Parole Act.

The legislation further specifies that inmates serving life in prison can’t receive parole unless the judge who presided over their trial specifies otherwise, and that inmates denied parole have to wait 12 months before applying again.

Mr. Fraser said the inaugural hearing of the Parole Board was an important first step in ensuring the rights of prisoners.

“Prisoners do have the right to parole, and we can’t deny anyone that particular right just because they made mistakes in their past,” he said.

Protecting society

The board chairman acknowledged that some may fear the early release of hardened criminals, but he said that measures will be taken to ensure that society is protected. Along with rehabilitation programmes for some of the applicants, Mr. Fraser said the victims and other people involved in applicants’ cases will have the chance to be interviewed during hearings if they desire.

“The need to protect the public is always our first consideration,” he said.

Prison Superintendent David Foot did not respond to a request for comment on the issue, but in the past superintendents and other government officials have touted the parole system as a way to alleviate overcrowding at the prison.

Then-HMP Superintendent Richard Holder made that argument in 2011, and then-Governor Boyd McCleary reiterated his sentiments the same year, saying that the prison is designed for between 52 and 60 inmates, but regularly holds more than 100.

Mr. Foot reported at the end of the 2014 criminal assizes that there were 133 prisoners being housed, including three females and one juvenile.

Along with giving some prisoners the opportunity to have their sentences reduced, the Parole Act also gives officials more discretion on deciding who receives an early release.

Prior to the parole system, officials relied on the policy of “sentence remission,” reducing sentences by one third for inmates who displayed good behaviour, as per Rule Seven of the 1999 Prison Rules.

For some time prior to 2009, inmates were automatically given reduced sentences upon displaying good behaviour. However, on Dec. 2, 2009, then-Governor David Pearey wrote a memo to then-Prison Superintendent Leslie McMaster, instructing him to discontinue the automatic reductions and instead refer each case to the Governor’s Office for consideration.

Mr. Pearey’s change was instituted, but it was challenged shortly thereafter by Maureen Peters, who had been sentenced in July 2009 to two years imprisonment after being found guilty of theft and false accounting.

Ms. Peters was scheduled to be released in July 2011, but her sentence was cut short by several months when High Court Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti ruled that sentence remission must apply to all inmates who display good behaviour. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal upheld Ms. Joseph-Olivetti’s ruling in January 2014.

Life sentences

Though this month marked the first hearing since legislation paved the way for a parole board six years ago, the passing of the Parole Act in 2009 had immediate consequences for some prisoners, including Lorne Parsons, Clinton Hamm and Selena Varlack.

The three were convicted of murdering Tristan Industrious Todman in 2004 and were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006. However, the Parole Act gave judges the discretion to decide whether prisoners with life sentences should be considered for parole.

Ms. Joseph-Olivetti indeed revisited the trio’s sentences and allowed them to become eligible for parole after a certain time: 25 years for Messrs. Hamm and Parsons, and 18 years for Ms. Varlack.


Many promises have been made over the years as to when the Parole Board would finally be fully functional.

After the 2009 legislation was passed, a consultant from the United Kingdom was hired to help institute the parole system. Officials said at the time that the board could be up and running by October 2010.

In August 2011, Mr. McCleary blamed the ongoing delays on the complexity of instituting a new system, explaining that it required many changes in the way the justice system assesses eligibility for early release.

Two months later, Governor’s Office staffer Emma Dean said that board members would soon be selected, and that the system would be operational sometime in 2012.

Mr. McCleary approved seven members to serve on the panel in June 2012, but those members had to undergo training before they could begin hearing cases. A five-day training course was held for the members in September of that year, but the board remained dormant because the parole officer position hadn’t been funded or filled.

Mr. McCleary promised in an interview last summer that funding for the position would come “very soon.”

One senior parole officer and three parole and probation officers were included in the 2015 budget estimates, and Ministry of Health and Social Development Permanent Secretary Petrona Davies confirmed last week that the positions have been filled.

Another training course for board members was held as a refresher last November, according to Governor’s Office Policy Officer Maria Mays.

The board members’ terms expired on April 1, but Mr. Duncan reappointed them all for another three years.

Along with Mr. Fraser, the panel is composed of Colleen Farrington, Paul Ricketts, Dr. Thomas Alexander, Kya Huggins-McKenzie, Trefor Grant, and Chonda Jeffers.