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These 3 women should never have died.

Jill Meagher self pic
There were four opportunities to prevent harm to  Jill Meagher.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

By AMY STOCKWELL

Last week, while waiting for a bus in Sydney’s Hunter’s Hill, a 30 year old woman was attacked.

She was stabbed and assaulted. Her clothes were torn off in an attempted rape. She suffered a punctured lung and a fractured cheekbone.

What she didn’t know was that the man who was attempting to murder her on that June evening had killed a woman before.

Her attacker, Terrence John Leary, was on parole after serving a prison sentence for murdering a 17 year old woman.

Parole is an important element of our criminal justice system. It is designed to promote rehabilitation of offenders. At its core, the prospect of parole promises release in the community if an offender can demonstrate that they are reformed, remorseful and will not reoffend.

Lately, this system has come under scrutiny because a number of violent offenders have committed hideous crimes against women while on parole.

In circumstances that have now become widely known, Jill Meagher was raped and murdered by Adrian Bayley in Melbourne last year. Bayley had repeatedly been convicted and imprisoned for rape. In fact, he had been convicted of 20 rapes over 23 years. It is now known that Bayley was on parole when he raped and murdered Ms Meagher. He was also on bail for shattering the jaw of a man while he appealed his sentence for that crime.

Adrian Bayley
Adrian Bayley
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The tragedy is that there are several points in time where decisions could have been taken that would have ensured that Bayley was not on the street on that horrible night last September. In 2002, a judge sentenced Bayley – already a convicted rapist from the age of 19 – to only 11 years in prison for raping five women.

A Parole Board released Bayley on parole in 2011. A judge in Geelong granted Bayley bail while he appealed the severity of his 3 month sentence for shattering a man’s jaw in 2012. And the Victorian Adult Parole Board did not revoke Bayley’s parole despite the fact he had been convicted and sentenced for this violent offence.

Four opportunities to prevent harm. Four failures to do so.

Now, I appreciate that with the benefit of hindsight, these decisions would not be made. However, the women who have been attacked while offenders are on parole don’t have the benefit of hindsight either.

Professor Arie Freiberg, the chair of the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council said of the Parole Board, “sometimes they get it catastrophically wrong” [surely the Biggest Understatement of 2013].

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has conceded the parole system failed Ms Meagher [and presumably it also failed the guy who had his jaw broken in Geelong]. The Premier has ordered a former High Court judge to review the structure of the Parole Board.

But the Parole Board structures are not necessarily the problem.

Parole itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite a good thing. Parole is an important tool for monitoring violent offenders by allowing the justice system to impose conditions on release. If people serve out their full prison term and are released, they can’t have conditions imposed on them. They are in the wind.

Tom Meagher, Jill Meagher's husband, speaking on the ABC's 7.30 Report
Tom Meagher, Jill Meagher’s husband, speaking on the ABC’s 7.30 Report
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But parole provides the opportunity for a period of supervised release, where the offender must meet certain conditions (from reporting to a parole officer to wearing an ankle bracelet with GPS monitoring) or face being returned to custody to serve out the remainder of their term (when they will be released without condition).

Parole is not the problem. It is the way that parole provisions are being applied which is problematic.

In light of assaults against women committed by those on parole, it appears the system is failing to value women’s safety and to prioritise it.

How are parole boards valuing women’s safety in their deliberations at the moment? Well, the truth is that we really don’t know.

In Victoria, reasons for parole decisions are secret. The Parole Board is staffed by 16 retired judges and magistrates, the Secretary of the Justice Department, a permanent member and 8 members of the community. Three of members of this Board will make up a panel that consider an application for parole.

This panel makes a decision based on a number of factors and they undertake a risk assessment (also secret) of the likelihood of reoffending. This includes consideration of the nature and severity of the harm that is risked.

Anyone can make a submission about an offender’s parole, but the proceedings are conducted privately. So, we don’t know what was in the mind of the Adult Parole Board when they make decisions like the one that determined that Adrian Bayley was safe to remain in the community.

The Parole Board’s guidelines say: “Community safety is the paramount consideration in all decisions relating to the granting of parole”. The words are all there.

And yet the reality of those words leaves us wanting and wondering.

This idea that the parole system fails women will come as no surprise to women who have experienced intimate partner violence. Women who have been abused by intimate partners have often continued to be risk of violence even after their partner has been convicted, imprisoned and deemed appropriate for release, especially when these women have children.

Andrea Pickett. Photo supplied.
Andrea Pickett. Photo supplied.
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In 2009, Andrea Pickett, a mother of 13 was killed by her estranged husband, who at the time was on parole and was the subject of a restraining order taken out by Ms Pickett.

In handing down his findings into Ms Pickett’s death, the WA State Coroner said it was clear that parole supervision had provided no protection for her: “She had told police, Department of Corrections staff and Crisis Care staff about her fears [of being murdered by her husband], yet no effective protective arrangements were in place at the time of her murder.”

The Coroner found that a plan should have been in place prior to Mr Pickett’s release on parole which would afford Andrea maximum protection from him – but none was provided.

Ms Pickett’s safety was not sufficiently valued in the parole decision. She was abandoned by the justice system.

So was this Gladstone woman last week whose partner was released after 2.5 years of a 6 years sentence, despite having killed another woman in the past.

So was Elsa Copp, who was murdered three years ago by a man on parole.

So was the 30 year old woman in Hunter’s Hill this month.

So was Jill Meagher.

When the justice system fails to keep a check on violent sexual offenders, it pushes the responsibility for preventing sexual assault back onto women.

When the parole board allows a serial rapist to remain in the community, despite a conviction for a violent assault, the justice system is sending a very powerful message to women: Ladies, you’d better be careful.

This is the very definition of insanity: the justice system fails and puts women at risk, yet our conclusion is “women should take care”. Well, no, actually. The justice system needs to do better. The justice system should stop putting women at risk. The justice system needs to place a higher priority on women’s safety.

We can only hope that recent high-profile offending against women ensures that women’s safety is prioritised in future Parole Board deliberations.

There is a current petition on change.org that is calling for parole board rules to be tightened. If you wish to, you can sign that petition here.

Amy Stockwell is a policy communicator, lawyer and writer, former ministerial adviser, public servant and NGO-junkie. You can follow her on Twitter .

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