Unconscious bias in the recruitment process is feared to have led to the Parole Board having no black members, its chair has admitted.
Caroline Corby said the lack of diversity was of “significant concern” to her, adding that the approach to recruitment will change.
The Parole Board assesses whether serving prisoners in England and Wales are safe to be released into the community or moved to open prisons and applies conditions on a person’s release.
Latest figures show that just 5% of board members are from a non-white background, compared with 26% of the prison population.
“I am a little bit concerned about this,” Corby said.
“Of our 240 members, 13 currently have a BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) background and I want to do better than that.”
She added: “At the moment we have no black Parole Board members and that’s of significant concern to me. But in terms of addressing this issue, we’re very keen to have as many people with a BAME background apply to us as possible.
“We have learnt lessons from our last recruitment round because we actually had the same objective and we weren’t successful so I am determined to learn lessons from last time around.”
Asked why, Corby said there were not enough applicants from BAME backgrounds and those who did apply did “very poorly” in the first two stages of the five-stage process for “reasons we don’t entirely understand”.
She added: “But I think there must have been some kind of unconscious bias in those processes. We’re not going to have those processes next time around.”
Corby also said the board had suffered a “loss of confidence” following the John Worboys case. The board ruled in January that Worboys, known as the black cab rapist, was safe to be freed after around a decade behind bars.
The board’s release direction was quashed by the High Court in March and changes were made, including a transparency drive over its decision
Corby said it was hard to measure if members were more risk-averse following the case, although she noted that the release rate was usually around 49% but decreased to about 42% in the immediate aftermath and has since increased to 46%, with more adjournments and deferrals.
On the impact of the Worboys ruling, Corby said: “It was obviously a very difficult period for the board.
“We saw the departure of our previous chair in difficult circumstances, the board was subject to unprecedented amount of publicity, the like of which we haven’t experienced before, and I think there was a loss of confidence amongst ourselves a little bit, perhaps a loss of confidence in the wider public and that was something I am very keen to repair.”