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Q&A with Noreen Shami – Specialist member, Forensic Psychologist on BBC Two’s Parole



Q&A with Noreen Shami – Specialist member, Forensic Psychologist on BBC Two's Parole

What does your role as a forensic psychologist entail?

My role as a forensic psychologist involves assessing and treating people who have committed crimes (or been the victims of crime), by applying psychological theory to try and understand what led to the offending behaviour. This involves looking at a person’s full history from childhood to the present day, any significant life events and experiences such as trauma, neglect, mental health or cognitive difficulties. As well as identifying the things that trigger and maintain their behaviours, I develop treatment plans to provide targeted interventions to help prevent further reoffending.

I support the work of other parole board members by providing advice and guidance on any psychological issues or concerns which non psychologists may need assistance with. I also review any psychological assessments, reports and post intervention reports to gain an understanding of the psychological issues that are relevant to the offender and which treatment needs to focus on. I also provide guidance on whether certain traits are evident which may merit further exploration, such as possible Autism or mental illness.

What do you look for when assessing individual cases? What are the main challenges?

When assessing individual cases we have to look at whether the person meets the test for release. This involves looking at how much a person has changed since committing the offences, how much they have reduced their risk and whether they have addressed all the issues and treatment targets that were relevant to their offending. It is a challenge when professional witnesses have different opinions about what the prisoner needs to do next, as this can be the difference between someone being released and remaining in custody. On occasion, panel members have strong opposing views about whether the offender meets the test for release.

When you find out more about an individual’s circumstances, how hard is it to control your emotions and any moral judgement?

When finding out more about an individual’s circumstances, it can be difficult to control your emotions and moral judgements, but the job of a Parole Board member is to consider whether a prisoner has met the test for release. This is particularly when someone has committed a horrific, devastating and brutal offence, yet they may be well over tariff and have completed everything that was required of them and there is a consensus amongst professional witnesses that the individual has reduced their risk sufficiently.

The public often feel outrage about offenders being released even after many years; huge evidence of change; and often a great deal of time in the community. However, it is important to remember that the Parole Board’s test for release is set by parliament, and states that a prisoner is eligible to be considered for release once they have served the period set for punishment by the courts.

Why did you agree to take part in the documentary series

I agreed to take part in the documentary because I believe the public have a misperception of how the parole process works and can often have a very punitive view towards offenders. I felt it was important for people to gain an insight into this work and the challenges that are faced.

How did you find the experience of having cameras filming you? Do you think it is important members of the public have an insight into the decision making process?

I did not mind the cameras filming – however I was conscious that they were and that this is a highly controversial and emotive topic.