important documentary sheds light on why some prisoners get released

In 1997 a man called Colin Stacey got into an argument with another man about football. Stacey resolved the dispute by filling a sock with snooker balls. He knew the blow was fatal because, as he recalls, “I heard his bone crack.” 

Stacey is up for parole, as documented in Parole (BBC Two). The murder he committed is known in grim officialese as his “index offence”. This was his sixth time before the parole board, who let him out in 2017 only for him to reoffend. This is how he knows that, in the fat letter they send with their verdict, you flip to the back. “Because that’s where it tells you what the answer is.” 

The role of this quiet, methodical and important series is to shed light on how such decisions are reached. Is Stacey still a danger to the public? Does he show signs of genuine remorse and rehabilitation? What might have driven him into violent crime in the first place? Even murderers, reasoned Stacey, need hope. “Without hope – that’s when people become dangerous.” It seems a circular sort of logic that only the promise of eventual release will stop him from being a danger upon release. 

Sifting through the weeds of a convict’s character is an unenviable job conducted on this evidence by careful, empathetic men and women who have bought into the principle of redemption but have to be able to sniff out an unreliable witness. Step forward David Coombs, a serial fraudster doing four years in the Scrubs for charming money out of women. His bowing, scraping and cap-doffing efforts to convince an all-female panel that he had turned over a new leaf were from the school of Uriah Heep. He was TV gold, but not in a good way. How he had any success in his chosen, ahem, career is a mystery. 

Agreeing to be scrutinised in this five-part series will, for each participant, have involved some form of calculation. “I am an honest person now,” Coombs averred. “To this day I will never ever do anything like this again.” The board wasn’t convinced. He blamed his community offending manager. “It’s all about control,” he grumbled. “The real truth will come out.” Perhaps not as he hopes. Having completed his sentence this month, he’s now out, but his very public trial by television may inhibit his conning options.

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