This column is intended to shed some light on parole, an often misunderstood topic.
First of all, parole refers to the early release (from jail) of a prisoner into a community, subject to continued monitoring and conditions (upon that release). The prisoner has to spend a particular amount of time in jail before they can apply for parole; the particular amount of time spent in jail depends on their offence.
The Parole Board of Canada, an administrative tribunal, has the authority to grant, deny, and revoke parole. It receives its authority from the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which provides the rules governing parole. The Criminal Code also contains rules governing parole (i.e. sections 743.6 and 745).
So, why are prisoners even given parole/early release? Why not just keep them in jail? There are many reasons, but, in short, early release is beneficial for both the offender and the public. Releasing an offender on conditions and subjecting them to continued monitoring, as well as assisting with their reintegration, assists the offender in becoming a successful, contributing member of the community.
So, how often do people commit offences while on parole? More than 70% of offenders who were released on parole successfully completed their sentences. Approximately 16% had their parole revoked because they breached their conditions and just more than 10% had their parole revoked because they committed a new offence.
Obviously, some people commit another offence while on parole. But, the number is small and the alternative to parole is simply cutting all prisoners loose upon the conclusion of their sentence (with no monitoring, conditions, or assistance).
I can already hear some people saying, “But, the offender isn’t serving their whole sentence!” That position is understandable, but misguided. The offender is still serving their sentence; they are merely serving it partially in the community. They are subject to conditions and monitoring, akin to punishment. If the offender breaches the conditions, they can be hauled back into jail.
What does the Parole Board consider when deciding whether or not to grant parole? First and foremost is the protection of the public (despite some common sentiment). Other considerations are the offender’s ability to reintegrate into society and the offender’s rehabilitation efforts/progress. Also considered are the offender’s criminal history, their institutional behaviour, and their proposed release plan.
When can prisoners actually apply for parole? Well, this depends on the offender’s previous conviction/offence. For the most part, prisoners can apply for parole after 1/3 of their sentence has been served. For life sentences for crimes other than murder, offenders can generally apply for parole after 7 years.
For first degree murder, which comes with a life sentence, the offender is not entitled to parole for 25 years. For second degree murder, which also has a life sentence, there is a minimum of 10 years, though it is regularly much higher than that in practice.
Parole eligibility can also be delayed. The sentencing judge can delay parole eligibility if the offence was brutal, the offender requires additional punishment, or the offence related to terrorism or organized crime.
So, how many people are actually paroled? Approximately 40-45% of offenders are paroled between 1/3 and 2/3 of their sentence. And for your comfort, the majority of those who are guilty of killing another person are not paroled on their parole eligibility date.
I can understand people’s anger when prisoners are paroled. However, anger and emotion are terrible justifications in sentencing/criminal law.
It also needs to be remembered that the overwhelming majority of prisoners who are given early release are not violent, murderous people. If someone is a danger to the public, then I have faith that they will remain locked up (and a life sentence will mean just that: life in jail). Likewise, I’d wager that Robert Pickton will never be paroled, even if he lives for another 100 years.
**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.