Jail is hell: choose wisely

Maybe you have been to a jail... If you have, you might have some insight on this week’s column topic.

I’ve been to a few jails (for work, of course). Contrary to some public opinion, they are not ‘cozy’ places where criminals sit around and play video games. It’s the opposite – and quite frankly, jail is hellish.

There are two types of jails (places where offenders ‘do time’): prisons and penitentiaries. People use these terms interchangeably, but that is wrong. They are very different.

You have probably watched the news and heard of someone being sentenced to “two years less a day” or “two years plus a day”. You probably wondered what that meant… I’ll explain it.

When someone is sentenced to two years plus a day, they serve their sentence in a penitentiary. When someone is sentenced to two years less a day, they serve their sentence in a prison. It’s that simple. See section 743.1 of the Criminal Code.

So, what is the difference between a penitentiary and a prison? Well, there are plenty.

First, penitentiaries are run federally and prisons are run provincially. But, that isn’t so important for offenders. Here are a few things that do matter to those people who stand to do jail time…

Prisons tend to be more local, allowing the offender to stay closer to their friends/family, which can keep the offender happy and, more importantly, can make the offender more likely to rehabilitate.

Also, penitentiaries are typically thought to have better treatment programs for offenders. So, if an offender has a history of sexual, violence-related, or intellectual problems, then a penitentiary might be better for that offender. They could receive treatment and then be more likely to rehabilitate.

Climate/atmosphere can also be significantly different between prisons and penitentiaries. Offenders who are in penitentiaries are typically more serious criminals and habitual re-offenders, whereas offenders kept in prisons are typically pettier criminals and drug addicts.

Based on these (as well as many other) factors, an offender may prefer being sent to a penitentiary (or a prison) and could then argue for more (or less) than 2 years of jail time (whichever will get them into their desired institution).

As a final thought, remember that the federal government passed Bill C-10 earlier this year, which, among other things, (foolishly) puts more people in jail: Contentious tory crime bill passes as country’s biggest provinces voice concern over costs. If you don’t know my stance already, I have stated in several columns that ‘tough on crime’ laws are HORRENDOUSLY misguided: Do severe punishments deter crime? and Batman, police, and lowering crime.

With the new changes, you can expect jails to be more (over)crowded and you can expect the ability of jails to offer rehabilitative programs to decrease. I hope that I am proven wrong, but I am not that optimistic.

**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.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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