Introduction

Parole, as defined by the National Parole Board of Canada (NPB), is a form of conditional release which allows some offenders to serve the remainder of their sentence outside of a penal institution. The purpose of parole is to allow the offender to return to the society, under supervision, to aid their reintegration as law-abiding citizens after their sentence fully expires. Parole application is a carefully constructed process in which Parole Board members review the facts of a case and decide whether or not an offender may be permitted to return to the community before the end of their sentence. Thus, even if an offender is eligible for parole, it does not necessarily mean that it will be granted. This article will lay out the several types of conditional release and the considerations that underlay the parole process.

Temporary Absence

Before an offender becomes eligible to apply for full parole, they often become eligible for temporary absences. Temporary absences are usually the first type of release available to an offender, and can either be escorted or unescorted. An offender may be granted a temporary absence for a period of up to sixty days, and may then apply to have their absence renewed for one or more periods of up to sixty days after reassessment of their case.

An escorted temporary absence requires that the offender be accompanied by one or more escorting officers while in the community. An offender on an unescorted temporary absence (UTA) is released for a set period with no escort but with conditions that he or she has to abide by. Temporary absences are usually granted on medical, administrative, community service, family contact, rehabilitative personal development, or compassionate grounds, or to otherwise facilitate the prisoner’s rehabilitation or reintegration into the community. One common reason to grant temporary absence is for work release; a structured program of release, involving work or community service outside the penitentiary. An offender on work release is supervised by a staff member at the work placement or a person or organization authorized by the institutional head.

An offender’s eligibility for temporary absence varies depending on the length and type of their sentence. An offender may apply for an escorted temporary absence, but there are more strict eligibility requirements for unescorted absences. An offender who is classified as maximum security is not eligible for an unescorted absence at any time. Offenders serving sentences of three or more years become eligible to apply for UTAs after serving one sixth of their sentence; those serving two to three years become eligible at six months into their sentence. Offenders serving life sentences only become eligible to apply for UTAs three years before their full parole eligibility date.

Day Parole

Day parole is a form of unescorted temporary absence that allows offenders to participate in community-based activities to prepare them for release on full parole or statutory release. Offenders who are granted day parole must return nightly to a penal institution or a halfway house unless otherwise authorized by the NPB. The eligibility rules for day parole are the same as for any temporary absence.

Full Parole

Offenders, excluding those serving sentences for murders, become eligible for full parole after serving either one third of their sentence or seven years, whichever is less. Offenders serving sentences for first degree murder only become eligible after serving 25 years of their sentence; those serving sentences for second degree murder have their eligibility date set between ten and twenty-five years by the court.

When an offender is granted full parole, they serve the remainder of their sentence under the supervision of a parole officer in the community. The offender does not have to return to an institution at night, but must report to a parole officer on a regular basis and advise them of any changes in employment or personal circumstances. While an offender is on full parole, they must also abide by certain conditions set by the court to reduce the risk of re-offence and to foster reintegration into the community.

Statutory Release

Statutory release regulations require that federally sentenced offenders serve the last third of their sentence in the community, under supervision and with conditions similar to those of full parole. By law, most offenders have to be automatically released after serving two thirds of their sentence if they have not already been released on parole. Statutory release applies to those who either did not apply for full parole or were denied release on full parole. Statutory release can, however, be denied or have special conditions placed on it if it is determined that an offender, if released, would likely commit an offence causing harm or death, a sexual offence involving a child, or a serious drug offence. Offenders that are sentenced to life or an indeterminate sentence are not eligible for statutory release.

Parole Eligibility

Parole boards must consider several factors when determining parole eligibility. The Board will consider the following factors when deciding if an offender should be released:

  • The nature and gravity of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender;
  • Information from the trial and sentencing process,
  • Information obtained from victims, the offender, and other components of the criminal justice system (including assessments provided by correctional institutions).
  • The offence;
  • The offender’s criminal history;
  • Social risk factors, such as alcohol or drug use and family violence;
  • Mental state, especially if it affects the likelihood of future crime;
  • Behaviour on earlier releases, if any;
  • Information about the offender’s relationships and employment;
  • Psychological or psychiatric reports;
  • The opinions of professionals and others such as aboriginal elders, judges, and police, as to whether release would present an undue risk to society

Parole boards will also consider the statistical probability of an offender to re-offend by evaluating the recidivism rate of offenders with characteristics and histories similar to those of the person under review. After this initial board assessment, the board then looks at the individual, considering:

  • Institutional behaviour;
  • Statements from the offender that indicate evidence of change, insight into criminal behaviour, and management of their risk factors;
  • Programs that the offender may have taken, such as substance abuse counselling, life skills, native spiritual guidance and elder counselling, literacy training, employment, social and cultural programs, and programs that help offenders deal with family violence issues;
  • Appropriate treatment for any diagnosed disorders; and
  • The offender’s release plan.

After a hearing with the offender, the NPB decides whether or not to grant parole. If parole is granted, the board may make further conditions of release. Such conditions must be considered reasonable and necessary to manage the offender’s risk and must be related to the specific offender’s criminal behaviour. An offender who is granted parole is still under the supervision of Correctional Services of Canada through parole officers.

Parole officers help offenders reintegrate back into society. CSC supervision is also provided by contract with provincial governments and non-government agencies such as the John Howard Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, Salvation Army, St. Leonard’s Society and some native organizations such as the Native Clan Organization and the Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

Conditions on Parole

If an offender receives parole, there are strict conditions to which they must adhere. If they breach these conditions, they will be returned to a correctional institution to carry out the remainder of their sentence.  Also, with the introduction of the Safe Streets and Communities Act, if an offender appears to be breaking their parole conditions, the police are authorized to arrest that person without the need of a warrant. Some of the standard conditions which are required of parolees are:

  • Upon release, travel directly to the their place of residence, as set out in the release certificate, and report to the parole supervisor immediately and as instructed by the parole supervisor afterwards;
  • Remain at all times in Canada, within territorial boundaries prescribed by the parole supervisor;
  • Obey the law and keep the peace;
  • Inform the parole supervisor immediately if arrested or questioned by the police;
  • Always carry the release certificate and the identity card provided by the releasing authority and produce them on request for identification to any peace or parole officer;
  • Report to the police if and as instructed by the parole supervisor;
  • Advise the parole supervisor of the address of residence on release and thereafter report immediately any change in address of residence, any change in occupation, including employment, vocational or educational training, and volunteer work,
  • Any change in the family, domestic, or financial situation, and any change that may reasonably be expected to affect the offender’s ability to comply with the conditions of parole or statutory release;
  • Not to own, possess, or have the control of any weapon, as defined in the Criminal Code, except as authorized by the parole supervisor; and,
  • For an offender released on day parole, return to the penitentiary at the date and time on the release certificate.

Additional conditions may be placed on an offender if deemed reasonable by the board. These may require the offender to abstain from the use of any drugs or alcohol or to stay away from a particular geographical area. As long as the conditions are necessary for public safety or the offender’s rehabilitation, and are related to his or her offence, the board can place whatever conditions they feel are necessary on the offender.

Victims

Throughout the parole decision-making process, it is important to consider the involvement of victims. There has been a great effort to include victims into the parole process. They are allowed to attend NPB hearings (supported by the Victims’ Travel Fund) so that they can issue statements at the hearings about the impact the crime has had on them, and why they feel the offender should or should not be granted parole. When making their decisions, the National Parole Board takes into account all statements made by victims, their concerns about safety, and the effects the crime has had on them, their family, and the community. It is required by law that a victim’s statement be presented to the National Parole Board prior to a review because the offender has the right to know about any information that will be used during the decision making process. A victim’s personal information, such as their address, is not disclosed to the offender at anytime.

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime recommends that victims include the following information in their impact statements:

  • the nature and extent of harm the victim has suffered;
  • the risk of re-offending that the offender may pose if released;
  • the offender’s potential to commit another violent crime, particularly in cases qualifying for accelerated review, by providing information about the offenders’ threatening or abusive behaviour;
  • the offender’s understanding of the impact of the offence;
  • conditions necessary to manage the risk to society that the offender may present; and
  • issues regarding the offender’s release plans. Possible repercussions must be carefully assessed if the victim is a family member, or was closely associated with the offender. If the offender intends to return to an integrated, small, or isolated community, board members must weigh the support and control available to assist reintegration in that community.

Since November 1st, 2005, the Victims’ Travel Fund has allowed victims to attend NPB hearings at the offender’s institution. This financial assistance covers travel, hotel, and meal expenses, in accordance with current Government of Canada Travel Guidelines, and is administered by the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice. Additionally, child or dependent care costs can be claimed from the fund. Victims may apply for assistance from the Victim Travel Fund as long as they are registered with Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) or the National Parole Board, have been approved to attend NPB hearings, and wish to attend a hearing related to an offender who harmed them, either to observe or to present a victim impact statement. Victims must in fact attend the parole hearing to receive financial assistance.

As of April 1st 2007, the Victim Travel Fund has also become available to a support person whom the victim would like to attend the hearing with them. A support person is someone who will be traveling with a registered victim to an NPB hearing, will be attending an NPB hearing with a registered victim or will be providing child/dependent care in order for a registered victim to attend an NPB hearing. An eligible support person must be an adult (over 18) who is chosen by the registered victim. Support persons may include relatives, friends, or victim service workers.

The Correctional Service of Canada and the NPB do not automatically inform victims about an offender’s case. Some victims prefer not to receive any such information, and the law specifies that this information only be given upon request. As such, anyone may ask for basic, publicly available information such as the offence that the offender was convicted of, the court that convicted them, when the sentence began, the length, and the eligibility and review dates for any unescorted temporary absences, day parole, or full parole. Victims may receive additional information, but must meet certain criteria and request to receive it. The Chairperson of the NPB or the Commissioner of the CSC has declared that the interest of the victim clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that such disclosure may entail. Additional information may include:

  • The location of the penitentiary in which the sentence is being served;
  • The date, if any, on which the offender is to be released on unescorted or escorted temporary absence, work release, parole, or statutory release;
  • The date of any NPB review hearing;
  • Any of the conditions attached to the offender’s unescorted temporary absence, work release, parole, or statutory release;
  • The destination of the offender when released on any temporary absence, work release, parole or statutory release, and whether the offender will be in the vicinity of the victim while traveling to that destination;
  • Whether the offender is in custody and, if so, why; and
  • Whether or not the offender has appealed a decision of the NPB, and the outcome of that appeal.

Completing Parole

New, sometimes violent offences are committed by some offenders out on parole. However, statistics show that this is relatively rare. A 2008-2009 National Parole Board report found that the large majority of offenders out on day and full parole successfully complete their conditional releases. Statistics Canada reports that of all federal releases in 2008/2009 (day parole, full parole and statutory release), 70% were completed successfully, 23% were terminated due to a breach of conditions (ex. failing to report to their parole officer, not abstaining from alcohol consumption, etc.) and 7% were terminated due to commission of a new offence.

Conclusion

Parole is an important process, involving the coordination and cooperation of different levels of the Canadian Criminal Justice System, to properly and safely reintegrate offenders back into Canadian society. While the offender’s rights must be protected as Canadian citizens, the safety of the public must also be protected. This is the delicate balancing act that the National Parole Board of Canada tries to accomplish. Releasing offenders without careful consideration may result in the committing of new crimes, possibly violent. However, the criminal justice system cannot retain all offenders until the end of their full sentences considering the immense costs of incarcerating offenders, the numerous research studies which show that retaining offenders for the length of their sentence does not help the reintegration process and the rights of offenders.

Government of Canada National Parole Board
http://www.npb-cnlc.gc.ca/about/about_e.htm

Information Guide to Assist Victims: Federal Corrections and Conditional Release
http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/cor/nov/nov_guide_06-eng.aspx

Victims Fund Financial Assistance for Victims to Attend National Parole Board Hearings
http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/voc/funding.html

Government of Canada National Parole Board. (2007). Parole: Contributing to public safety. Retrieved January 23, 2008, from Government of Canada National Parole Board Web site: http://www.npb-cnlc.gc.ca/about/about_e.htm.

Government of Canada National Parole Board. (2007). Parole statistics. Retrieved February 13, 2008, from Government of Canada National Parole Board Web site: http://www.npb-cnlc.gc.ca/infocntr/factsh/parole_stats_e.htm.

Public Safety Canada Portfolio Corrections Statistics Committee. (2007). Corrections and conditional release statistical overview: Annual report 2007. Retrieved from the Public Safety Canada Web site on October 7th, 2010  http://publicsafety.gc.ca/res/cor/rep/ccrso2007-eng.aspx.

Correctional Service of Canada. 2007. Retrieved online on October 12th, 2010 http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/faits/03-04-eng.shtml

Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. 2009. The National Parolee Board. Retrieved on line on October 26th, 2010 http://www.victimsfirst.gc.ca/serv/rol/npb-cnlc.html