Weekends in jail: Why some convicts serve only intermittent sentences

Intermittent jail time is an important provision of the law, but that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate sentence for a woman who assaulted an elderly Alzheimer’s patient, according to a UBC law professor.

UBC law professor says weekend jail terms useful in some cases, but she questions use in elder abuse case

Intermittent jail sentences are available as an option for sentences shorter than 90 days. (Shutterstock)

Intermittent jail time is an important provision of the law, but that doesn't mean it's an appropriate sentence for a woman who assaulted an elderly Alzheimer's patient, according to a University of British Columbia law professor.

Lydia Llanto, a former paid caregiver, was recently sentenced to 60 days in jail for assaulting a long-term client, but she'll only spend weekends behind bars.

Provincial Court Judge Robin McQuillan said an intermittent sentence was justified because Llanto was a first-time offender and the sole provider for her teenage son.

"The sentence is meant to apply to Ms. Llanto for the offence she committed, and not to her son," the judge wrote.

'Important to send a stronger message'

Canada's criminal code only allows for intermittent jail terms for sentences shorter than 90 days. They're often applied to single parents or people who can't afford to lose the income from their jobs, according to University of B.C. law professor Isabel Grant.

"If you put someone in jail, you may be taking away their only opportunity to earn a living or to support their children, which in the long term doesn't necessarily serve society because it makes it more likely that those people will be unable to comply with the law in the future," Grant told CBC News.

But she was surprised that McQuillan thought weekend jail time would be appropriate in Llanto's case.

"When you are dealing with probably the most profoundly vulnerable victims, as in this case, it's really important to send a stronger message than this sends to other potential perpetrators of offences against vulnerable people," Grant said.

She pointed out that while Llanto had no previous criminal record, there was some suggestion that the abuse was not a one-time thing.

Victim Malekah Kazemi is 88 years old. (Shutterstock)

The violence was only discovered after 88-year-old Malekah Kazemi, who has Alzheimer's and is partially paralyzed, managed to tell her son "this lady hits me." He set up a hidden camera, and captured video of Llanto slapping his mother in the head, face and legs.

The son told the court that he now recalls multiple unexplained bruises on his mother and bleeding gums that Llanto blamed on her dentures.

"We have no way of hearing her voice or knowing how much damage was actually done," Grant said of Kazemi.

In his decision, McQuillan did acknowledge Kazemi's vulnerability.

"Cases involving elder abuse are deserving of a strong denunciatory aspect in sentencing," he wrote, explaining that these cases should be treated with similar considerations as in child abuse trials.

The judge rejected the defence's recommendation that Llanto be given a conditional sentence, but said her offences weren't as serious as other elder abuse cases that ended in regular jail terms.

Crowding concerns

Intermittent jail sentences aren't uncommon in Canada.

One recent precedent that McQuillan cited was a personal support worker in Ottawa who pleaded guilty to assault for repeatedly punching an 89-year-old man in the head. He was given 90 days of intermittent jail time.

In another Ontario case, a man with a previous conviction for attempted murder received an intermittent sentence for theft and assaulting his mother — the judge's reasoning was that the attacker needed to complete his adult education program.

But in some parts of the country, there have been recurring issues with finding space for people to serve those intermittent sentences.

A few years back, a jail in Windsor, Ontario, was forced to send some offenders nearly 200 kilometres away to a London detention centre to spend their weekends.

And in New Brunswick, intermittent inmates were spending their weekends double-bunked in tiny cells designed for solitary confinement, a situation that a union representative for correctional officer called "inhumane and dangerous."

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Reach me at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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