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In Depth

Crime

Getting out of prison

Last Updated March 2008

Most inmates are eligible for parole after serving one-third of the their sentence or seven years, whichever is less. (CBC)

FAQs about releasing offenders

Most inmates are released from prison at some point. The inmate has either done the time for the crime and is released permanently, or the inmate gets out temporarily under strict conditions.

Most of those who are released permanently, face strict conditions to maintain their freedom.

The following FAQs covers offenders who serve their time in federal institutions - they have committed crimes that carry sentences of more than two years. Offenders serving less than two years are the responsibility of the province or territory.

How and when are offenders released into the community?

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act has five types of release:

Temporary Absence

Corrections Canada grants offenders temporary absences for:

  • Medical.
  • Administrative.
  • Family contact.
  • Community service.
  • Personal rehabilitation.

An escorted temporary absence may be granted at any time. An unescorted temporary absence may be granted after an offender has served one sixth of a sentence or six months, whichever is greater.

Work Release

A minimum or medium security offender who is not an "undue risk" to the community may be released to do paid or voluntary work under supervision. Corrections Canada says, "work releases contribute to public safety because they assist the offender's reintegration into society."

Day Parole

Offenders generally become eligible for day parole six months before their eligibility for full parole. The offender is usually required to return to an institution or halfway house each night.

Accelerated Parole Review is available to first time non-violent offenders who have served one-sixth of their sentence. (People convicted of organized crime activities are not eligible for accelerated parole review).

Those convicted of first- or second-degree murder can be eligible for day parole three years before their full parole date.

Full Parole

Most inmates are eligible for parole after serving one-third of the their sentence or seven years whichever is less. However, judges at the time of sentencing can lengthen the time violent or drug offenders must serve before becoming eligible for parole to one-half of the sentence.

Offenders sentenced to life for first-degree murder or high treason are not eligible for full parole until they have served 25 years. Those sentenced to life for second-degree murder can apply for parole after serving between 10 and 25 years as determined by the trial or appeal court judge.

Statutory Release

Under federal law, all inmates who have not been granted parole or had parole revoked must be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence. The decision to grant statutory release is not made by the National Parole Board, but in some cases, the board can set conditions for statutory release or suspend or revoke statutory release. Some serious offenders are given a "one chance" statutory release under strict conditions. If they break those conditions, they are returned to penitentiary to complete their sentences.

Peace bond

A peace bond is a court order that requires a person to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. Such an order can be issued under Section 810 of the Criminal Code of Canada if a person fears on reasonable grounds that another person will harm him, his spouse or his children, or that damage will be done to his property.

A peace bond can be issued on a person who has not committed a crime, or even after an offender has completed his sentence. It is an unusual example of "preventative justice" in a justice system that usually requires a person to commit an offence before his liberties are restricted.

Section 810 was introduced in 1993 to allow for restrictions if there are reasonable grounds that a person will commit a sexual offence against someone under 14. The section was amended in 1997 to include restrictions against violent offenders.

Peace bonds under Section 810 usually have conditions attached, such as orders not to communicate with specific people or a certain group of people (those under the age of 14, for example) or to avoid certain locations, such as a person's residence and workplace, or school and parks.

A person under a peace bond can also be required to keep a curfew and to report regularly to police.

A Section 810 bond can be issued for up to a year. Refusal to sign such an order can result in a sentence of up to a year in prison.

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant announced in April 2005 that he intended to issue a Section 810 peace bond on Karla Homolka to restrict her movements when she is released from prison when her sentence is over in July 2005.

Are there any differences between sexual offenders and the remainder of the population?

Corrections Canada says each offender on some form of conditional release is subject to an individual management plan that takes into consideration the offender's record.

How many prisoners are released?

According to Corrections Canada, using 1998 figures:

Day parolees make up 12 to 20 per cent of the conditional release population Those on full parole make up between 50 and 60 per cent of offenders in the community. Statutory release accounts for 50 per cent of releases from federal institutions each year.

How well do these releases work?

According to Corrections Canada, using 2000 figures:

  • 99 per cent of temporary absences are successful.
  • 94 per cent of those released on day parole did not commit a new crime.
  • 87 per cent of those released on full parole did not commit a new crime.
  • 85 per cent of those released on statutory release did not commit a new crime.

What about high-risk offenders?

Federal law allows judges to impose an indeterminate sentence, which is a sentence with no expiry date on dangerous offenders. Most dangerous offenders are likely to commit more violent crimes. The law also allows someone to be named a long-term offender that applies to those who are at risk of committing sexual offences. A long-term offender can be supervised for 10 years after completion of a full penitentiary sentence.

The decision to declare someone a dangerous or long-term offender is not by Corrections Canada. The Crown must apply for dangerous offender status within six months of conviction on a serious charge and the imposition of a significant sentence.

As of the year 2000, 297 people were declared dangerous offenders; 61 people were declared long-term offenders.

How many convicts re-offend?

According to Corrections Canada, previous offenders are responsible for:

  • 1.3 of every 1,000 violent offences.
  • 0.7 of every 1,000 sexual offences.
  • 1.2 of every 1,000 drug offences.
  • 1.1 of every 1,000 property or other federal statute offences.

How many sex offenders re-offend?

Sex offenders are more likely to return to prison for a sexual offence than the general prison population.

Repeat sexual offenders (those with a previous federal sentence for sex offences) are more likely to violate conditional release and more likely to re-offend with a nonsexual offence.

A study from the 1980s showed that of sexual offenders released from federal institutions in Canada:

  • 68.8 per cent of all sexual offenders and 48.8 per cent of repeat offenders did not return to jail.
  • 6.2 per cent of all sexual offenders and 14.6 per cent of repeat offenders committed a new sexual offence.
  • 5.9 per cent of all sexual offenders and 8.5 per cent of repeat offenders committed a new violent offence.
  • 7.7 per cent of all sex offenders and 6.1 per cent of repeat offenders committed a new non-violent offence.

How does Corrections Canada handle sexual offenders?

Corrections Canada says that most sexual offenders cannot be "cured," so it concentrates on "treatment programs with demonstrable histories of success." The most successful is what Corrections Canada calls relapse prevention which uses cognitive psychology and other techniques to help prevent reoffense.

How does relapse prevention work?

Relapse prevention has two elements.

Self-Management

The offenders are taught to:

  • Identify high risk situations leading to abuse.
  • Be aware of seemingly unimportant decisions that eventually put them in high-risk situations.
  • Develop strategies to cope with those situations.

External, Supervisory Management

Parole and probation officers are trained to:

  • Monitor for "specific precursors to offences."
  • Create a network of contacts to help monitor the offender.
  • Create relationships with mental health professionals who are conducting therapy with the offender.

Corrections Canada says studies indicate that relapse prevention is more successful than attempting a cure because:

  • It is more realistic.
  • It has multiple sources of information.
  • There is more co-operation between parole, probation and mental health professionals.
  • It is based on "behavioural maintenance" rather than "abstinence-relapse."

What happens to sexual offenders?

Corrections Canada says the average sexual offender is most likely to have assaulted an adult female and is serving a four-year sentence.

A study in the early 1990s showed:

  • 11.3 per cent of all federal offenders are sexual offenders.
  • 13.9 per cent of those in federal prison are sexual offenders.
  • In any year two-thirds of sexual offenders are in federal institutions, one-third on some form of conditional release.
  • 8.1 per cent of those on some form of conditional release are sexual offenders.
  • Of those 14.8 per cent were on day parole.
  • 49.2 per cent were on full parole.
  • 35.9 per cent were on mandatory supervision.

The overall recidivism rate for sexual offenders is less than all offenders in general.

Repeat sex offenders (those with a previous prison term for a sexual offence) are twice as likely as the general population to commit further sex offences, more likely to violate conditional release and more likely to also commit an non sexual offence.

Among sexual offenders:

  • 27.9 per cent committed "mixed" offences.
  • 25. 2 per cent committed sexual assault.
  • 21 per cent committed pedophilia.
  • 6.2 per cent committed incest.
  • 4.6 per cent committed "other offences."
(Source: Corrections Canada)

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