The Sunday Magazine

Prison terms should not be imposed based solely on time

Queen’s Law prof Lisa Kerr says not all prison terms of equal length are, in fact, equal.
Queen’s Law professor Lisa Kerr says not all prison terms of equal length are, in fact, equal. (Sean Hobson/Flickr/Creative Commons)

When criminals are sentenced in Canada, judges rule on the length of time they will be in prison. That is not the most important consideration, according to Lisa Kerr who teaches criminal law, prison law and sentencing at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

I think the public [expects] prisons to be rehabilitative, for them to intervene productively in the lives of people who are sent there.- Lisa kerr

Kerr says we do not consider the reality that each institution is unique. For example, there are differences in the quality of programs, the extent of crowding and the nature of guard culture in each prison. In addition, some inmates — such as Indigenous people or pregnant women — have a more difficult time adjusting than others.

Lisa Kerr says we need to create a system where sentencing isn't just about how long someone goes to prison, but what happens to them once they're there. (Greg Black Photography)
In this conversation with Michael Enright, Professor Kerr argues that sentencing courts should take these factors into consideration, instead of focusing on how long prisoners will be locked up.
Who gets incarcerated and what we think should happen to those people — it's not just a topic that has to do with criminal justice. It's a topic that has to do with who we are as a society.- Lisa Kerr

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.