The Canadian Bar Association
Criminal

Parole changes a flawed, cynical political move

Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen says the Conservative government’s plan to remove the possibility of parole for some murderers doesn’t take into account any of the research around crime reduction and recidivism.

“Canada is moving closer to policies that have been discredited,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “The Americans are abandoning this direction and looking more at rehabilitation and what to do with this population of prisoners.”

Rosen, partner at Rosen Naster LLP, describes the proposed law as nothing but “a cynical move to garner votes in the next election by pursuing failed policies.

“The real issue here is whether the public will recognize the proposed legislation for what it is: a knee-jerk reaction to some unfortunate and very sad, isolated events," he says. "This is typical of law-and-order advocates who try to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. You cannot pass legislation in criminal law based on individual cases, regardless of how bad they are.”

Rosen, a high-profile criminal lawyer who has handled hundreds of murder trials, says the policy clearly ignores the fact that the penalty for a murder conviction, whether it’s for first-degree or second-degree, is already life imprisonment.

“The issue is not the length of the sentence but rather when the convict is first eligible for consideration for parole. It is not an automatic granting of parole. It is merely a first consideration of parole,” he says. 

Rosen highlights how the Parole Board of Canada takes into account a number of factors, including the public's attitude towards the crime and the prisoner at the time of the parole hearing, the circumstances of the crime, the manner in which the prisoner has served his/her sentence up to that point, and the concerns of the victims.

He notes that parole, if granted, ranges from day release up to a lifetime of parole under supervision.

The Globe and Mail reports that the legislative change would apply to those convicted of the first-degree murder of police and jail guards, anyone who murders during a sexual assault, kidnapping or act of terrorism, and for particularly brutal murders. 

The article says the federal departments of Public Safety and Justice were told to speed up their work after a man shot two Mounties, killing one, in St. Albert, Alta., on Jan. 17.

"The cost could be enormous: Canada has 1,115 offenders who were sentenced to life for first-degree murder, of whom 203 have been released on parole; the average cost to keep a man in maximum security is $148,000, compared with $35,000 on parole, figures from Correctional Service Canada show. Forty years in jail would cost nearly $6-million for one person in maximum-security, and $6-billion for 1,000," says the newspaper.

“The prison system is already being strained by the number of geriatric prisoners who need full-time medical care and this will only make it worse," says Rosen.

He says the Conservative government has already changed the law so that the courts have the ability to “stack parole eligibility” in certain cases at 50 years and 75 years. 

“Now the government wants to take the ultimate step and say ‘absolutely no parole under any circumstances,’” he says. “The problem with that approach is that studies have shown that where prisoners have no hope of surviving their sentence, they become difficult to manage and their hopelessness creates stress within the prison population. Such hopelessness results in an increase in violence within the institutions and overall the situation puts prison guards and other personnel and prisoners at risk. It also fosters a sense of hopelessness for the inmate’s family, friends and community.”

Rosen says such a change in the law would be particularly unjust for a youthful offender in their early 20s.

“Human experiences have demonstrated that people change over time; the impulsive, chaotic life of a 20-year-old is not the same as the staid, reflective life of a 45-year-old – yet this law tells them they’re going to rot in jail without any hope of redemption,” he says. 

Rosen says the proposed law doesn’t take into account the importance of the potential for rehabilitation and the possibilities of release.

 

 

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