Legal Studies 3080

Conditional Release

If you follow the news at all, you will likely have encountered stories about prisoners violating their conditional release (or parole)or possibly committing violent crimes while out on early parole. Stories like these then to make the public think that when it comes to releasing and paroling convicts, the criminal justice system is rather random and, in some cases, downright irresponsible. Certainly whenever a prisoner on conditional release commits an offence - especially a violent one - there is a public outcry against the parole system.

The fact is, though, that while the media pick up on cases like these, on the whole the parole system works very well; it is just that all the success stories tend to go unreported. Members of the public often wonder why convicted offenders are paroled at all; to many people it seems obvious that a person is sentenced to so many years of prison by a judge, he or she ought to stay there until the sentence has been served. Why release prisoners ahead of time?

The chief objective of the conditional release system is to rehabilitate offenders and reintroduce them into society as soon as possible - while ensuring public safety. Supervised by the National Parole Board (except for provincial institutions in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, which are governed by their own provincial parole boards), the parole system is designed to help prison inmates prepare for their full release and adjust to life outside the prison. As soon as offenders are incarcerated, a date is automatically set to review their conduct to see if they qualify for full parole. This review is usually set for a date that coincides with the offender having served a third of the stipulated sentence or seven years from the beginning of the sentence, whichever occurs sooner. In some cases, though, a minimum sentence must be served before parole will be considered.

When the review is conducted, the parole board will examine a statement describing the offender's efforts to reform his or her behavior during the period of incarceration along with a personality assessment and a report on the benefits the offender has derived from any treatment received while in prison. The review also takes into account things such as the offender's chances of finding employment and whether or not he or she has a place to live while on parole. Finally, the parole board will consider any submissions made to them by the victim of the offence or the victim's family. 

For a conditional release to be granted, it must be shown to the satisfaction of the parole board that

  • The offender won't present an undue risk to society if released before the end of the sentence
  • The offender is likely to contribute to society by becoming a law-abiding citizen.

If the offender appears to meet these requirements, the parole board will set a date for parole; if the requirements are not met, the offender can reapply in two years. As soon as parole is granted, the prisoner's assigned parole officer becomes responsible for supervising the prisoner's activities after his or her release. In order to remain on parole, parolees must meet certain conditions. If they fail to do this, they will find themselves back behind bars. For most offenders, parole ends when they have successfully completed their sentence. This is not true, however, of convicted murderers; their parole continues for the rest of their lives.


Something to Think About

About 75 percent of prisoners on full parole complete it successfully. About half of the 25 percent who fail commit a new offence while on parole. Given these figures, do you think the system is working well enough? If not, what changes would you suggest?

Suggested Answer: Clearly the system is not perfect, with approximately 12 percent of parolees committing crimes, some of them violent. The solution to the problem is not easy. It is often suggested that the parole board should set stricter guidelines and do more thorough assessments of prisoners applying for parole, but this is easier said than done. Assessing a prisoner's chances of reoffending is a very inexact science; there will always be mistakes made. The question is what percentage of error society is willing to tolerate.