Individuals serving a sentence in either a provincial or federal institution serve two-thirds of their sentence before their statutory release. However, before then, they will become eligible for parole, and can apply for a parole hearing. At this hearing, the offender is entitled to have a lawyer present for assistance and to make submissions on his or her behalf.
What is Parole?
Pursuant to section 120 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, an individual serving a sentence, either in a provincial or federal institution, is eligible for full parole after serving one-third of his or her sentence.
However, there are exceptions:
- First Degree Murder: A person convicted of First Degree Murder will not be eligible for parole until they have served at least 25 years of their sentence.
- Second Degree Murder: A person convicted of Second Degree Murder will be eligible for parole somewhere between 10 – 25 years into serving their sentence. Upon conviction, the judge will hear submissions and set parole eligibility somewhere along that timeline.
- Dangerous Offender:A person who is deemed by a court to be a "Dangerous Offender," meaning he or she is serving an indeterminate sentence (no set end date), is eligible for parole 7 years into serving their sentence.
Just because an offender is eligible for parole, does not mean it will be granted. The date of eligibility means that the individual is entitled to have their case reviewed and assessed by the Parole Board of Canada as of that day.
What is a Parole Hearing?
The purpose of a parole hearing is for members of the Parole Board of Canada to assess the risk that an offender may pose to the public if he or she was granted parole. The fact that a risk exists is not a bar to parole. Rather, it will be an assessment as to whether the risk can be effectively managed in the community.
What Happens at a Parole Hearing?
Procedurally, a parole hearing is very different than other legal proceedings in the criminal justice system. Rather than a judge, the offender faces members of the Parole Board of Canada. In addition to the board members and the offenders’ parole office, the following parties may also be present at the hearing:
- The offender’s lawyer, if he or she has retained a lawyer, or a support person, such as a family member;
- The victim and the victim’s family, if they wish to be present; or
- Someone else who has been approved by the Parole Board of Canada.
Parole hearings proceed in a more informal, conversation fashion, with the members of the board asking the offender various personal questions. The board members will also ask the parole officer about the offender’s behaviour and efforts while he or she has been at the institution. If the victim has prepared a Victim Impact Statement, that will also be read.
Other Types of Conditional Release
Before full parole is granted, an individual can also apply for two other types of conditional release at a parole hearing:
A temporary absence allows an individual to leave the institution temporarily for a limited purpose, such as to work on a community service program, to see a family member, or for medical reasons. The temporary absence may be escorted (meaning you are accompanied by an authorized person) or unescorted.
You may apply for an escorted temporary absence at any time while serving your sentence. Individuals are eligible for an unescorted temporary absence as follows:
- If serving a sentence of 3+ years: after one-sixth of sentence
- If serving a sentence of 2-3 years: 6 months into the sentence.
- If serving a life sentence: 3 years before the individual’s full parole eligibility date
If granted day parole, you are required to return every night to a residential facility in the community or a halfway house. It is also possible to get a specific address approved (i.e. a family member’s house), by the Parole Board. The Board may also impose specific conditions that the individual must follow while on day parole, such as attending counselling, remaining employed, etc.
An individual becomes eligible for parole six months before their full parole eligibility date, or six months into the sentence, whichever is greater. If serving a life sentence, the individual is not eligible for day parole until 3 years before his full parole eligibility date.
The information above provides a general overview of parole, as well as the parole hearing process and other types of conditional release.
Looking for a Lawyer to Represent a Loved One at a Parole Hearing?Contact our office today at 416-924-5969 to learn more about how we can help you. We have lawyers with experience handling parole hearings for individuals serving both provincial and federal sentences, and understand the highly individualized nature of these proceedings.