Saturday, December 31, 2005

Winning Big: A New Conservative Justice Strategy

In the wake of recent shootings, bail and sentencing reform could be the next Ontario wedge issue as we approach e-day. It abates the gender gap, moving mothers over to conservative “tough on crime by getting tough on criminals” policies. Here are some facts that should scare voters:

Parole and Early Release
  • Depending on the length of the sentence, offenders are eligible for some type of unescorted release after serving just one sixth (1/6th) of their sentence.
  • Almost all offenders are eligible for parole after serving one third (1/3rd) of their sentence.
  • Except in the rarest of possible circumstances, all remaining offenders (those deemed too dangerous even by the parole board) will be released after serving two thirds (2/3rd) of their sentences.
  • Persons sentenced to life in prison are eventually paroled; no one actually dies of old age in prison.

Bail is given to people charged with crimes so that they may remain free “on the street” while awaiting trial. As a result of a series of court decisions on section 11(e) of the Charter, it has become quite difficult to actually keep someone in jail while awaiting trial; they generally have to violate their bail before being detained becomes a possibility. The courts are not allowed to deny bail simply because a crime is serious or the public conscience is shocked by a crime. Getting bail has actually become a right, and not the privilege it was once intended to be.

Consider this example: a street gang member gets arrested for robbing a convenience store with a handgun. He makes bail, and gets caught two weeks later violating his release conditions. He makes bail again, with a “stern warning” from a Justice of the Peace (quaking in his Nikes, no doubt). A week later, he gets arrested again for robbery; now he gets DO’d (a Detention Order is issued, his bail is revoked, and he awaits trial on his initial charges in jail).

Now assume eight months elapse during which he is housed at Toronto’s Don Jail before he gets convicted of Robbery and Using a Firearm in the Commission of an Indictable Offence. The minimum sentence is four years in a federal penitentiary - but wait! The defence lawyer uses the Charter to argue that such a severe sentence would violate his client’s Charter right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. This quite often works, but let’s just assume it doesn’t and our gang-banger actually gets a four year sentence.

Now we have fun with the math: The eight months “dead time” he did in the Don Jail is worth three for one, meaning that it actually counts as 24 months towards satisfaction of his sentence. Four years minus 24 months is 2 years. But wait – we’re not done yet! Remember parole? The offender is eligible for full parole after serving one third of his four year sentence (16 months). Poof! His release is just a matter of doing the paperwork and he’s back out on the streets – just like that, right after the community is defrauded into thinking he’s just been put away for four years!

The Fix:
“A conservative government will use the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to ensure that persons charged with violent offences cannot make bail, and to see that any sentence imposed by a court is actually served. Sentences will always be served consecutive to any other sentences and time served awaiting trial. The current system of parole will be replaced with one that ensures offenders will be eligible for release only where public safety can be protected, and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice would not be eroded.”

Make it so.

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