Probation and Parole | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Probation and Parole

Probation is a correctional method under which convicted offenders are supervised in the community instead of imprisonment, or after a period of imprisonment has been served.

Probation and Parole

Probation is a correctional method under which convicted offenders are supervised in the community instead of imprisonment, or after a period of imprisonment has been served. The theory of probation derives from a long-standing tradition in Anglo-American courts to suspend judgement in certain cases and provide a second chance for first offenders.


In practice, it originated with John Augustus, a Boston shoemaker, who through his interest in the temperance cause agreed to supervise the behaviour of an offender in lieu of a prison term. By the time he died Augustus had become responsible for nearly 2000 offenders.

Probation is a sentencing option available to a judge when an offender has committed certain categories of crimes. In Canada, probation is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. Probation services, which exist in all provinces, are responsible for preparing presentence reports that focus on the accused's background. The reports may suggest that the offender make restitution to the victim, or perform some type of community service as part of his or her punishment. The report may also recommend that the offender be required to take treatment for alcohol or drug problems or to accept counselling on mental health concerns or social skills. Although authorities concerned with the legal and sociological aspects of law enforcement agree that probation is more effective and less expensive for the rehabilitation of most offenders than institutional confinement, relatively few countries adhere to the principles on which its success depends: careful selection of suitable cases, suspension of sentence for offenders selected for probation, supervision by trained personnel, and release of the probationer at the end of the specified time contingent on satisfactory behaviour or revocation of probation if the contrary is true.

Process of Conditional Release

Parole (derived from the French parole d'honneur, "word of honour," meaning particularly the pledge of a prisoner of war not to try to escape or bear arms in return for conditional freedom) is also called conditional release. It is a discretionary executive process, a function of an administrative board. The National Parole Board, under the authority of the solicitor general of Canada, reviews parole applications made by inmates of federal penitentiaries. The board also has jurisdiction over prisoners in provinces where no provincial parole board exists. The purpose of conditional release is to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by means of managing the timing and conditions of release of prisoners in a way that will best facilitate their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens.

Under federal law, most offenders must be released on a form of conditional release, called statutory release, to serve the last third of their sentence in the community under supervision of Correctional Service Canada. Statutory release is not a decision of the National Parole Board, but is a provision in law. However, if requested to do so by Correctional Service Canada, the National Parole Board can impose conditions to that statutory release. Offenders may apply to the National Parole Board for full parole consideration after serving one-third of their sentence, and for day parole consideration 6 months before their full parole eligibility. Before capital punishment was abolished, those serving life sentences could be considered for release after serving 7 years, but in July 1976 the law changed to provide mandatory life imprisonment for first- and second-degree murder. Those convicted of first-degree murder are ineligible for parole until 25 years have been served, although section 745.01 of the Criminal Code allows an offender to apply for judicial review of that parole ineligibility period after 15 years. For those convicted of second-degree murder by a jury, the judge, at the time of sentencing, must ask the jury if it has any recommendations with respect to the number of years an offender must serve before he or she is eligible for parole. The jury need not make a recommendation, but if it does it can recommend no fewer than 10 years and no more than 25 years. Ordinarily, a person convicted of second-degree murder must serve at least 10 years of their sentence before being eligible for parole. Individuals convicted of multiple homicides or previously convicted of murder, or who have been previously convicted of crimes against humanity or war crimes, are not eligible for parole until 25 years of their sentence has been served and they cannot avail themselves of the application for judicial review of the parole ineligibility period. If released, offenders serving a life sentence are on parole supervision for the rest of their lives.


The criteria for granting parole include an assessment of whether the prisoner will present an undue risk to society while on parole by re-offending, and whether the release of the prisoner will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating their reintegration into the community as a law-abiding citizen. The board looks to the prisoner's postrelease plans, the seriousness of the prisoner's criminal record, their behaviour in prison, and any other information provided by psychologists or psychiatrists, courts, the police and victims. Supervision of parolees is entrusted to federal or provincial correctional services, or to private-sector agencies (eg, the John Howard Society, the Salvation Army, Native Counselling or Elizabeth Fry Society) under contract to Correctional Service Canada. Halfway houses are utilized as an intermediate step between prison imprisonment and freedom, particularly for those on day parole.

Further Reading

External Links