Canada Lacks Restriction on Ex-convicts

Compared to the United States, Canada attempts to provide a less discriminatory transition for offenders

By Tom DiNardo, Staff Writer

(bizjournals)Much to the uproar of the surrounding community, two ex-convicts were released in New Brunswick earlier this April. Both men were convicted sex offenders. The first was convicted of sexual offenses in the 1980s and was released once his statutory release had been reached, two thirds of the way through his full sentence. The other was convicted in 2001 for sexual assault. While local communities are nervous about the prospective danger in their area, there is nothing they or local authorities can do about it. It’s up to the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) as to where to send ex-convicts upon release.

Restrictions on ex-convicts

In the United States, these men would be subject to a number of restrictions upon release, including discrimination in housing, employment, and social welfare services. In most states, convicts are forbidden from voting while in jail. As well, in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia, voting rights are only restored to ex-convicts upon individual petition or application to the government.

Ex-felons in Canada, on the other hand, don’t face these restrictions upon release. Rather, offenders participate in a mixture of institution-based, surveillance-based, and assistance-based transition programs meant to help reintegrate them into society.

So far, this method seems rather effective. In a study published by Public Safety Canada, researchers found that only 3.7% of sex offenders in Canada under community supervision were incarcerated for sexual reoffending after participating in reintegration programs for three years.

“Research shows that society is best protected when an offender is gradually reintegrated into the community under supervision, and subject to strict monitoring and control,” said Sara Parkes of Correctional Service Canada (CSC). “When offenders are granted release to the community, there are conditions for that release. Standard conditions are set out in the [Corrections and Conditional Release Act], as well as any additional special conditions that the PBC deems necessary to impose to ensure public safety.”

Social reintegration

Even without restrictions, social reintegration is hard enough. According to Public Safety Canada, ex-felons face a multitude of challenges when they are released from prison. Before conviction, many offenders will have previously experienced social isolation and marginalization. They may also have a history of physical and emotion abuse.

Once released, their struggle to function in society becomes more difficult when faced with new challenges. Offenders have to find housing and employment, sometimes with limited financial means. To make matters worse, an offender’s time in prison has “collateral effects.” Essentially, this amounts to one’s loss of livelihood, loss of important personal relationships, and loss of personal belongings.

Michelle Alexander, in her new book The New Jim Crow, points out that employment is a key factor to whether an individual is pushed to commit a crime. In the book, Alexander discusses the practice of mass incarceration by the US judicial system. She points to “joblessness” as the reason for high crime rate among African American communities. While the book refers to African-American cases specifically, the message is universal. Employment is a crucial component to non-offense. If someone cannot maintain financial and employment security, they will do whatever is necessary to get by.

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