Prisons Boss Defends ‘Absences’ for Inmates

01 Jul, 2014

Program Sets Stage for Eventual Release

Allowing federal inmates temporary, escorted release is often a critical ‘first step’ in their gradual integration into the community. Canada’s prison boss says— his first public defence of the process for Conservative government has chided as “parole through the back door.”

“By continuing to allow inmates to maintain family and community ties and to participate in rehabilitative activities through (escorted temporary absences), offenders are more likely to be successful once released into the community,” Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service Canada (CSC), told a parliamentary committee in March.

The House of Commons public safety committee is examining a Conservative private member’s bill that would strip prison wardens of the power to grant short-term releases to offenders convicted of first-and second degree murder and leave those decisions to the Parole Board of Canada.

The committee heard from the widow of slain Toronto police officer, Det. Const. William Hancox, who was stabbed to death in 1998 while working undercover. Kim Hancox testified that she was “shocked” and “disillusioned” to learn in December 2011 that a warden had granted Elaine Cece, one of two women convicted of second-degree murder in her husband’s death, escorted temporary absences just 18 months after the Parole Board had denied the same request.

“How could it be that the very clear denial of the Parole Board just 18 months earlier was seemingly dismissed with- out any consideration?” she said.

A year later, the same warden allowed Cece a 60-day work release and transfer to a halfway house.

Just last month, Hancox said, a warden granted Cece’s accomplice, Mary Taylor, 17 escorted temporary absences per month, even though the Parole Board had previously allowed only one a month.

Hancox said she understands that offenders will eventually be returned to the community and their success depends on a managed reintegration plan.

Currently, authority to grant temporary absences to an inmate serving life sentences shifts from the Parole Board to corrections officials when the offender is within three years of being eligible for full parole.

Bill C-483, put forward by MP Dave MacKenzie, would keep the decision in the hands of the Parole Board.

But Head said corrections staff, under the current system, carefully consider the risk an offender poses, and also review Parole Board decisions.

A policy introduced last month also requires that victims’ families have a chance to submit an updated letter expressing any concerns.

Head noted that 99 per cent of all offender absences are problem-free.

Temporary releases typically allow an inmate to attend medical appointments or treatment programs, visits with family members, perform community services or attend to legal matters.

How an offender behaves during such absences is often viewed as a gauge of their suitability for day parole, Head said.

Research has shown that those gradually released into the community, starting with an escorted temporary absence, are less likely to re-offend, he said.

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