Conditional sentencing should be retained and enhanced by expanding its availability, increasing available monitoring resources, emphasizing victim-offender mediation, restitution and public education.
Offenders are more likely to respond positively to conditional sentences than to incarceration. The vast majority of the nearly 18,000 conditional sentences given out each year are appropriate, do not pose a risk to the public, and are successfully completed without further incident. On the other hand, research findings indicate that harsher criminal justice sanctions have no deterrent effect on recidivism and may in fact produce a slight increase in recidivism.
The primary legislative purpose of conditional sentencing was to reduce increasing rates of incarceration in Canada. The more than 150,000 conditional sentences that have been imposed since their inception in 1996 have significantly helped to reduce incarceration. The CCJA still believes that too many offenders are being sent to prison, costing Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars, without effectively deterring crime. There is a large discrepancy in the cost-effectiveness of conditional sentences as compared to custodial sentences. The average annual cost of incarceration in a provincial/territorial correctional facility in 2005-06 was $52, 205 per inmate while the average annual cost of supervising an offender in the community was $2,398. By keeping offenders in the community, they are able to maintain employment, support their families, pay taxes, and contribute positively to society, effectively taking responsibility for their actions.
Conditional sentences provide a much-needed alternative to incarceration for Aboriginal peoples who are over-represented in Canada’s criminal justice system. They make up a disproportionate percentage of offenders serving sentences both in custody and in the community however, 75% of offenders sentenced to conditional sentences in the Yukon were Aboriginal and 72% in Saskatchewan.
Section 742, allows offenders convicted of an offence for which a judge has determined that a sentence of less than two years is appropriate, to be ordered to serve their sentence in the community, under court-mandated conditions and terms. All conditional sentences require the offender to: keep the peace and be of good behaviour; appear before the court when required to do so; report to a supervisor as required; remain within the jurisdiction of the court, notify the court or supervisor in advance of any change of name, address or employment. The judge may also impose a number of other conditions designed to address the circumstances and criminogenic needs of the individual offender. An individual who breaches the conditions of a conditional sentence may, be required to serve the remainder of the sentence in custody.
In December, 2007, Bill C-9 imposed significant legislative restrictions on the use of conditional sentences by amending section 742.1 to prohibit the imposition of a conditional sentence for “serious personal injury offences,” terrorism offences or criminal organization offences which carry a maximum sentence of ten (10) years or more. Subsequent to the 2007 amendments, the use of conditional sentences did not decline. This may suggest that the conditional sentences were already being used appropriately for low-risk, non-violent offenders, even while from 1996 until 2004, the rate of admission to custody had declined by 13%, representing a reduction of approximately 55000 offenders who would otherwise have been incarcerated.
In spite of the success of conditional sentences, amendments to the criminal code in 2012 specifically eliminated this as a sanction to be used by judges when dealing with offences carrying a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years to life, for serious personal injury offences and in other specified indictable offences with a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 10 years.