The (Re)Purposing of Parole: An examination of the trajectory of parole in Canada

Sarah Heath

Parole is an interesting aspect of the correctional system to investigate precisely because it is not carried out ‘behind the closed doors of the prison’. Consequently, the public and politicians have expressed concerns regarding whether prisoners should be released early from prison and how such a system of release should be structured. These criticisms have also led to numerous commissions of inquiry and independent panel reviews to investigate the nature of the parole system in Canada. In some cases, these papers have also debated the abolition of parole and/or resulted in amendments to the nature of parole in Canada. Since the early 1900s, the parole system has historically been a site of alternating expansion and refinement within the Canadian criminal justice system. However, by utilizing key notions and concepts taken from penal change theorists (e.g., Garland, 2001, Simon, 1993, and Tonry, 2004) we can begin to understand this transformation. In particular, it appears that the use of parole to alter a sentence of imprisonment can help to resolve the possible contradictions between the purpose of a sentence of imprisonment and the given assumptions at a particular point in time about prisons, criminality and criminals. In light of this, this presentation will utilize official policy documents to track the purpose of parole and attempt to understand how parole has transitioned and been re-purposed from a mechanism of ‘relief’ and ‘support’ (1938) to one of ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ (2007). These findings will also be discussed in relation to recent (proposed) legislation on conditional release in Canada.