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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Long-Term Federally Sentenced Women: Literature Review

Legal Issues

There are certain legal restrictions that apply to offenders serving long-term sentences that often have consequences on the type of programming they are able to access. The legal restrictions stem from Bill C-84 enacted in July 1976 and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) enacted November 1992. C-84 formally abolished capital punishment (it had not been used since 1962) [ Tina Hattem, Living Under a Life Sentence: The Roots of Control as Perceived by Women Serving Life Sentences and Their Resistance , (Unpublished, 1994) pg. 1] and instituted in its place mandatory life sentences with parole restrictions of 25 years for those convicted of first-degree murder and 10 to 25 years for those convicted of second-degree murder. [ Glen Brown, "Judicial Review: How Does it Work and How Does It Affect Federal Corrections?" Forum on Corrections Research , (Vol. 4, No.2, 1992).]

After serving 15 years of a life sentence with a 25 year parole eligibility date offenders are able to apply for a Judicial Review (offenders with eligibility dates of less than 25 years have their parole reviewed according to the general legal calculations). At that time, the offender may gain a reduction in years to be served before being eligible for parole. These restrictions are significant in that women serving life-25 sentences must serve at least 15 years within the confines of the prison perimeter. Furthermore, some individuals - identified by the court as Dangerous Offenders - are given an indeterminate sentence which means that they have no fixed release date (but reviews at specified intervals) and must deal with this added uncertainty. Under the CCRA there are further restrictions for temporary absences, day parole, etc., that apply to offenders serving life sentences:

• Temporary Absences

All offenders are eligible for Escorted Temporary Absences (ETA) at any time of their sentence. Unescorted Temporary Absence (UTA), on the other hand varies. In general, offenders may be eligible for a UTA after having served half of the time to his/her eligibility for full parole or six months into their sentence (whichever is greater). Offenders serving a life sentence, on the other hand, are eligible for UTA three years before they come eligible for full parole.

• Day Parole

Offenders serving life sentences are eligible for day parole three years before their parole eligibility. The same criteria is used for Work Releases. [ Solicitor General Canada, Basic Facts about... Corrections in Canada , 1993 Edition, Correctional Service of Canada, pg 54-55.]

These restrictions are an impediment to accessing programs in the community which are the cornerstone philosophy of Creating Choices. Further, Judicial Reviews, as a legal entitlement, also have a great significance to women serving life sentences, because it is linked with their release. However, the actual review process can be a source of great anxiety. It is crucial, therefore, that both offenders and staff be provided with a significant amount of information about the Judicial Review process on an ongoing basis.