Editorial: Sometimes the justice system gets it right

Published on October 18, 2016

Scales of Justice

©TC

It may not be a success story in the end, but right now, it looks like it could be one.

And the fact is, the way media works these days, even if it is a startling success, you won’t hear about it, even though you hear about the failures every day.

Somewhere in the Atlantic provinces — not saying where or who, because there’s really no need to shine the bright light of media back on a man who clearly made a mistake — a man convicted of a 1994 murder is making his way back into society.

It was a horrible crime, and there’s no glossing over the fact that a murder leaves huge and long-lasting scars. A conviction and prison sentence doesn’t bring back the deceased, nor does it reduce in any way the pain and suffering of the family members left behind.

But the Canadian justice system, while it does focus in sentencing on deterrence and, yes, punishment, also asks judges to balance sentencing with the possibility of the rehabilitation of criminals.

The man, convicted of second-degree murder, served his time, and while in prison, took advantage of a series of programs designed to help him control substance abuse and to cope with relationships, impulse control, and other issues that would arise once he was out of prison. The convicted man successfully navigated escorted temporary absences from prison, then unescorted temporary absences, then work releases in the community.

He went on day parole in October 2015, and holds down a job, bought a car and volunteers. He attends Alcoholic Anonymous, church and Bible studies; his parole file “indicates that there are no concerns or any breach of conditions.”

Now eligible for full parole, the man made an interesting request to his case management team: instead of full parole, he requested that he stay on day parole for another six months, to better find his feet in the community and to continue with full oversight of his behaviour. Even the police in his community have agreed with the request for day parole, having already decreased the number of times the man is required to report to them.

“The (Parole Board of Canada) believes you have demonstrated the ability to meet community expectations on a continued day parole. … You have demonstrated positive change and relative stability and have continued working towards increasing your comprehension into your risk factors.”

It is like it is with anyone released from prison — either on parole or at the end of their sentence — a work in progress. Life outside of prison can be extremely difficult.

Sometimes, the justice system works right. You just don’t always get to hear about it when it does. Redemption is not the storyline the public hears a lot about in court coverage.

That may be a crucial failing in the way the media works, because it happens far more often than we realize.