I’m noticing a disturbing trend in both the provincial and the federal corrections systems. Prisoners are being asked, at an early stage, to waive their rights to parole hearings without really knowing what they are being asked or how it fits into their overall sentence. They are signing waivers that can have large consequences down the road with really no idea of what they’ve just agreed to. They are offered these waivers like it’s no big thing, and told they should waive their hearing because they won’t get parole anyway, or it’s standard, or some other such nonsense. They have almost no time to think about what they are signing because things get shoved in their faces all the time by staff in these institutions, especially during initial processing. And even staff who may have good intentions are in a hurry, and don’t give appropriate warnings or advice. How could they? That’s a lawyer’s job. And of course prisoners are agreeing to parole waivers with absolutely no benefit of legal advice.
There are pros and cons to parole, and it isn’t necessarily for everyone. In some cases, there is indeed so little chance of parole that it’s really just a waste of everyone’s time and a waiver may be appropriate. But there is absolutely no reason a prisoner should be forced to come to that decision on their own and without benefit of legal advice. There’s also no reason at all, other than the convenience of corrections staff, that prisoners should be asked to waive early on, before they even know what they are doing. It’s a flagrant violation of their rights.
My advice to anyone going into custody, or anyone with someone they care about going in, would be to not agree to any waiver of any sort until you’ve spoken to a lawyer. Just about any lawyer who works in corrections law will give a client free advice on this topic. If you waive your rights, it may be an uphill battle to get them back again in the future. If you insist on your rights, the worse case scenario is that you waste everyone’s time a little (otherwise known as making them do their jobs) and the best case scenario is that you actually get some sort of break you didn’t expect.
The bottom line is this. If someone asks you to give up your right to a parole hearing, you don’t need to make that decision right away. If you don’t have a plan or any options, you can always waive your rights later. But if you waive them now, you may not get them back again. So unless your hearing is coming up soon, there’s no rush. And anyone who insists you need to decide early hasn’t got your best interests in mind.