One side effect of Covid has been a wholesale shift to doing everything remotely that can possibly be done that way. Parole is no exception. Since March of 2020, hearings have been happening by phone, and this shows no sign of changing any time soon.
The Ontario Parole Board continues to conduct hearings entirely by phone. It has ambitions to move to video, but video facilities in the jails are limited and are entirely devoted to court proceedings right now, so there’s no space for parole hearings. The Parole Board of Canada had some hearings resuming in person, briefly, but jails are closing to visitors again and they’re back to their standard approach. Board Members link in by video, and others participate by phone.
Obviously it’s just necessary to limit travel, exposure to other people, etc. The enclosed space of jails makes that especially important. It’s hard to emphasize how small spaces in jails can be, but social distancing in there is an impossible joke. When there’s only one real option, there isn’t much point in wondering about what’s best. But this forced experiment has led to some interesting changes, and not all of them are necessarily bad.
First and foremost, remote hearings allow my office to represent clients in any jail without the time and expense of travel. That’s huge. I want to help as many clients as I can and I want to do it as affordably as possible. Paying a lawyer to drive for hours and hours is a waste of time and money. Second, that same factor applies to the participation of other “assistants” in a hearing. The Ontario Parole Board is on top of this. We’ve been able to get family and other supports for our clients into hearings far more easily now. Time was, participating in a hearing meant traveling to and being cleared to enter the jail. Now, it’s done on the phone. The Parole Board of Canada isn’t quite as on top of this, yet, but hopefully they’ll get there.
The loss to our clients comes in the immediacy of the hearing. It’s just unavoidable, that sitting across a table and talking with Parole Board Members is more real, and more meaningful, than talking on the phone. I think it helps some clients connect, and makes it harder for the Board to say “no.” Video may help with this. It’s apparently coming. One day.
Just like working from home, this has been a mixed change. There are opportunities as well as costs. All I can say is, we’re working hard to make sure our clients and all those hoping for parole benefit in the end from these changes, and we make it easier for people to put together strong and successful plans.