Covid Alone Won’t Get You Parole in Ontario

My associate Rachel Neizer recently drew my attention back to this article in the Toronto Star. Alyshah Hasham produced some really great coverage of how the pandemic has affected the criminal justice system and the incarcerated population in Ontario and this was just one more article that quite frankly I read, was not surprised by, and moved past. But there’s really two notable features in it.

First, while the overall prison population did drop significantly in Ontario when the pandemic hit (it has since rebounded) that reduction was not achieved, no matter what anyone claims, through the early release of sentenced inmates. Primarily, what changed is that people were getting bail more easily, which reduced the remand population. Also, every sentence that could possibly be delayed was being delayed, and judges were doing everything possible to avoid a jail sentence in the first place. But once someone actually was sentenced to jail, they weren’t getting out any earlier, and any claim that the government made that meaningfully easier is an outright lie.

Second, thanks to investigations by Aboriginal Legal Services Toronto and the Black Legal Action Centre, we have numbers we don’t normally see. Those numbers tell us that 137 inmates were granted provincial parole between March 16, 2020 and July 22, 2020. So I checked my own internal records and discovered something shocking. During that same period, myself and Rachel as my associate had 35 successful provincial parole hearings between us. In other words, during this period of time, over one-quarter of all successful provincial parole hearings province-wide were run by my office.

The lesson here is straight-forward. Parole remains complicated and uncertain. It isn’t something you can just expect. At the same time, it is available. It isn’t true that anyone absolutely needs a lawyer to obtain parole. But everyone needs to take the process seriously, plan carefully, and anticipate the challenges they’ll face.

In all fairness, probably this was an unusually good stretch for Rachel and myself. But still, we’re just two lawyers. If we’re accounting for over one-quarter of all provincial paroles over any stretch in time, we’re doing something right.

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