Doing away with double time

Rosie
Rosie Mullaley
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Criminals will no longer get twice the credit for time served in remand

When Darryll Hannaford gets out of jail in two weeks, he can't guarantee he won't be back.

"I hope I don't (commit more crimes)," the 29-year-old said. "I don't want to. I want to straighten my life out."

But Hannaford, like many offenders, could do with some help.

His cocaine and opiate addictions are out of control and he's afraid if he doesn't get some kind of support, he'll go back to selling drugs and stealing to get money to buy more drugs.

Bill C-25 does away with the practice of judges giving convicted criminals two-for-one credit for time served when imposing a sentence. Reaction to the change is mixed, with some politicians saying it's time to get tougher on crime and some of those behin

When Darryll Hannaford gets out of jail in two weeks, he can't guarantee he won't be back.

"I hope I don't (commit more crimes)," the 29-year-old said. "I don't want to. I want to straighten my life out."

But Hannaford, like many offenders, could do with some help.

His cocaine and opiate addictions are out of control and he's afraid if he doesn't get some kind of support, he'll go back to selling drugs and stealing to get money to buy more drugs.

"When I get out of here, I've got no money and nowhere to go," Hannaford said, sitting in an office at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's earlier this week.

"I don't know what will happen to me."

He and other inmates have heard about the federal government's new get-tough-on-crime initiatives.

Last week, new legislation eliminated the customary sentencing practice of giving two-for-one credit for time already spent behind bars in pre-sentence custody.

From now on, offenders will get straight time when sentenced.

"Yeah, we're all talking about it, but it's a joke," said Hannaford, who was sentenced to 45 days for trafficking, breaking and entering, fraud and theft.

"It's not going to do anything to stop crime. People are still going to do stuff.

"Look, most (criminals) don't care about two-for-one because (judges) are going to give you what they give you anyways. They'll just end up giving shorter sentences."

Hannaford believes the federal government has the wrong idea about fighting crime.

He thinks the best way to reduce crime is to ensure all inmates get proper treatment and access to programs, and get followed up on once they're released from jail.

"You want to get tough on crime? Get us help," Hannaford said. "The big problem is drugs, and when you get out of jail, a lot of people go back to where they were."

The new sentencing rule - through Bill-25 - was given royal assent last week after months of debate and a delay by the Senate.

"I had a tough time getting it passed, with all the Liberal Senators and their amendments, who were going to gut the bill," federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told The Telegram earlier this week.

"But we did get it through."

The federal government initially rolled out Bill C-25 - called The Truth in Sentencing Act - on March 27.

The bill "would strictly limit the amount of credit that may be granted for time served in custody prior to sentencing, bringing greater certainty and clarity to the sentencing process."

It stipulates that any pre-sentence custody be credited at a one-to-one ratio, unless circumstances warrant a more generous credit, in which case it would be capped at 1.5-to-one.

Until now, it was common practice for judges to give convicts double time for the time they served in custody while awaiting sentencing - considered dead time. Although there are examples of when the two-for-one rule has not been applied, the majority of judges applied it almost mechanically.

But the rule wasn't etched in stone and doesn't exist in the Criminal Code of Canada, which provides sentencing guidance. In fact, the only mention of sentencing considerations in the Criminal Code is in section 719(3): "In determining the sentence to be imposed on a person convicted of an offence, a court may take into account any time spent in custody by the person as a result of the offence."

The key word is "may."

Double time has been the rule of thumb for about 20 years. In rare cases, judges gave three-for-one credit.

The thinking was that remand time is harder time, since programs for inmates on remand are either limited or non-existent, and the accommodations are poorer. As well, time spent in remand didn't count towards parole eligibility.

But the thought of having criminals walk out of jail after serving just half their time made some people cringe and there were calls for harsher punishment.

'People want truth in sentencing'

"It was getting out of hand and we had to do something about it," Nicholson said via telephone from Ottawa. "I mean, people want truth in sentencing. That's the bottom line on this.

"I used to get this all the time - someone would commit a horrendous crime and they'd get five years. They find out the guy has been waiting in jail for 18 months, so he racks up 36 months' (credit) and then he's eligible for parole sooner. It was a problem."

According to the federal government's website, correctional facilities across the country had increasing numbers of people in pre-sentencing custody, to the point where the remand population exceeded the convict population.

Nicholson had widespread support for the bill. Every provincial and territorial justice minister and attorney general across the country was onside.

"In this country, it's hard to get all provincial, territorial and federal governments to agree on something. It was a challenge," Nicholson said. "But I had them all in support of this."

Provincial Justice Minister Felix Collins said his government supported the bill wholeheartedly.

He said some offenders were abusing the double-credit tradition and purposely delaying their court cases in order to get more time shaved off their eventual sentence, whether by suddenly changing lawyers, pretending to need more time to make decisions or waiving their bail hearings.

"It creates a backup in the court system," Collins said.

Governments believe the new law will increase people's confidence in the justice system.

But not everyone in the justice system thinks the new law is wise.

Many feel the notion of getting tough on crime will only make things tougher on the courts and the prison system.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Tomorrow: How the new law will affect the justice system here.

First in a two-part series




ABIDING BY THE BILL

Bill C-25:
makes it the general rule that the amount of credit for time served be capped, giving one day of credit for each day an individual has spent in custody prior to sentencing;
permits credit for time served be given at a ratio of up to 1.5- to-1 only where the circumstances justify it;
requires courts to explain the circumstances that justify a higher ratio;
and limits the pre-sentencing credit ratio to a maximum ratio of one-to-one for people detained because of their criminal record or because they violated bail, with no enhanced credit granted under any circumstances.
Source: Government of Canada

Organizations: Liberal Senators

Geographic location: St. John's, Canada, Ottawa

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  • Calvin
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Listen genius, here's an idea, dont go back to crime and drugs. Most criminals who get sentenced for drug associated offenses start crying about being addicts, but no one made you an addict but you. I doubt any government officials, public-sector workers, or low income families were forcing that dirt into your body. Do you think crying about not having money is going to get you a handout from social services to buy more dope? I hope not, I'd rather see my hard earned tax dollars put to good use, like keeping junkies in jail long enough to clean up.

  • Calvin
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Listen genius, here's an idea, dont go back to crime and drugs. Most criminals who get sentenced for drug associated offenses start crying about being addicts, but no one made you an addict but you. I doubt any government officials, public-sector workers, or low income families were forcing that dirt into your body. Do you think crying about not having money is going to get you a handout from social services to buy more dope? I hope not, I'd rather see my hard earned tax dollars put to good use, like keeping junkies in jail long enough to clean up.