Conditional Sentencing in Canada: an Overview of Research Findings
- 3.3 Length of Conditional Sentence Orders
- 3.4 Length of conditional sentence orders by Offence Category
- 3.5 Nature of Optional Conditions
- 3.6 Outcome of Orders to Date
- 3.7 Judicial Response to breach
Table 3.4 provides a breakdown of the lengths of conditional sentences imposed, for Canada and also the provinces and territories. The average length of all conditional sentences was 8 months. Almost half the orders were for periods under six months. Fully 61% of the orders were for six months or less. Five percent were exactly 12 months while the remaining orders were longer than 12 months but less than two years. (The statutory limit for a conditional sentence order is two years less one day.) Over four hundred cases (446) were at the maximum of two years less a day.
|Province/Territory||Sentence Length in Months|
|0 to 3||> 3 to < 6||6||> 6 to < 12||12||> 12 to < 18||> 18 to < 24||TOTAL|
|Prince Edward Island||56||14||6||6||6||3||2||93|
Not surprisingly, the length of the conditional sentence orders varied considerably across the different offence categories. Table 3.5 summarizes these data for Canada and the provinces/ territories, although data are unavailable for some jurisdictions. As can be seen, the longest average length was associated with the most serious offence: manslaughter (16.5 months). Within the different categories of offences, sexual offences and domestic violence offences attracted the longest conditional sentence orders, 10 months and 9 months respectively. Crimes against the administration of justice resulted in the shortest conditional sentence orders (an average of four months, see Table 3.5).
|Province/ Territory||Number and Type of Offences|
|Man-slaughter||Person||Property||B&E||Fraud||Sexual Assault||Family Violence||Impaired Driving||Dangerous Driving||Administration of Justice||CDSA||Other|
The correlation between the seriousness of the crime and the duration of the conditional sentence order presumably reflects the influence of section 718.1. That provision of the Criminal Code articulates the fundamental principle of sentencing, namely that:
“A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” All sentences, including conditional sentences of imprisonment, are subject to this fundamental principle.
An important issue in the area of conditional sentencing concerns the number and nature of optional conditions imposed as part of a conditional sentence order. These data are only available from certain jurisdictions, and our conclusions with respect to the use of different conditions must therefore be tentative for the present. However, Table 3.6 provides some indication of the usage of conditions to date. As can be seen, alcohol and drug treatment programs are the most frequently-imposed optional conditions.
|Province/ Territory||Optional Conditions|
|Alcohol/ Drug Rehab.||Other Treatment||Restitution||Perform CSW||Curfew||No Contact||House Arrest||Other|
|Prince Edward Island||49||31||8||7||5||11||38||11|
This table also shows considerable variability in terms of the optional conditions imposed in different jurisdictions. Alcohol or drug treatment was ordered in approximately half the conditional sentence orders imposed in the province of Saskatchewan However, interpretation must proceed with caution. These differences may reflect variation in case characteristics, rather than variable judicial attitudes to the use of optional conditions.
It is still too early to come to any firm conclusions about the outcome of orders to date, as many are still running and only some jurisdictions have reported this kind of information. Nevertheless, some preliminary data are available. Of 6,244 orders resulted in a breach for a rate of exactly one in three. Systematic information is not available on the grounds for the breach. However, the limited information available shows that over half (56%) of the orders involved a breach of the compulsory conditions. It is important to point out that these are very preliminary data, and cannot be taken as representative of all conditional sentence orders imposed to date.
The statistical portrait is also incomplete for the judicial response to a breach of conditions. The data that are available show that in 30% of cases the offender is incarcerated for the duration of the order and in an additional 19% of cases the offender is incarcerated for a term that is less than the remaining duration. In 22% of cases the court elected to modify the optional conditions imposed and in 28% of cases no recorded action was taken.
 According to section 742… the court may order the offender to attend treatment. This element of the conditional sentence distinguishes it from a term of probation. According to section 732, a court may order an offender on probation to follow a program of treatment but only if the offenders gives his or her consent.
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