Since the turn of the nineteenth century, dangerous offender provisions have been enacted in many nations around the world, particularly in North America and Europe. These laws exist because some offenders are considered to be so dangerous that punishment proportionate to their offences would be inadequate to prevent them from committing harmful acts in the future. Indeed, it is incapacitation, not punishment, that is the primary goal of dangerous offender laws. Two types of incapacitative measures are used to deal with dangerous offenders: preventive or indeterminate custodial sentences and community notification. A preventive custodial sentence is similar to an indeterminate one in that both entail the imposition of custody for a period longer than can be justified by the criminal act and the offender's record. Additional time is incorporated into these dispositions as the offender is seen to pose a significant threat to the community. A preventive sentence is different from an indeterminate sentence because it is fixed; a judge is required to indicate the length of time an offender will serve in custody. Community notification provisions serve to incapacitate the offender within the community by making his presence known to people within a certain area who will, theoretically, protect themselves and their loved ones from victimization.

This paper will survey laws from several jurisdictions around the world that provide for lengthy custodial dispositions or for community notification once a dangerous person is released from prison. We will focus on legislation enacted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada. The evolution of dangerous offender provisions within Canadian criminal law will be examined and the current protocols for dealing with dangerous and long-term offenders will be evaluated. It is hoped that a consideration of various dangerous offender protocols in other nations will allow Canadian law makers to improve upon the current legislation and create a better balance between the protection of society and the constitutional rights of the offender.


The classification of an offender as dangerous hinges on how dangerousness is defined. In the criminal justice context, Petrunik gives a broad yet revealing definition: "...the concept of dangerousness refers to a state of being of individuals which predisposes them to engage in harmful acts" (1994, p. 4). The definition is revealing for several reasons. First, it notes that dangerousness is a phenomenon that exists within individuals. The criminal justice system presupposes that only solitary persons act dangerously; government entities and corporations cannot. Second, the definition refers to a state of being, suggesting that there is something within certain people that is the source of their dangerous conduct. Danger is conceptualized as harm likely to be caused, displaying the orientation of dangerousness to future conduct. Finally, the last part of the definition pinpoints the fact that the danger manifests itself in harmful acts.


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