Unescorted temporary absences by males have been consistently successful since the early 1960s; in 1997, the successful completion rate on temporary absences was 98.8%, with only 58 of a total of 4,789 absences being unsuccessful (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 47). The rehabilitative value of the program lies in its providing an opportunity for the inmate to be released for a limited duration, for medical, administrative, community service, family contact, personal development for rehabilitative purposes, or compassionate reasons, including parental responsibilities. There are some who suggest that expanding upon the successes of unescorted temporary absences would be a promising option.
Through gradual, conditional release, offenders are given an opportunity to become contributing members of society, providing they abide by the conditions of their release. The planned and gradual release of inmates into the community, through conditional release mechanisms designed to ensure the protection of society, is an important and often misunderstood aspect of correctional programming.
However responsive and successful such special programs as the Lifeline Project might be, the fact is that they are costly and will only get more so because of the growing penitentiary population of inmates serving life sentences in Canada. Furthermore, establishing what the guiding principles of sentencing are going to be, in order to ensure that a consistent, coherent and acceptably fair sentencing policy can be implemented, must come before discussions about how to manage inmates serving life sentences. Before deciding where to put inmates serving life sentences and for how long, some form of workable consensus must be reached among the public, legislators and administrators of social justice on what constitutes just punishment for the crime of murder. Over 90% of all inmates will return to society at some future date (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994).
While the rehabilitation model has not declined since the 1960s, it has shifted emphasis from treatment to preventive strategies, especially those of deterrence and incapacitation. The deterrence and incapacitation approach was prevalent during the 1970s and 1980s - a period which included the abolition of the death penalty in Canada and an increase in the minimum parole eligibility periods for offenders convicted of murder to what they are at present. Unfortunately, the deterrence concept did not live up to expectations. While the prison population rose sharply as mandatory minimum laws were imposed, the rates of serious crimes, including murder, did not decrease commensurately (von Hirsch, 1990, p. 403). While we have the added financial and human cost of long term incarceration, we have not witnessed the expected reduction in crime that was to be the benefit of the added cost.