Lifers do not pose a significant threat to public safety upon release; violent re-offending among this group of parolees is negligible. Less than 3% of lifers who were released on parole between 1975 and 1990 committed a subsequent offence against a person. Less than 1% of this group committed a subsequent murder. It is estimated that by the year 2002 there will be 50 cases a year eligible for judicial review in Canada (OReilly-Flemming, 1992).
As of March 31, 1997, there were 632 inmates serving life sentences for first degree murder and 1477 inmates serving life for second degree murder, out of a total Canadian federal penitentiary population of 14,448. Also included in the total serving life sentences (2262 our of 14,448) were the 153 convicted of capital (11) and non-capital (142) murder prior to the 1976 legislation abolishing capital punishment in Canada (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 25). There are 303 people serving life sentences for crimes other than homicide (p. 24). In total, the percentage of the prison population serving life sentences is 17.8%.
From March 1991 to March 1997, the total federal penitentiary population increased from 13,819 (Correctional Service of Canada, 1991, p. 21), to 14,448 (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p.25), representing a 4.5% increase in six years. While the number of individuals serving life sentences for murder increased 21% from 1988 to 1991, the increase was only 4.4% (from 2163 to 2262) between the years of 1991 and 1997 (Correctional Service of Canada, 1991, p. 28; Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 25). Due to the large number of inmates serving life imprisonment, there may be an increase in the pressure to take yet another look at the sentencing and parole policies for terms of life imprisonment. Such a re-examination would include addressing the issues concerning public perception and expectations regarding community safety and due punishment for murder.
Few inmates convicted of being dangerous offenders have been granted parole, despite the fact that the legislation now provides for parole eligibility after 7 years from the date of arrest. In 1996, out of 179 individuals labelled dangerous offenders, 174 were incarcerated. Only five dangerous offenders in Canada had been granted full or day parole.
The cost of life imprisonment is high. Maximum security beds cost taxpayers $68,156 a year per inmate (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 12). This means that it would cost over a million dollars to keep one offender incarcerated for 25 years, even before inflation. There are currently about 564 offenders serving life sentences who will not be eligible for parole for 25 years. If some of these offenders were released on parole before 25 years, a great deal of money would be saved. The average annual cost of supervising an offender on parole or statutory release is $9,145 (p. 13).