The Lifeline Project helps inmates early in their sentences to develop the perspective and skills needed to integrate into the community. The majority of lifers (75%) have never been in a penitentiary before (Church Council on Justice and Corrections, 1996). Inmates serving life sentences are helped with the management of their sentences, including the encouragement that they do not get hypnotized by the prison routine. Project in-reach workers, most of whom are lifers released on full parole, work closely with many of the offenders serving life sentences in Ontario federal institutions. The job of in-reach workers includes one-on-one interviews with incarcerated lifers, giving pointers to newcomers on how to survive in the prison culture, keeping inmates informed about judicial reviews, helping to formulate release plans, advising families on how to improve the offenders chances of early release, sharing program information with classification officers and assisting with communication problems. The Project also attempts to address the issue of increasing inmate trust of the corrections system by providing the services of an in-reach worker who can act as a sounding board for offenders who dont want to talk to someone taking notes. As successful as the Lifeline Project has been, it has not gone past the first phase of its development.
Phase two of Lifeline was to be the establishment of a halfway house for lifers in Windsor, with phase three being the evaluation, revision and expansion of the Project to other parts of Canada. Unfortunately, taking into account zoning problems, funding and public sentiment, the halfway house for lifers has not materialized (Personal communication, St. Leonards Society staff member, 1998). It is felt that it is very unlikely to ever have a house designated specifically for lifers. Presently, there are nine beds devoted to lifers at the St. Leonards Society Correction Rehabilitational Facility in Windsor.
However, the biggest challenge facing the Projects continued development is gaining the necessary community support. It is felt that the St. Leonard Societys situation is one in which the community recognizes that the organization is a good neighbour and is committed to keeping the community up to date and protected (Personal communication, St. Leonards Society staff member, 1998). Overcoming the communitys fear of the unknown and letting the public know that while a convicted murderer has committed a very serious crime, lifers have also proven themselves to be the best parole risk types.
Much of the discussion over the past 20 years on how to resolve issues regarding the sentencing of convicted murderers has revolved around the death penalty versus long term incarceration. A percentage of Canadians oppose any opportunity for an offender to receive parole before 25 years for first degree murder and wish to see consecutive (rather than concurrent) sentencing for multiple killers (DArcy, 1997). In fact, many want the return of the death penalty for the most serious murders. Canadian public opinion polls have consistently revealed that the majority of the population favours reinstatement of the death penalty (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994). When contacted, a representative for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police stated that the association favours restoring capital punishment for certain crimes such as cop killings. (Personal communication, 1998).
Groups such as the Canadian Police Association have a goal to convince government members of, among other things, the need for tougher sentences, tighter parole and the repeal of Section 745. Warren Allmand, now president of the Montreal based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, was Solicitor General in 1976 when parliament adopted Section 745. In opposition to groups such as the Canadian Police Association, Allmand says he is disheartened by what he calls the prevalence of public misconceptions about the judicial review clause. He believes peoples perception of the process is totally distorted. Most people think it is a relatively easy process to get out of prison, which could not be farther from the truth, according to Allmand (DArcy, 1997).