Roberts, as cited in Griffiths and Verdun-Jones (1994), found that the general public has little knowledge about conditional release and often confuse the various forms of release. It is highly unlikely that psychopaths or dangerous offenders will receive any reduction in their parole eligibility periods. However, perceptions of the justice system are such that Canadians believe there is far too much hope for these types of offenders. Citizens often have little information about community corrections programs, a knowledge gap that affects their perceptions and concerns (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994).
Special programming and time framing techniques have proven extraordinarily expensive and cumbersome methods for managing long term offenders, particularly now that there are so many of them in the Canadian penitentiary system. Undoubtedly there will always be a distinct but statistically minor category of offenders who must remain in prison indefinitely despite having reached their parole eligibility date. For these individuals, time framing and special programming may be appropriate. However, for the majority of offenders serving life sentences, the most economical, humane, practical and effective solution to long term incarceration is to institute programs aimed at achieving and managing their conditional release at a date earlier than 25 years. However, this option also presents a vivid example of something being easier said than done. In spite of the difficulty in advocating such an approach, many people continue to challenge fears and perceptions by trying to educate and convince the public that lifers can be successfully and safely managed in the community with little risk.
Statistics show that in 1996-97, a total of 15,222 offenders were in the community on conditional release at some period of time. A total of 195 of these offenders, or 1.28%, were charged with major offences (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 52). Citizens overestimate the percentage of released offenders who recommit property and violent crimes while under community supervision (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994). Gradually releasing offenders is essential because experience has shown most criminals are more likely to become law-abiding citizens if they participate in a program of gradual, supervised release (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997).
In November, 1992, Bill C-36, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), came into force, replacing the Parole Act and the Penitentiary Act. The authority for temporary absences is found in both federal and provincial correctional legislation and is exercised by correctional authorities in provincial and territorial systems. To be eligible for an unescorted temporary absence (UTA), an inmate must have served one half of the time before his or her parole eligibility date, or 6 months, whichever is longer. The two exceptions to this are offenders who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, who are eligible for a UTA only 3 years prior to their parole eligibility date, and offenders sentenced to detention for an indeterminate period of time, who must serve 3 years before being eligible. As of 1992, offenders classified as maximum security are no longer eligible for UTAs (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994). UTAs may run from 48 hours to 60 days. Prior to 1974, unescorted temporary absences (usually up to 72 hours per month), could be granted to any class of convicted murderer 3 years after entering the penitentiary.