John Howard Society of Canada - Our Mission: Effective, just and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.

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The John Howard Society of Canada

809 Blackburn Mews
Kingston, ON K7P 2N6

Tel: 613.384.6272
Fax: 613.384.1847

Executive Director:
Catherine Latimer

Improving the Corrections System:
John Howard Society’s 5-Point Plan

4. Proportionate and Constructive Penalties

A growing number of mandatory minimum custodial and financial penalties have constrained judicial discretion and resulted in sentences that are disproportionately harsh. The availability of effective and less expensive community-based sentences and alternatives has been reduced. An improved sentencing regime could address:

  1. unfairness of mandatory minimum custodial penalties
  2. unfairness of mandatory monetary penalties, surcharges, and fines: promote fine option programs
  3. unfairness of indeterminate sentences, including ‘dangerous offender’ designations
  4. repaying debt to society through community-based sentencing alternatives
  5. an independent review process for those who may have been wrongfully convicted

(a) Objectives/standards

A sentence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime and the degree of responsibility of the offender

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, S. 12 provides protections against cruel and unusual punishment or treatment

(b) Evidence/Statistics/Reports

B.C. Civil Liberties Association, “More than we can Afford: The Costs of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing” released on September 8, 2014: Read More

(c) Commentary

Most Americans Support Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Nonviolent Offenders, Huffington Post, Oct. 10, 2014 Read More

CBA National Magazine, The Victim Surcharge Read More

Prominent Ottawa Judge Strikes Down Mandatory Victim Surcharge, July 31, 2014 Read More

Mandatory Minimums Branded Ineffective, Overly Constraining, The Lawyers Weekly Magazine, Sept. 26, 2014 Read More

Justice Melvin Green traces roots of the enduring restraint principle in sentencing Read More

(d) Promising Programs/Approaches

Drug and mental health programs as alternatives to the justice system or to custody can be more effective, just, and humane than custodial responses to crime

Discharging penalties for crime through community-based sentences, including fine option programs, can be more effective, just, and humane than custodial sentences or unrealistic financial penalties

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association concludes its report on mandatory minimum sentencing with: “The need for evidence-based, thoughtful policy reform in the criminal justice system can be no clearer. But we cannot wait. Lawyers, advocacy organizations, researchers and policy makers all have important and immediate roles to play in preventing the unjustness that will result from mandatory minimum sentences: bringing constitutional challenges under the Charter, increasing public education about the criminal justice system (sentencing in particular, about which the public knows very little) and ongoing research on the downstream costs of incarceration. It is our responsibility to ensure that the justice system is first and foremost just.” : The John Howard Society of Canada has applied to intervene in R. v. Nur, the mandatory minimum sentencing case proceeding to the SCC.

(e) Options for reforms

Recognizing that Canada is the only common law country without an exemption for judges to avoid min sentence where injustice would result, the Canadian Bar Association passed Resolution 11-09-A calling for judicial discretion to avoid the mandatory minimum if an injustice would result

(f) Recommendations

To be developed