The epidemic of leniency in our justice system is not a myth created by the media. Statistics back up the stories that plaster our newsstands and television screens. The numbers show that in the Canada, tough sentences are the exception rather than the rule.
In 2003 there were 57,562 violent crime convictions in Canadian adult court. Of those convictions, only 35% resulted in a prison sentence. Of those prison sentences, the median sentence was 60 days. (Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics)
Light sentences were prevalent across all categories of violent crime in 2003. For instance, 13% of those convicted of homicide in 2003 were not sentenced to any jail time. Of those who received a jail sentence the median was just 7 years. Of all attempted murder convictions, 30% were not sentenced to any jail time. Those who were incarcerated received a median sentence of 3.5 years. Of those adults convicted of major assaults, 56% escaped jail time altogether. The median sentence was 205 months for those actually sent to prison. Over half (55%) of all prison sentences in 2003 were for one month or less. (Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics)
Leniency begins in our courts, but is compounded by parole boards and laws governing the release of inmates. Short jail sentences become even shorter when we consider parole and statutory release. Inmates are eligible for parole after serving 1/3 of their sentence. If an inmate is turned down for parole, he or she will automatically receive statutory release after serving two thirds of his or her sentence. All but a few of the most dangerous offenders qualify for statutory release.
Our system has trouble keeping even the most dangerous criminals behind bars. The Dangerous Offender designation is applied by the courts to the most dangerous violent and sexual predators. In order to receive Dangerous Offender status an offender must be considered a very high risk to re-offend. Dangerous offenders serve indeterminate length sentences. Dangerous Offender legislation gives the National Parole Board the power to keep long-term offenders locked up for life. Yet they still choose not to do so in some cases. There are currently 17 Dangerous Offenders on parole in Canada. (Source Correctional Services Canada)
The Long Term offender status was introduced in 1997 and was designed for those offenders who fall short of the requirements for Dangerous Offender status but are still considered dangerous and a risk to re-offend. The status was designed mainly to target repeat sexual offenders. Considering that this is such a new designation, one might assume that most, if not all, Long Term Offenders in Canada are presently incarcerated. That is not the case. At present, 38% of those with Long Term Offender status are out in the community under supervision. (Source: Correctional Services Canada)