Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is to assess whether granting an inmate parole presents an undue risk to society. Following no formal rules of evidence, the PBC must determine risk based on an assessment of the offender’s likelihood of reoffending, taking into consideration the nature and severity of the offence.
The UBC Innocence Project, and other wrongful conviction efforts, have been involved in cases in which an inmate’s claim of factual innocence has hindered his or her ability to obtain access to programming, temporary absences or parole. If an inmate does not take responsibility for and/or show remorse for committing an offence, for instance, the PBC frequently interprets these actions to signify a lack of rehabilitation. For instance, one UBC Innocence Project applicant, Mr. X, has been incarcerated for 32 years; 22 years past his parole eligibility of 10 years, largely due to the fact that he maintains innocence. Because some prisoners maintain factual innocence, inmates have been denied entry to programs which are generally necessary for them to complete to demonstrate to the PBC that they do not present a risk to society. In Corrections Canada psychological assessments, UBC Innocence Project applicants such as Mr. X have been characterized as untreated offenders whose risk “cannot be determined.” If inmates are classified as such, Corrections Canada officials will generally not support an inmate’s application for parole.
Thus, maintaining factual innocence can place actually innocent inmates in a catch-22 situation. They may in fact serve longer sentences than if they falsely admitted guilt to satisfy the factors considered by the PBC in assessing the inmate’s parole application.
This illogical conundrum must be addressed. Inmates asserting their innocence over an extended period of time, should not be further penalized solely on the basis that they claim to be innocent. With more than 1300 identified exonerees in the U.S. and more than 50 in Canada, we know that miscarriages of justice do occur and that wrongful convictions are possible.
C-DAS will engage affected inmates and/or past inmates in discussions as well as endeavour to interview Corrections Canada officials, prison lawyers and other interested parties. C-DAS will ultimately advocate for changes to the CCRA so that the PBC can assess parole for inmates claiming factual innocence in a manner which does not penalize such individuals solely on the basis of their innocence claim.