How to Prepare for Serving Time in Custody
By: Sarah Durcikova, Summer Student
So, you’ve pled guilty or were found guilty at trial and are now facing sentencing. After a finding of guilt, the Court must then determine a sentence that is fair considering the circumstances, the seriousness of the offence, and the offender’s degree of responsibility. To do this, the Court will consider various mitigating factors such as age, circumstances, and if this is your first offense as well as aggravating factors such as a lengthy criminal record, whether a weapon was used, and more. Section 718 of the Criminal Code outlines the purpose of sentencing and the guiding principles. There are also additional considerations if you are an Indigenous offender as the Court is mandated to consider your unique Indigenous heritage. There are several different types of sentences that the Court may consider including: a conditional or absolute discharge (only available for less serious offences), a suspended sentence and probation, a fine (which may be combined with imprisonment or probation), a conditional sentence (a sentence of less than two years’ imprisonment which the Court may order to be served in the community with conditions), or imprisonment (the most serious sentence).
If you are sentenced to serve a custodial sentence (imprisonment), you will either be serving your sentence in jail for sentences that are less than two years, or you will be serving your sentence in a federal penitentiary which is under the control of the Correctional Services Canada. If your sentence is less than 90 days, the Court may order you to serve your sentence intermittently such as on the weekend. For certain types of offences that cause serious harm, you may be designated a ‘Dangerous Offender’ where you will serve an indeterminate sentence; this means that your sentence does not have an end date. Your case will be reviewed by the Parole Board of Canada after seven years and then every two years. If you are found guilty of first or second-degree murder, you will face life imprisonment with no parole eligibility until 10 to 25 years for second-degree and after 25 years for first-degree murder. If you are a youth, you will have a different parole eligibility. You will be informed of all of your conditions, parole ineligibility, and length of your sentence at your sentencing hearing.
How to Prepare for Custody
If you are pleading guilty or if there is any possibility that your offence is subject to a custodial sentence, it is important to begin preparing yourself.
First, you should get your affairs in order. You may want to settle your debts, prepare a will, meet with a financial expert or an estate lawyer, and make arrangements for how your bills will get paid in your absence. If you have dependents or a spouse/partner, you should sit down with them and make a plan for your finances while you are away. If you are employed, you should make arrangements with your employer when you are in custody. Homelessness and unemployment are common experiences post-custody so if you can prepare yourself beforehand, it may help you upon release. You will also need money for your canteen inside the institution. This will allow you to buy items from the commissary and use the phone to speak with loved ones and your lawyer.
You should also get any medical or dental problems sorted before going into custody. While institutions do provide mental, dental, eye care, and psychological services, they are slow and substandard.
While Hollywood movies portray jail and prison as a ‘kill or be killed’ environment, this is often not the case. That being said, fights do happen and it may be a good idea to get in good physical shape before serving your sentence.
If you are facing custody at a federal institution, every institution is different. Some institutions house minimum security inmates, while others house medium and maximum-security inmates. The type of institution you are put into determines the movement and privileges you will have while in custody. When you arrive into federal custody, you will complete a full intake assessment so that Correctional Services Canada can determine your correctional needs. It is important to note that female offenders are housed separately from male offenders and may have access to programs that are designed to specifically meet the needs of female offenders. Following changes in the legislation, transgender offenders will now be placed in an institution that corresponds to their self-identified gender unless there are safety concerns. Offenders are regularly assessed by Correctional Service Canada to make sure that they are being housed at the appropriate security level.
You will be allowed to have visitors in Provincial and Federal institutions. In Provincial jails, your visitors will need to schedule a visit and bring two pieces of identification. In Federal prisons, you will need your visitors to be put on an approved list. It is helpful to explain the visitation process to your loved ones prior to serving your sentence so that they know what to expect and don’t experience unnecessary delays.
Whether you are serving time in jail or prison, you will have a lot of time on your hands; this may be positive or negative. It’s helpful for your mental and physical wellbeing as well as your parole eligibility if you participate in programs, use the gym or exercise outside, and work at the institution if you are interested and able to. You may also consider completing or continuing your education will serving your sentence. Whatever you choose to do with your time, know that having a purpose while in custody will make serving your sentence slightly easier.
As you prepare yourself and your family for your time in custody, you can consult Provincial and Federal resources. You may want to research parole ineligibility as well. If you are wondering what a Federal institution looks like, you can take a virtual tour. If you want a personal account of preparing for prison, check out How to Prepare for Prison.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, call us at 416-304-1414.