Paul Bernardo, infamous serial killer, and rapist was recently denied for parole again for the second time in three years. Despite being handed a life sentence in 1993 he has been eligible to apply for parole in one form or another since 2008. So, what does it mean to be sentenced for life if you have the possibility of getting out of prison after only 15 years?
Hardly any sentences will require the inmate to stay in the penitentiary for the entire duration. Once a federal inmate has served 2/3 of their sentence, they are granted Statutory Release and allowed to serve the remainder of their sentence outside the penitentiary. Even the exact date of release is variable as standard practice is to release an inmate during normal business hours on the last working day before the day they are entitled to be released.In some cases, an inmate may be released up to 5 days before they are entitled to be released.
Before becoming eligible for a statutory release an inmate can apply for Temporary Absences or Parole depending on how much of their sentence they have served.
Escorted Temporary Absences allow inmates to leave the penitentiary for a period of fewer than 15 days and must remain under the supervision of a staff member.
Unescorted Temporary Absences (UTA) are available after an inmate has served either 6 months or 1/2 of the period required for full parole (1/6 of the sentence). For inmates who are serving an indeterminate sentence, an UTA is generally available 3 years before they are eligible for full parole.
Day Parole is available on a similar basis to UTAs with offenders serving less than 2 years becoming eligible after serving half of the period required for full parole (1/6 of sentence). Offenders serving more than 2 years must wait either 6 months or until 6 months before the date they are eligible for full parole. If an offender is serving an indeterminate sentence they must wait until 3 years before they are eligible for full parole.
Full Parole becomes available once an offender has served 1/3 of their sentence, or 7 years, whichever is less. Offenders serving a life sentence are not eligible for a period of 7 years.
When being sentenced to more than 2 years for a matter which proceeded by way of indictment, the Court can order that the parole eligibility period be changed to 1/2 of the sentence to be served rather than 1/3, or 10 years, whichever is less.
It is important to note that the above information is for inmates serving time in a federal institution and may be different for those being held in provincial remand centers. Also, just because an inmate is eligible for parole does not mean that parole will be granted. There are many elements that the parole board will consider when looking at granting parole. In complicated cases such as Paul Bernardo’s the parole board will need to consider additional factors such as his declaration as a dangerous offender and the victim impact statements submitted by the families of his victims