Virtual Hearing

A Parole Board of Canada (PBC) Hearing Room


Introduction

A PBC hearing takes place in the penitentiary where the offender is incarcerated. There are hearing rooms in all the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) penitentiaries, but the layout of the hearing rooms is not exactly the same in all cases.

This is a graphic representation of a typical PBC hearing room and the people who may be present at a hearing. In the scenario presented, the offender is John and the victim is Jane. Hearing Room Layout

To contribute to the openness and accountability of the PBC and to add to the community's understanding of the PBC decision-making, hearings can be attended by the public. To observe a hearing, complete the Request to Observe a Hearing form (PDF 111 Kb) and forward it to the PBC regional office nearest you.

The PBC Regional Communications Officers can give you additional information on any aspect of the Parole Board's work. Call toll-free 1-866-789-INFO (4636).

Entering a penitentiary

The Correctional Service Canada (CSC), to maintain the security of the penitentiary, requires when you enter to:

  • sign in and out.
  • show photo identification.
  • leave such items as cellular phones, pagers, and portable computers in your car or at the main entry.
  • submit to a security check with a metal and drug scanner administered by CSC staff. In some instances dogs are used to detect contraband substances. Purses and briefcases are also checked.
Entering a penitentiary

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC)does not permit recording equipment at hearings, including audio or video taping or cameras for still photographs.



Steps in the typical hearing after all participants and observers have entered the hearing room:

  1. The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) Hearing Officer asks the offender if the procedural safeguards have been followed.
  2. The victim reads her statement (The victim may choose whether to read the statement at the beginning or near the conclusion of the hearing).
  3. The Board members talk with the Correctional Service Canada Parole Officer.
  4. The offender's assistant can make a presentation to the Board members.
  5. The Board members interview the offender.
  6. The interview part of the hearing is over.
  7. People leave the room and go to designated waiting areas; the Board members stay in the room.
  8. Board members discuss, analyze, elements of the interview and the file information, deliberate, and reach their decision.
  9. After the deliberation, the Hearing Officer asks all participants and observers to re-assemble in the hearing room.
  10. Board members summarize their decision and the reasons for the decision for the offender. If the offender is granted parole, Board Members will also mention any special conditions that the offender must follow and the reasons for those conditions, over and above those standard conditions that are part of all conditional releases.
  11. The hearing is over. All leave the hearing room.
  12. The Regional Communications Officer may return to the designated waiting areas with the different observers to discuss the decision.

Lead Board member and other Board members

As the Board member designated to lead this hearing, I direct the interview with the offender and the other Board member follows up with additional questions.

This hearing requires two Board members. The law determines the number of Board members at a hearing. There may be one or two to make a decision depending on the type of hearing required.

Prior to the hearing, we each study the offender's file. The file is put together by Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and contains all the available, relevant information about the offender. We carefully review the information from police reports, judge's comments, CSC caseworkers, psychological/psychiatric reports, correctional authorities, victims, and others.

Our focus during the hearing is on three areas:

  1. the offender's criminal and social history, and how he functioned and what his attitude was on any previous conditional release;
  2. his functioning and attitude during incarceration indicating a modification in his behaviour, as well as professional reports and relevant actuarial scales; and the concrete results and treatment gains of interventions;
  3. the offender's release plan and the community management strategy that CSC has put in place to manage the offender if he is released.

The PBC Policy Manual details the elements that are part of the PBC decision-making process.

You should remember that an PBC hearing is not a trial as in a court of law. There is no swearing in or taking of oaths. There is no cross examination. The process is considered inquisitorial not adversarial. It is a formal process that the other Board member and I manage.

After the Hearing Officer reviews the procedural safeguards, my colleague and I listen to the Institutional Parole Officer who presents Correctional Service Canada's view of the case

We listen to the victim who is reading her statement at the hearing. The victim may choose to read her presentation at the beginning or near the end of the hearing.

At the hearing, we review with the offender, the principal elements of his case asking questions about his history, the programming he has followed, and his plans for the future. The questions we ask allow us to determine if the offender has changed and if this change is enough to permit him to serve the rest of his sentence in the community under the supervision of a CSC Community Parole Officer without posing an undue risk to society.

Reaching a decision

Following the interview portion of the hearing, other people are asked to leave the room. The Hearing Officer, the other Board member and I remain in the room. As Board members, we must now reach a decision. This decision is based on the information from the offender's file and that information gathered at the hearing.

Protection of society is the paramount consideration in making a release decision. We will grant parole only if, in our opinion:

  • the offender will not present an undue risk to society before the end of the sentence; and
  • the release of the offender will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating his return to the community as a law-abiding citizen.

Each Board member has an equal say in the decision-making process. When we have reached a decision, which usually takes twenty minutes or so, the Hearing Officer asks people to re-enter the hearing room to hear me summarize the decision for the offender.

The Decision

The decision, including the reasons for the decision, is the PBC's official record of the hearing. If we grant the offender a conditional release, we will also mention if there are any special conditions and the reasons for those conditions.

To contribute to the public's understanding of conditional release, to promote openness of decision-making and accountability, the PBC maintains a registry of its decisions along with the reasons for those decisions.

Anyone demonstrating an interest in a specific case may request a copy of a decision related to an offender's parole or a decision made by the PBC's Appeal Division.

The PBC may black out some information in these written decisions that could reveal a confidential source of information, jeopardize a person's safety, or hinder an offender's return to society as a law-abiding citizen.

To request a decision complete the request form (PDF 120 Kb).

Information Package

Each Board member reads the offender's file prior to the hearing. It contains the reasons and recommendations of the sentencing judge any other information from the trial or the sentencing hearing; information, assessments, and recommendations provided by correctional authorities; and information obtained from victims and the offender. The Board members must consider all available relevant information when reaching a decision.

All information that is part of the decision-making process must be shared with the offender prior to the hearing. (Procedural safeguards)

Recorder

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) makes a voice recording of all hearings to provide an account of what occurred at each hearing and to ensure that the procedural requirements, which protect the rights of the offender, were met. The recording becomes part of the offender's file. This practice increases the accountability of the decision-making process of the PBC and assists the Appeal Division if the offender appeals the PBC decision.

Hearing Officer

I am the Hearing Officer - a Parole Board of Canada (PBC) employee, whose job at a hearing is to:

  • ensure the procedural safeguards required by law have been met;
  • provide advice, if required, to facilitate the decision-making process;
  • introduce those present at the hearing;
  • immediately enter, where possible, the Board members' decision into the computer database for any requests made regarding the Registry of Decisions;
  • ensure the recording equipment used at the hearing is in working order;
  • ask people to leave the hearing room when the Board members break to deliberate; and
  • call people back to the hearing room when the Board members are ready to relate to the offender their decision.

Computer

The computer is used by the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) Hearing Officer to input the Board members' decision into Correctional Service Canada's (CSC) Offender Management System (OMS), which can then generate copies as required for the offender, CSC, and for requests made of the Registry of Decisions.

Microphone

The microphone picks up the voices of those participating at the hearing  for recording purposes. A separate microphone is also used at some penitentiaries, where sound does not carry well, to amplify the voices of those speaking so that observers can hear what is being said.

Table

At some hearings, there may not be a table. See the Parole Board of Canada (PBC)Policy Manual for Hallmarks of a Quality Hearing and Hearings for Aboriginal Offenders.

Offender

I am the person who has been incarcerated for a crime. At certain points during my sentence, I am eligible to have a Parole Board of Canada (PBC)hearing. At the hearing, the Board members interview me. This is my chance to explain my understanding of the crime, how I've changed since I was incarcerated, what I plan to do if released, and my future goals.

Offender's Assistant

As the offender's assistant, my role is to support and advise the offender at the hearing. This support may include addressing the Board members. The law states that the offender may have a person of his choosing to assist him at his hearing. I was John's boss for ten years before he was incarcerated.

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) Institutional Parole Officer

I am the Institutional Parole Officer - an employee of CSC, and the person primarily responsible for preparing the offender's case for the hearing. At the hearing, I talk to the Parole Board of Canada (PBC)members about the main elements in the case, the offender's history, behaviour in the penitentiary or his behaviour during a previous release, and the programs he has followed.

I also comment on the supports and programs available to the offender in the community; how CSC plans to supervise the offender if he is released; the offender's readiness for conditional release; and whether or not CSC recommends that the offender be granted parole.

Victim

I am the victim of this offender. I came to this hearing with my brother as my support person. I have gone to other hearings for this offender as an observer and only listened and watched the proceedings.

This time, I came to read my statement to the Board members on the continuing impact this crime has had on me and my family, physically, emotionally, and financially. My statement also voices my concerns about my safety if the offender is released.

  • My information can contribute to the Board members' understanding of the nature and extent of harm I suffered and can assist them in determining the offender's understanding of the impact of the offence.

It will help the Board members assess

  • the possibility of the offender re-offending;
  • the offender's potential to commit a violent crime, for example, by providing information about threatening or previous violent or abusive behaviour;
  • any special conditions necessary to allow the offender to be better managed in the community; and
  • the offender's release plans particularly if the offender's release would place him near me.

I had to write my statement and submit it thirty days before the hearing because this information will be considered in the decision-making process and, therefore, it must be shared with the offender (Procedural safeguards).

To come to this hearing I had to complete the Request to Observe a hearing form (PDF 111 Kb).

To read my statement at this hearing, I had to complete the Request to Present a Victim Statement at a Hearing form (PDF 86 Kb).

Once the PBC approved me to observe the hearing, I could access the Financial Assistance for Victims to Attend Parole Board of Canada (PBC)Hearings Fund administered by the Department of Justice to cover my travel costs and so could my support person.

Victim Supporter

I am the victim's brother. I came to this hearing with my sister to act as her support person because hearings can be emotionally difficult occasions for victims. The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) encourages the victim to come to the hearing with someone to act as a support. The PBC Regional Communications Officer who prepared us for the hearing and who accompanied us here is not a victim service provider.

I am considered an observer at this hearing. Observers simply observe the hearing, they do not speak.

Once the PBC approved my observing the hearing, I could as the victim's support person access the Financial Assistance for Victims to Attend Parole Board of Canada (PBC)Hearings Fund administered by the Department of Justice to cover my travel costs to an PBC hearing.

Regional Communications Officer

I am an Parole Board of Canada (PBC) employee. I respond to questions relating to the PBC from victims, observers, and those requesting decisions.

Prior to the hearing, I arrange for waiting areas for the victim and victim support separate from the offender and his assistant.

I accompany victim/observers to hearings.

Before you go to the hearing, I prepare you by explaining the hearing process to you and by answering any questions you may have.

After the hearing, I will explain the decision to the victim and victim support and explain what may happen next in the process.

Offender support

I am the offender's aunt. John and I have always been close. He asked me to observe the hearing. I am considered an observer at this hearing; I listen and watch the proceedings.

Media observers

I am a member of the press. I attend Parole Board of Canada (PBC) hearings when they are of local or of national interest. I will probably report this hearing in tomorrow's newspaper. At the hearing I do not speak, I only observe.

General public

I am a criminology student. I came to observe this hearing because of my interest in seeing how the parole process works.

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) Security

I am an employee of CSC. I maintain a secure environment for the hearing.

Door

After the interview portion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer will ask people at the hearing to leave the room and go to the designated waiting areas while the Board members remain in the hearing room to deliberate.

Clock

Most hearings last about two hours but they may be shorter or longer.