Intermittent Jail Sentences: Not Always Served In Actual Jail

In Canada, shorter jail sentences are often structured to be served on weekends.  These are called “intermittent sentences”.  Courts usually order such sentences for employed offenders so that they will not lose their jobs.  This option is only possible for jail sentences of 90 days or less.

Historically, most judges have ordered intermittent sentences to be served every weekend from Friday at 9:00PM until Monday at 6:00AM.  Conveniently, this would be counted as 4 days.  That means, for example, that a 60-day sentence – where only 40 days would be served due to earned remission – could be served over 10 weekends.  If this is painting a picture far nicer than what you thought a 2-month or 3-month jail sentence might look like… it gets better.

Weekend Jail Served at Home

Many jail facilities in Ontario have programs that allow intermittent offenders to serve their weekends at home.  These are called “Temporary Absence Programs”.

Offenders approved for this program are required to remain in their residences for the entirety of each weekend during their sentences.  During the weekend, they may not leave their residences for any reason other than medical emergencies or pre-approved medical appointments.

Once an intermittent sentence is ordered, the convicted person will be taken to a jail that day to be processed and later released with a weekend reporting time.  During processing, if the offender is eligible, the jail’s correctional officers will ask the offender if he or she wishes to apply for their Temporary Absence Program.

Offenders who are not approved will serve weekends in actual jail cells.  Though most applications will likely be approved, applications by offenders with criminal records for violent offences and/or sexual offences will most likely not be.

If the superintendent approves an application for the Temporary Absence Program, jail staff will direct that offender to not return to the jail, but this will be on the condition that she or he agrees to home confinement and other conditions (for example, to not possess alcohol).  If there is any violation of that agreement, the superintendent will decide on whether to revoke the Temporary Absence Program.  Revocation will result in the offender serving all remaining weekends in a jailcell.

Jail staff have wide discretion in approving offenders for the Temporary Absence Program.  They also have wide discretion in removing them.  This decision is not up to a judge.  This makes it all the more important for offenders to comply with all the requirements of the program, including the educational component.

Temporary Absence Educational Component

To be approved for the Temporary Absence Program, the jail will likely require the offender to review and complete educational materials geared to their personal needs and criminogenic risk factors.  Some examples include healthy relationships, how to search for employment, substance use, and anger management.

These booklets can be accessed online or given in hard copy, but jail staff will ensure from time to time that the work is being done.  Essentially, jail staff will call offenders from time to time to quiz them on the contents of the materials, to test their engagement with the materials, and to ask for completed workbooks to be returned to staff.

Electronic Monitoring

Due to recent contracts between the Ontario government and the tech-sector, electronic monitoring will become the norm for most Temporary Absence Programs.  This will require offenders on intermittent sentences to be monitored with ankle-bracelets that will transmit Global Positioning System (GPS) data to a private company contracted out by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General.  That company is called the Recovery Science Corporation (RSC).  RSC provides the ankle-bracelets and maintains the software that compiles the GPS data transmitted by the bracelets.

Once the Temporary Absence Program is approved, employees from RSC will program GPS coordinates into its software that correspond to the geographic area of the offender’s residence.  This area is the monitoring zone.  This is done to ensure perfect compliance with the condition to remain at home.  Ankle-bracelets are to be worn for the entirety of an intermittent sentence, but they will transmit GPS signals only during the weekend portions of intermittent sentences.

These ankle-bracelets receive GPS coordinates from satellites and cell-towers.  They then transmit those signals every minute to software maintained by RSC.

Where the ankle-bracelet leaves the monitoring zone during monitoring hours, an alert is sent to the RSC.  That alert is then sent to the jail/police, and the jail/police investigate the alert.  The bracelets also send alerts when they are tampered with, when their batteries are low, or when they can connect to neither a satellite nor cell-tower for more than 60 minutes.

More Weekends at Home?  Or Fewer Weekends in a Cell?

Electronic monitoring is becoming ubiquitous.  It makes house arrest much more reliable and secure.  This will reduce the custodial populations of jail and thus ease institutional pressures and budgets of correctional facilities.  It is safe to assume that this will soon be the norm.

As electronic monitoring becomes the norm, judges will likely require sentences to be served from Saturday morning to Sunday morning.  In other words, offenders who opt for Temporary Absence Programs will have the benefit of serving jail in the comfort of their homes, but their sentences will take twice as long to complete.  This is because Friday and Monday will not be days counted toward the sentence.

Although a judge cannot decide whether a jail will approve a conditional sentence, an offender may indicate whether he or she will want to apply for a Temporary Absence Program.  If not, the Friday-to-Monday standard may apply.  This may ultimately lead to the choice between more weekends of home-confinement with an ankle bracelet versus fewer weekends under harsher conditions.

by Matthew Wolfson

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call David or Matthew at David Anber’s law office for more information.