Fenton Case an Important Reminder of Why Parole Exists

The family of the RCMP officer, Constable Sarah Beckett, who was killed by an impaired driver is crying out after her killer is being granted day parole. This was a tragic case that caught the attention of the entire province. Mr. Fenton, the driver of the vehicle that struck her police car, was sentenced to four years in prison following her death.

But this case is an important reminder of what the criminal justice system requires in both sentencing and how offenders serve their sentences. And so while the idea that Mr. Fenton may be getting day absences from a correctional facility, the reality is that this is better in the long term for the promotion of a safe and peaceful society in Canada.

Under Canadian law, there are several goals of the sentencing process. These goals are the purpose of sentencing. They are as follows:

  • Denunciation
  • Deterrence
  • Separation from society, if necessary
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reparation
  • Promotion of a sense of responsibility

In sentencing Mr. Fenton, the court looked at these factors and determined that a fit and appropriate sentence for what occurred in this case was a sentence of four years. Remember that Mr. Fenton was suffering from an alcohol addiction, and expressed remorse for the way in which his alcohol consumption impacted the family and Constable Beckett.

Clearly, he accepted responsibility. Rehabilitation, given his addiction, was key. And because of pronouncements from higher levels of court in British Columbia, the Court was compelled to impose a sentence that included some period of separation from society in order to promote denunciation and deterrence.

So Mr. Fenton went to jail. And after some time passed, he became eligible for day parole. Day parole eligibility occurs when a person reaches the date that is six months prior to their eligibility for full parole. Full parole eligibility occurs after one-third of the sentence is completed. So after sixteen months. Mr. Fenton was eligible to apply for day parole.

Now, this recent instance is not the first example of day parole that he received. He was granted limited day parole for the purpose of attending alcohol treatment in January. And that is incredibly important in this case, because Mr. Fenton was not asking to be let out of jail so that he could visit the racetrack or watch the latest Avengers movie. He was doing something directly related to a principle of sentencing. He was accomplishing his rehabilitation.

The Corrections Service of Canada website describes day parole. It states:

Day Parole provides offenders with the opportunity to participate in on-going community-based activities. Ordinarily, the offender resides at a correctional institution or community residence. Offenders are also granted day parole in order to prepare for full parole and statutory release.

The purpose of day parole is not lollygagging. It is not a free pass to roam about the streets unrestrained. It is to allow people, in preparation for their reintegration into society, to participate in community-based activities. It lets people who are suffering from addictions, like Mr. Fenton, to build community support networks so that once they are granted full parole, or statutory release, or come to the end of their sentences, they do not fall back into the same habits that put them in jail in the first place.

I think we as a society can all agree that it is better for our society to have people address the issues that brought them to jail, correct those behaviours, and become contributing members of society. Day parole encourages engagement in pro-social activities that support offenders while protecting society.

It is an important and fundamental aspect of a fair and humane justice system.

So while it may be hard for the family of Constable Beckett to understand why Mr. Fenton is permitted these absences from prison, there needs to be some recognition of the fact that if Mr. Fenton is allowed this support it is less likely overall that he will put another family in the position of having to face the loss they did. I cannot imagine they would wish that on anyone.

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