It appears the Parole Board of Canada is continuing its insistence that convicted killers admit to their crime to become eligible for parole.
Insisting on innocence just doesn’t cut it in the board’s eyes.
That came through last week with the news that David Scott Hall, convicted of the brutal murder of Peggy-Jo Barkley-Dube in her Coulson Avenue home in May 3, 1999, had been denied full parole. Hall was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 15 years by Superior Court Justice Gladys Pardu.
I am not advocating for Hall in this piece. I am advocating for all, the innocent and the guilty, who are caught in such situations. The parole board get away from any insistence that someone must admit to the crime for which he or she was convicted to be eligible for parole.
In its recent decision, in which it did allow Hall two five-day unescorted temporary absences, plus travel time, the parole board told Hall it believes “you will present an undue risk to society if released on full parole at this time, and that your release will not contribute to the safety of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen.”
But then it also said at one point, “It is without question you have not taken responsibility for your actions,” and at another, “on the negative side, Hall continues to maintain his innocence and denies committing this horrific crime.”
This, the admission of guilt, is where the parole board loses me.
In Hall’s case, he has done the 15 years he had to do before he became eligible for parole. From this point on, whether he admits to the murder or not should have nothing to do with his possible release. The parole board should go solely on risk assessment to re-offend and how he would integrate into society.
The board said an updated psychological risk assessment in December 2020 of Hall, who had not been in trouble of any kind before being accused of Barkley-Dube’s murder, indicated he continues to present a low risk for both general and violent recidivism.
Considering the board said in its decision that it believed Hall would “present an undue risk to society if released on full parole at this time, it obviously chose to ignore the psychological risk assessment that indicated he was of low risk to re-offend.
Canada is not alone in seeking an admission of guilt from people seeking parole. It is a problem around the world, at least in the places where there is some semblance of a normal justice system. In totalitarian countries, of course, the decisions are all of an arbitrary nature, with the inmate not having much of a chance at fairness.
This is what Phil Locke, one of the writers with The Wrongful Convictions Blog, had to say about the system in the United States:
“Now, here’s the Catch 22. An actually innocent, wrongfully convicted person serving a long prison term will, more likely than not, have to admit guilt and express remorse to be granted parole. Not only does this mean that the innocent person would have to compromise his or her principles, and admit to a crime they did not commit, but in admitting guilt he or she also closes out any options they may have for eventual exoneration.”
Locke then showed a video clip from the New York Times titled The Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma, something that isn’t included here.
“This poor guy got caught in what I’d have to call a Catch 44 (that’s a double Catch 22),” Locke wrote. “For decades he refused to admit guilt, and was always denied parole, so after 23 years he decides he would compromise his principles and admit guilt so he could get paroled. “When he finally admitted guilt to the parole board, what do they come back with? ‘So, you’ve been lying to us all this time. Parole denied.’”
I think Locke’s piece drives the point home as to how ridiculous it is to insist that inmates admit to the crime of which they are accused in order for their request for parole to be taken seriously.
After all, since the advent of DNA it has been shown that there are many people who have been wrongfully convicted, some of them having been in prison for upwards of 30 years.
In this day and age of our supposed enlightenment, it is time parole boards dropped the requirement that an admission of guilt is necessary to obtain parole.
Put yourself in the position of a person who was wrongfully convicted. Would you be prepared to put your principles aside to gain parole? Or would you stick it out knowing that you were going to spend extra time in jail because of it?
Be thankful you are only being asked this question in the abstract rather than in real life.
A report criminal defence lawyers Rachel Barsky and Adam Blanchard prepared for the Criminal Defence Advocacy Society some time ago revealed that there are more than 50 acknowledged wrongful conviction cases in Canada. Innocence Canada has helped exonerate 23 people since 1993 and is reviewing another 81 cases. It’s operating with limited resources; there are almost certainly more.
For a criminal justice system that handles more than 300,000 cases per year, that’s actually remarkably few wrongful convictions, the duo said.
But the report says this naturally is no comfort for the people locked up for crimes they didn’t commit and who are facing immeasurably grimmer lives because the parole board insists that offenders acknowledge their guilt if they want to be released.
With so few people involved in the unfortunate behaviour by the parole board, there will never be a public outcry because most people only get involved when they are personally affected.
Which, of course, essentially means all I am doing here is farting in the wind.