What is the Purpose of Short Sentences of Imprisonment? A Canadian Perspective

Voula Marinos, Queen's University

Short sentences of imprisonment of less than 30 days for adults across different provinces make up a relatively large proportion (about 30-35% in 1998-99) of the total number of sentenced admissions to provincial institutions. Some past research suggests that judges impose short periods of custody for young offenders--usually in combination with other 'intermediate' sanctions--because 'intermediate' sanctions alone are viewed as not being effective in accomplishing denunciation for some offences. The offences that were viewed as requiring denunciation included violence. In the adult system, offenders can be sentenced to imprisonment for non-payment of fines, as well as in Ontario, there are mandatory minimum sentences of 14 days for second convictions of drunk driving. Apart from these, we are not aware of the range of specific offences for which sentences of 30 days or less are being handed down for adults. We also do not know what judges are tryng to accomplish with these short sentences. This study includes an analysis of unpublished data on different lengths of imprisonment, and attempts to understand the range of possible reasons for short custodial sentences. In addition, interviews with judges will be conducted to understand the purposes of these sentences.

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Updated 05/20/2006