Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada: Summary of Probation Officer, Corrections, and Parole Board Respondents

Findings from Probation Officer, Corrections, and Parole Board Respondents (continued)

Findings from Probation Officer, Corrections, and Parole Board Respondents (continued)

4. Victim Impact Statements

Victim impact statements (VIS) are written statements in which victims can describe the effect of the crime on them and any harm or loss suffered as a result of the crime. The 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code allow victims to read their statements aloud during sentencing, require the judge to ask before sentencing whether the victim has been informed of the opportunity to complete a VIS and permit the judge to adjourn the sentencing, to give the victim time to prepare the statement.

Victims of crime can submit victim impact statements at sentencing and at parole. At parole, the victim can rely on the victim impact statement from sentencing and/or provide another statement to the parole board. The following discussion considers victim impact statements at parole.

Frequency of Submission

Survey respondents were asked whether, based on their experience, victims generally submit victim impact statements to the court. About 40% of probation officers believe that victims generally submit victim impact statements only in serious cases, such as sexual assault, other violent offences, and certain property crimes. About one-third think that victim impact statements are submitted in most cases and one-quarter reported that in their experience, victims usually do not submit victim impact statements, regardless of the severity of the offence.

The results for frequency of submission of victim impact statements are provided in Table 9. These results include only those respondents who provided an answer to this question.

TABLE 9: DO VICTIMS USUALLY SUBMIT VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS AT SENTENCING? - BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO PROVIDED A RESPONSE (DON'T KNOW AND NO RESPONSE EXCLUDED).

Frequency of Submission at Parole

As mentioned earlier, at parole, the victim can rely on the victim impact statement from sentencing and/or provide another statement to the parole board. Provincial parole board and NPB respondents were asked whether victim impact statements submitted at trial are always provided to the parole board. Less than one-quarter of national (24%) and provincial (18%) parole board respondents reported that they are. National and provincial parole board respondents were asked who provides the parole board with victim impact statements. They reported receiving the impact statements from a variety of sources: most often the victim (39% of NPB and 18% of provincial respondents); the court (33% of NPB and 18% of provincial respondents); the Crown Attorney (33% of NPB and 9% of provincial respondents); or CSC or parole officers (37% of NPB and 23% of provincial respondents).

Assistance with Victim Impact Statements

One way to assist victims with impact statements is to ensure that they know of their opportunity to submit one. As discussed above in Section 3.2 (Post-sentencing victim services), about one-quarter (27%) of provincial parole board and half (44%) of NPB respondents assist victims in preparing victim statements at parole. In addition, just over one-tenth (13%) of victim services providers surveyed assist victims with statements at parole.

Method of Submission

Most victims provide a written statement at parole. Videotape or audiotape statements appear to be used more by provincial parole boards than by the NPB. Table 10 gives the complete results.

TABLE 10: WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON METHODS OF SUBMITTING A VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT AT PAROLE? - BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO PROVIDED A RESPONSE (DON'T KNOW AND NO RESPONSE EXCLUDED).

Parole Board Use of Victim Statements

As shown in Table 11 below, most national and provincial parole board respondents reported that they consider the following in their conditional release decisions: victim impact statements at sentencing, formal victim statements submitted to the parole board, and any other new or additional information provided by the victim in their conditional release decisions.

TABLE 11: DOES THE PAROLE BOARD USE THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IN MAKING CONDITIONAL RELEASE DECISIONS?
Percentage who use the following information: NPB (N=85) Provincial parole board (N=22)
Victim impact statements used at trial 89% 73%
Formal victim statements to parole board 93% 82%
New or additional information provided by the victim 92% 86%

Note: Respondents who gave no response are not included in this table.

When asked to explain how they use this information, NPB respondents reported using it in a variety of ways, most commonly: in risk assessment and evaluation (47%); in determining conditions (28%); in measuring the impact of the crime on the victim (24%); and in assessing the offender's progress (15%). The majority (55%) of provincial parole board respondents stated that the victim information is just one factor they consider.

5. Restitution

Restitution requires the offender to compensate the victim for any monetary loss or any quantifiable damage to, or loss, of property. The court can order restitution as a condition of probation, where probation is the appropriate sentence, or as an additional sentence (a stand-alone restitution order), which allows the victim to file the order in civil court and enforce it civilly if not paid. The following discussion of restitution considers the current use of restitutional difficulties with enforcement, and obstacles to requesting restitution.

A majority (59%) of probation officers reported that restitution is usually ordered as a condition of probation in appropriate cases.

Problems with Enforcement

When asked if they think that restitution enforcement is a concern or a problem, two-thirds (62%) of probation officers reported that they do. The survey asked respondents to explain why they consider restitution enforcement to be a concern or a problem. The results are presented in Table 12 below. Probation officers gave several reasons for the difficulties with enforcement. The most common reason given by one-third of probation officers is that restitution orders are made in cases where the accused is not able to pay. In their survey responses, probation officers also pointed to the difficulty of convicting an offender on a breach of probation as an obstacle to enforcement (18%). While in theory, offenders can be charged with a breach of probation for failing to abide by their restitution order, such charges are rare because the Crown Attorney must prove that the offender wilfully broke the order. Even if the offender is charged with a breach, the typical consequence is a small fine much lower in value than the restitution order itself.

The other option is a stand-alone restitution order, where the victim has recourse to the civil courts to enforce payment. A small number of probation officers (4%) noted that the problem with this method of enforcement is that it requires the victim to engage in a difficult legal process and bear all the costs of enforcement. Table 12 provides the complete results.

TABLE 12: WHY IS RESTITUTION ENFORCEMENT A CONCERN OR A PROBLEM? - BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO BELIEVE THAT RESTITUTION ENFORCEMENT IS A PROBLEM.
Reasons: Crown Attorneys (n=100) Defence Counsel (n=62) Probation (n=128)
Accused are unable to pay 22% 47% 30%
Insufficient resources for enforcement 20% 16% --
Civil enforcement difficult or victim responsibility 19% 8% 4%
Difficult to convict on breach of order 13% -- 18%
No penalty for failure to payr 6% -- 9%
Restitution usually not made unless paid at sentencing -- 13% --
Probation is not involved -- -- 26%
Other 6% 11% 7%
No response 22% 10% --

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; totals sum to more than 100%.

6. Restorative Justice

In recent years, restorative justice approaches have become more widely used at all stages of criminal proceedings. Restorative justice considers the wrong done the person as well as the wrong done to the community. Restorative justice programs involve the victim(s) or a representative, the offender(s), and community representatives. The offender is required to accept responsibility for the crime and take steps to repair the harm he or she has caused. In this way restorative approaches can restore peace and equilibrium within a community and can afford victims of crime greater opportunities to participate actively in decision-making. However, concerns have been raised about victim participation and voluntary consent, and support to victims in a restorative process. This study included several exploratory questions to discover the extent to which criminal justice professionals have participated in restorative justice approaches and their views on the appropriateness and effectiveness of these approaches.

Participation in Restorative Justice Approaches

Of the various respondent groups, 15% of probation officers surveyed reported that they have participated in a restorative justice approach. Please refer to Table 13.

TABLE 13: HAVE YOU EVER PARTICIPATED IN A RESTORATIVE JUSTICE APPROACH?

Table 14 below shows the most common explanations for respondents' lack of involvement in restorative justice. The most common reason given by probation officers is that restorative approaches are not available or not yet widely used in their province (59%). A sizeable proportion of probation officer respondents explained that restorative justice had never come up as an option or that they had never had a case suitable for restorative justice (22%). Other common explanations for respondents' non-participation in restorative justice were that such approaches do not protect the victim adequately and that such approaches do not act as a deterrent.

Certain respondent groups gave other reasons for their non-participation in restorative justice, which do not appear in the table below. For example, 5% of probation officers reported that it is not part of their job responsibility to become involved in restorative processes and 2% of probation officers said that restorative justice is not an appropriate or viable option in the cases they deal with.

TABLE 14: WHY HAVE YOU NOT USED OR PARTICIPATED IN A RESTORATIVE JUSTICE APPROACH? BASE: RESPONDENTS WHO HAVE NOT PARTICIPATED IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROCESSES.

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