A headshot of Maaike Helmus.

Carleton Researcher Reveals Temporary Prison Releases Benefit Inmates’ Return to Society

Carleton University’s Maaike Helmus, adjunct research professor in the Department of Psychology, has examined the effectiveness of temporary absences from prison and found they benefit prisoners returning to society.

“Temporary absences reduce post-release unemployment, returns to custody and reoffending rates,” said Helmus. “There’s a dosage effect. The more absences an inmate receives, the better their outcome.”

The research study, published last week, tracked post-release outcomes of over 27,000 inmates released from federal prison between 2005-2011.

Correctional Service of Canada has the power in advance of an inmate’s parole eligibility, to allow offenders to receive a Temporary Absence (TA) from prison. These absences can either be escorted or unescorted and can vary in duration.

The releases encourage inmates to maintain family and community ties and to take advantage of rehabilitative activities, while supporting a gradual release program. They allow inmates to demonstrate appropriate community behaviour and suitability for additional forms of conditional release.

In the United States, decades of mass incarceration have been countered with a new focus on criminal justice reform and re-entry initiatives. Canada seems to be moving in the opposite direction, says Helmus.

The previous federal Conservative government pursued policies that promoted a punitive approach and de-emphasized rehabilitation, she says. Canada is still feeling the effects of these policies and attitudes, with a culture that is risk averse about rehabilitating offenders.

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