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Parole: Not zero-sum game | John L. Hill

Tuesday, February 16, 2021 @ 1:47 PM | By John L. Hill

John L. Hill %>
John L. Hill
“I’m sorry for the needless pain that I put you through.” Those are the words of former president Donald Trump’s “fixer,” Michael Cohen. They were directed to adult film star Stormy Daniels in a recent Cohen podcast made while Cohen is continuing to serve a three-year prison sentence at home.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Marco Muzzo, a 34-year-old member of a wealthy Toronto family who went up for full parole on Feb. 9. Muzzo was serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2016 to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

An opinion piece in the Toronto Star dredged up the graphic detail of the horrific crash when the drunken Muzzo ran a stop sign and crashed his Jeep Cherokee into a minivan killing three children aged 9, 5 and 2 as well as their 65-year-old grandfather. The article played on the visceral emotion that one family’s life has been permanently altered, if not destroyed, while the criminal is allowed freedom. It implies that an injustice was perpetrated.

No newspaper account published cared to mention that parole or statutory release is part of any criminal sentencing process. Only in unusual situations will an inmate be detained or “gated” until the expiry of the sentence. The sentence imposed by the court does not end; the balance of the term is served under state supervision in the community with strictly enforced conditions of behaviour some parolees consider more rigid than life within the prison walls. There is truth in sentencing; every inmate serves the full sentence imposed by the court.

The aim of the Parole Board of Canada is to release into the community only those who are a “manageable risk.” Convincing a board that one is manageable is done through a hearing process designed to discover the true nature of a prisoner. Every board is different, and the wording of the questioning varies. However, all questioning fits into one of three topic areas. It is the formulation by the inmate of truthful and responsive answers to each of these three areas that I call “the keys to the prison.”

In every hearing, concerns dealing with what I call “Look Inside Yourself” are investigated. This line of questioning asks the inmate to self-examine what he did wrong in the past. What character traits or practices led one to commit the crime leading to imprisonment or to past wrongdoing? The better an inmate understands what has gone wrong in the past, the better able that person will be to handle things in future.

The second “key” is the ability to “Look Outside Yourself.” In this area of questioning the board wants to hear that the prisoner understands that he or she is not the centre of the universe. The inmate should be able to recognize that the victims extend beyond the people injured in the criminal act itself and be able to recognize that the wrong has led to immense suffering by others including the criminal’s own family members. Remorse is sometimes the most difficult admission to make.

The third topic area is “Release Plan.” What steps will the prisoner take to ensure that reintegration into the community will not allow the retracing of steps that led to incarceration. Here, family or community support, job or continuing education opportunities, avoidance of behaviours or associates that proved troublesome in the past are explored.

Releases into the community are often accomplished in steps. A board may want to see good behaviour exhibited during escorted, then unescorted temporary absences, and in most cases satisfactory performance at a halfway house on day parole before granting full parole.

This was the path taken by Muzzo. He was released on day parole in April 2020 and abided by a strict alcohol abstinence condition. The Parole Board of Canada has determined after careful examination that Muzzo is a manageable risk in the community.  Like Cohen, he is remorseful for his aberrant behaviour.

Of course, nothing can put a criminal’s victim in the same position as before the crime. Instead of bemoaning release on parole as a weakness in our criminal justice system and an insult to injured families, we should regard it as a recognition that rehabilitation is possible.

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. Contact him at

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