Home sweet jail

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Being stuck at home with your television, Internet access, Xbox and a fully stocked refrigerator doesn't sound like such a terrible fate.

That's the punishment awaiting Alexander Ryazanov and Wang-Piao Dumani Ross, both 20, who were sentenced this week to a year of house arrest for a high-speed car crash that killed taxi driver Tahir Khan last year.

It's the latest in a string of high-profile cases that have prompted outrage over what is known as conditional sentencing.

Earlier this year, a New Brunswick man who had drunk 24 beers before driving and killing a bicyclist in a crash was sentenced to two years of house arrest. The victim's mother likened the punishment to grounding a teenager who has misbehaved.

In 2005, a woman in Prince George, B.C., was sentenced to two years of house arrest for fatally stabbing her cheating lover. She was also ordered to stay off the Internet, as an angry e-mail exchange had preceded the deadly argument.

Conditional sentences are a good way to avoid jail overcrowding, but victims' advocates often fume at what they see as soft punishment.

"It's led to frustration of victims of crime, especially in smaller communities when you see the offender strolling down the street," says Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, who sees many drunk-driving cases that lead to conditional sentencing. (Mr. Ryazanov and Mr. Ross had not been drinking before the fatal crash occurred.)

Mr. Ryazanov and Mr. Ross, who live at home with their parents, may leave the house to go to university, work, medical appointments and any other excursions deemed necessary by their sentencing supervisors.

They face no restrictions on Internet use or having visitors at home. But their time outside will be strictly monitored.

If they are out of food and home alone, for instance, they will have to get written permission from their sentencing supervisor before going to the grocery store.

They may be allowed to attend a two-hour class at university, but that does not mean they can stop for a cup of coffee on the way, says Todd White, Mr. Ryazanov's lawyer.

They are also banned from driving for four years.

"I counsel my clients to be very careful about wishing for a conditional sentence," Mr. White says.

"If you're not on the ball, or not thinking, you can very easily run afoul of it. ... It's not a cakewalk."

The domestic-arts mogul Martha Stewart claimed her home confinement was tougher than doing time in federal prison. She served five months of incarceration for lying to authorities about a stock deal, and spent about six months under house arrest.

"You have to watch the clock constantly because you're only allowed out of your home for a limited period, and for a busy person, watching the clock and knowing other people are watching the clock is extremely difficult," Ms. Stewart told Time magazine in 2005.

Mr. Murie doesn't buy her argument. "I don't believe that," he says. "You can watch TV, you can do whatever."

Mr. Murie says Parliament intended house arrest to be used for white-collar crimes when it approved its use in 1996 - not for cases involving death and serious injury.

Legislation backed by MADD to cut down on house arrest is expected to receive royal assent later this week. Bill C-9 would ban house arrest for people who are convicted of certain crimes that carry a maximum penalty of at least 10 years. It would not have affected Mr. Ross and Mr. Ryazanov's case, however, as both pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

While house arrest can be controversial, it does serve a purpose in many lower-profile cases, says Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University.

He says there's no evidence that people who serve house arrest are any more likely to re-offend than people who serve time behind bars. While easing the pressure on the prison system, Prof. Boyd says, house arrest is still a form of incarceration that limits offenders' freedom.

"There are two tensions," he says. "Do these sentences adversely affect the crime rate? No. Do these sentences upset the public? Yes."



Our comment in the Globe and Mail

Home sweet jail

What gives special interest groups the right to attempt to remove a judge’s judicial discretion to make a conditional sentence? Just who the hell do they think they are? Judge? Jury? Political Terminator? 

These special interest groups who suddenly think they have more wisdom the gods in black robes ride on the backs of political simple ideas of promoting yet more severe punishments and sentences when they were not in the courtroom and did not hear the evidence or receive submissions that generally required expert opinions. Again, they wish to have their non-expert opinion force parliament to make legislation that would greatly reduce a judges judicial discretion.

Lets look at the cause not the effect. Why are some people getting conditional sentences when others do not? Why is it that a woman killing her husband is almost guaranteed of getting a conditional sentence when a man committing the same crime is going away for life?

If it’s a cheating husband, the B.C. Court says well, just stay home and stay off the internet, interpretation, a message to all women, if you THINK, or IMAGINE, or SAY, your husband was cheating, you can kill your husband and just watch TV for two years.

The fact is, women, even extremely violent mentally ill women don’t need to kill their husbands with knife, they only need take their husband to family court and let a judge with a pathological hatred towards a father do the job for her. That’s a lot easier then murder, its entirely legal and you can watch it unfold every day of the week in any family court in any province of Canada. Its called “male gender apartheid” and its all a product of another legal expression that you wont find in your Blacks called “the process of justification”.