Of the 36 new members Mr. Day has named to the board since he became minister that year, 23 are retired police officers or former federal and provincial corrections staff.
The preference for former police and prison personnel is drawing criticism from opposition MPs and a senior executive with the John Howard Society, who accuse the government of extending a get-tough justice ideology into corrections and rehabilitation.
They say if that is the case, the Conservative government is ignoring successful aspects of existing standards for supervised parole and rehabilitation.
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh and New Democrat MP Joe Comartin add that the trend — combined with other measures the government has taken to increase the role of police officers in the criminal justice system — indicates the government is in danger of “politicizing” police forces across the country.
“This is, by wide agreement, the most ideological government that anybody can remember and very, very consistent in their application of their ideology and their disregard of the evidence for what works in corrections,” said Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.
Mr. Day's appointment of former police officers and correctional service personnel to the parole board far surpasses the number named by former Liberal Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan.
She named only two retired police officers and one retired corrections employee through 2004 and 2006, out of 27 appointments to the board.
Parole board appointments are proposed by the public safety minister and ratified by cabinet. The parole board has exclusive authority to grant, deny, cancel, terminate or revoke day parole and full parole for all federal inmates and all provincial inmates except for those in Quebec and Ontario, the only provinces that continue to have their own parole boards.
Mr. Day has also re-appointed a further four retired police officers and four former corrections administrators who were named to the parole board by Ms. McLellan and previous Liberal ministers.
His most recent appointments to the board, last week, included one with both political and policing undercurrents: Mr. Day named former Alberta solicitor general Harvey Cenaiko, who had a 24-year career with the Calgary police force before entering politics, as a full-time board member.
Earlier this year, he named a 25-year RCMP veteran in Mission, B.C., to the board, and last year appointed a retired Sudbury, Ont., police inspector, renewed the part-time appointment of a former Saskatoon police chief as a full-time position and named four other former police officers as full or part-time members.
In all, Mr. Day has named eight former police officers and 15 former federal or provincial corrections personnel as new members to the board, and has made a total of 52 full- and part-time appointments, including renewals and new members.
Although formerly associated with police departments or prisons, several of Mr. Day's full- and part-time appointments also have experience in rehabilitation and an education in criminology, including the former director of a Correctional Service of Canada sex offender program in Ontario, a victims' rights adviser, a B.C. parole officer who worked with an aboriginal rehabilitation program and specialists in family violence.
Mr. Day has also appointed a lawyer who served as a Crown prosecutor, and has made at least two appointments that appear to be of a political nature.
The parole board has 32 full-time members and 35 part-time members, excluding six members at national headquarters in Ottawa.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Day did not respond directly when asked by e-mail whether the minister was purposefully naming board members with policing and corrections experience.
Communications director Melisa Leclerc replied to that and other questions in a general way, saying all of his candidates meet board qualifications and requirements, including interviews with senior board officials.
“Persons with law enforcement and corrections experience are often amongst the most qualified candidates as they are very familiar with the corrections and criminal justice system,” said Ms. Leclerc.
“I believe if you look at the individuals who have been appointed and re-appointed to the board, they come from a variety of backgrounds.”
Mr. Comartin, a lawyer, and Mr. Dosanjh, a former B.C. attorney-general, noted the Harper government has also added a spot for police officers to ministerial advisory committees that are set up for the appointment of federal judges.
The first person Mr. Harper publicly visited after he was sworn in as prime minister was former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli. Mr. Harper subsequently named a former Progressive Conservative political aide as RCMP commissioner, and last week took the unprecedented step for a prime minister of appearing at the force's college in Regina to announce a new $500-a-week salary for Mountie cadets in training.
“There's a real risk here, in fact almost a certainty, that you politicize our police forces to be oriented to the party in power that makes these types of appointments,” said Mr. Comartin.
“It says, you know, ‘We're your buddies.”'
Mr. Dosanjh linked the increase in police presence in the justice system to the determination the government showed when it threatened an election to get Parliament to pass new sentencing laws that included mandatory minimums for a range of crimes.
“What this government is trying to do is actually take us down the U.S. route,” he said. “Their (U.S.) jails are overcrowded and the mandatory minimums haven't lowered the crime rate.”
Mr. Comartin, however, said if Mr. Day is expecting the former police and corrections officers to clamp down on parole applications, there is no guarantee that will happen unless he selects candidates he knows may be less likely to grant paroles or more likely to revoke them.
“The reality is you get police officers on a wide spectrum,” he said.
Seventy per cent of federal inmates released on full parole in 2005-06 successfully completed their parole supervision period, the parole board says.