We trust the justice system to be administered in the best interests of the public. So what happens when the self-interest of politicians and the media interfere with the good administration of justice? This is one of the questions that arises from Morley Callaghan’s More Joy in Heaven.
More Joy in Heaven dates back to 1937. Based on the real-life story of Canada’s most-famous bank robber, Norman “Red” Ryan, it tells the story of a bank robber named Kip Caley. Kip secures early release from prison due to media pressure and attention from a politician named Senator Maclean. They all believe Kip, who was a model prisoner during his time in Kingston Penitentiary, is a reformed man.
Unfortunately, Kip finds himself unable to handle life out of prison. His life spirals downwards until he ends up shooting a police officer in a bank robbery gone awry. Shot by the police, Kip is left to be buried in unconsecrated ground.
The tragic and unceremonious end for Kip Caley suggests that all of society—including Kip—would have been better off if his release and rehabilitation was left to independent bodies specializing in justice, and not politicians and media ballyhoo. So how could Caley’s release from prison been better-managed?
For the first half of the 20th century, the Ticket of Leave process guided the early release of prisoners. Tickets of leave were granted by prison wardens. Unfortunately, the tickets were often granted based on the wardens’ arbitrary whims. After release, there were no provisions to ensure surveillance of the offender.
In 1959, the Parole Act changed how we re-integrate offenders into society. It created the independent Parole Board of Canada. The Parole Board makes the protection of society the paramount consideration for the release of a prisoner.
When an offender is eligible for parole, the Parole Board considers the request in a public hearing. The Board takes into account information from the victim of the crime, a detailed risk assessment of the offender, statistical probabilities that the offender will re-offend, and risk factors specific to the offender. It is only after a thorough review that the Board makes its decision whether or not to release the offender into the community to complete their sentence.
If an offender is granted parole, their responsibilities and the responsibilities of the parole system do not end there. In addition to extensive standard conditions, the Parole Board may implement any number of specific conditions. To ensure these conditions are met, a parole officer monitors the offender’s progress. This approach has proven highly effective, as the vast majority of those paroled go on to be successfully integrated into the community.
It is possible that the tragedy in More Joy in Heaven would not have unfolded if Kip Caley’s release was guided by our current parole system. Media and political interference would have had no place in determining Kip’s suitability for release. Further, even if Kip was released he would have been supervised by a parole officer. It appears that if anything can be learned from Kip’s downfall, it is that by entrusting the release of prisoners to experts, the parole system serves society better than the Ticket of Leave process.