A sentence is the ruling that a court hands down if a person has been found guilty of a charge or criminal offence.

There are four different types of sentences:

  • concurrent
  • consecutive
  • intermittent
  • conditional

In the criminal justice system, if an offender is convicted, they can:

  • be sentenced to a term of imprisonment
  • have the passing of the sentence suspended and the offender is released on the conditions prescribed in a Probation Order.
  • receive a fine
  • be released into the community under conditions according to the provisions of either the Criminal Code or the Provincial Offences Act.
  • receive a sentence of a term of imprisonment of less than two years and the court orders the sentence to be served in the community

In the criminal justice system, if an offender is found guilty, they can be discharged on the conditions given in a probation order. The processes described here apply only to Ontario's correctional system, where offenders are sentenced to terms of two years or less. If the sentence is two years or more, it is served in a penitentiary under federal jurisdiction.

Concurrent sentences

Concurrent sentences mean the offender’s sentences are merged, so they will serve more than one sentence at the same time. This merged sentence is called the aggregate or combined sentence.

For example, an offender who is sentenced to two concurrent sentences of 12 months each would serve a 12-month sentence, not a 24-month sentence.

Merged sentences calculate an offender’s:

  • parole eligibility date
  • discharge possible date
  • final warrant expiry date

Learn about the explanation of these terms.

Consecutive sentences

Consecutive sentences are served separately, which means when one sentence ends, the other sentence will begin.

For example, an offender who is sentenced to two consecutive terms of 12 months each would serve a 24-month sentence.

The Criminal Code of Canada states that all sentences are concurrent unless the trial judge specifies a consecutive sentence.

Under Ontario’s Provincial Offences Act, however, sentences are consecutive unless the court orders the sentences to be concurrent.

Intermittent sentences

Intermittent sentences have a term of imprisonment of 90 days or less and are served only on certain days of the week. Individuals must follow conditions given in a probation order when they are not in custody. For example, an offender who is sentenced to an intermittent sentence could serve their time from Friday night to Monday morning in a correctional facility. The rest of the week, the offender is in the community.

If an offender re-offends while they are serving an intermittent sentence, and they are sentenced to another term of imprisonment, the intermittent sentence will be changed to a consecutive sentence. This means the offender will have to serve their original sentence in custody. When the original sentence is completed, the offender will have to serve the new sentence given by the second trial judge.

Conditional sentences

A conditional sentence is served in the community. This means the offender is not in custody.

Conditional sentences are issued only under the following circumstances:

  • there is no minimum term of imprisonment for this offence under the law
  • the maximum length of the sentence is two years less a day
  • the court is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a danger to public safety

If an offender is serving a conditional sentence, and during this time they are sentenced to jail for another charge, the conditional sentence is suspended (put on hold) until the offender is released from jail. The conditional sentence will start up again when the offender is released from jail.

Supervision and conditions

Probation and parole officers supervise offenders who have conditional sentences. The offender must comply with the conditions that are set out by the sentencing judge.

The conditions laid on the offender are based on information that is specific to both the offender and the offence(s).

A conditional sentence has both mandatory and optional conditions.

Mandatory conditions

Mandatory conditions include:

  • keeping the peace and being of good behaviour
  • appearing in court when required to do so by the court
  • reporting to a supervisor as directed
  • remaining within the province of Ontario unless written permission is obtained from the court or the supervisor
  • promptly notifying the supervisor of any changes in employment or occupation
  • providing advance notice of any changes in name or address

Optional conditions

Optional conditions may include, but are not limited to:

  • House arrest and/or a curfew
  • community service work
  • participation in rehabilitative or treatment programs
  • prohibitions involving particular people, places, possessions or activities

Supervision plan

The supervising probation and parole officer establishes a supervision plan for the offender. The plan is based on the:

  • conditions and requirements of the conditional sentence order
  • offender's assessed needs
  • offender's assessed risk to re-offend

Failure to comply

Failure to comply with any of the conditions may result in the offender being returned to court. The court may:

  • take no action
  • change the optional conditions
  • suspend the order and direct that the offender serve a portion of the unexpired sentence in custody
  • terminate the order and direct that the offender be committed to custody until the sentence expires

Earned remission

An earned remission happens when sentenced offenders accumulate a specific number of days to use as credit to reduce their time spent in custody. This is allowed under the Prisons and Reformatories Act and the Ministry of Correctional Services Act.

Sentenced offenders admitted to Ontario correctional institutions can be credited with 15 days for each month served by following:

  • institutional rules
  • conditions governing temporary absences

This means that offenders:

  • are eligible to earn remission equaling approximately one third of their sentence
  • may be eligible for release after serving about two thirds of their sentence

Sentences that are shorter than one month will have earned remission credits calculated proportionately to their sentence.

Offenders placed on misconduct

Sentenced offenders may be placed on misconduct if they violate any institutional rules, regulations or conditions. If placed on misconduct, they may:

  • forfeit earned remission already accumulated
  • be suspended from the eligibility to earn remission for a specified period

Offenders in treatment facilities

Sentenced offenders who are voluntarily placed in a treatment facility may agree to have their behaviour and program participation considered for earned remission.

Negative behaviour may result in the loss of earned remission.