Imprisonment is the most severe sentencing option available to the courts and should only be used when there are no other appropriate sentencing options available. Prison should always be a sentence of last resort. Typically, incarceration is used when the main sentencing objectives are denunciation and deterrence and where the offender needs to be physically separated from the public.

What are the Maximum Prison Sentences in Canada?

For each offence in the Code, the Code will specify whether the offence is an indictable offence or a summary conviction offence, and the respective maximum, and sometimes minimum penalties. As a general rule, offences that are prosecuted by indictment have higher minimum and maximum prison sentences.

Where the Code only specifies a maximum penalty, the court may impose anything less than the maximum, including no imprisonment at all. Where the Code provides a minimum penalty, the court does not have discretion to impose any sentence lower than the minimum.

For example, the offence of first-degree murder carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Some other serious offences including some sexual offences also carry mandatory minimum jail sentences.

Consecutive and Concurrent Sentences

An offender who is being sentenced to imprisonment for multiple crimes will have their sentences for each offence imposed either consecutively or concurrently. When making this determination the sentencing court will consider many relevant factors.

A consecutive sentence means the offender serves each sentence one after another.


Person A is sentenced to five years in prison for sexual assault, five years in prison for aggravated assault and five years in prison for fraud over $5,000, all to be served consecutively. Person A has been sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.

A concurrent sentence means the offender will serve their sentences all at once.


Person A is sentenced to five years in prison for sexual assault, five years in prison for aggravated assault and three years in prison for fraud over $5,000, all to be served concurrently. Person A will serve five years in prison.

What is an Intermittent Sentence?

An Intermittent Sentence also known as “weekend jail” is outlined in section 732(1) of the Criminal Code. It is a sentencing option that allows offenders who are sentenced to 90 days or less in jail to serve their jail sentence on the weekends. In most cases, this will allow the offender to keep their job and support themselves and their family, while still serving their sentence.

Typically, an individual who is sentenced to an intermittent sentence will turn themselves into the jail on Friday evening and leave Monday morning, though there is no statutory rule that says this. The time at which the individual is expected at the jail will be different from individual to individual, depending on that individual’s schedule. An individual going in on Friday evening and being released on Monday morning will be credited four full days.

Will I go to a Provincial Jail or a Federal Penitentiary?

The location an offender will be sent to after being sentenced to a period of imprisonment will depend on the length of the sentence.

Section 743.1(1) of the Criminal Code states that where an individual is sentenced to more than two years in prison, they will serve their sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Section 743.1(3) indicates that where an offender is sentenced to less than two years imprisonment, they will serve their sentence in a provincial facility, not a penitentiary. Each province operates their own correctional facilities.

Along with individuals serving less than two years imprisonment, accused individual’s being held pending trial will also be held in provincial facilities.

Will I Serve my Whole Sentence?

Very few offenders who are sentenced to a period of imprisonment actually serve out their entire prison sentence. The majority of offenders are eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentence. Most offenders will be released after serving two thirds of their sentence.

What is Parole?

Parole is an opportunity for an individual sentenced to prison to be released early. Offenders who are sentenced to imprisonment will be eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentence. Once eligible, the offender will have a meeting with the parole board. The parole board will interview the offender about various topics including the offence they are in prison for, their plans once they are released from prison, and their plan for staying out of prison in the future.

Depending on the outcome of the parole hearing, the offender will either be released from custody on parole or will be denied and held in custody. If the offender is denied, they may have another parole hearing in the future, depending on the length of their sentence. If the offender is granted parole, they will be released from custody and ordered to report to a parole officer and abide by certain conditions until their parole period has completed. If an offender on parole fails to abide by any conditions of their release, they may be returned to prison to serve the rest of the sentence and may be charged with an additional criminal offence.

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Law Newbie™ is a free legal assistant developed by our criminal lawyers to help you understand the law.


In criminal cases, there are very strict rules governing what evidence can be used and how it can be used.

The rights enjoyed of all those within Canada are contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Criminal procedure is the process by which an accused person is arrested and brought through the justice system.

Sentencing refers to the punishment that is ordered when an individual is found guilty of a criminal offence.

Firearm Smoke

Offences in Canada are listed in the Criminal Code. They include crimes related to people, vehicles and weapons.