Lesson 2: Criminal Sentencing


Grade Level



1-2 periods; more if conference or simulation is done

Lesson Plan (PDF)


Sentencing is one of the more controversial aspects of the Canadian criminal justice system. In determining the sentence to be imposed on a convicted offender, the courts have the difficult task of trying to balance the ideals of justice held by society with the needs of victims and offenders.

In this lesson students will learn about Canada’s justice system, with particular emphasis on the principles of sentencing, sentencing alternatives, purposes of sentencing and the constraints, and special sentencing considerations that are given to Aboriginal and young offenders. Students will also learn about alternative measures such as restorative justice, and that it takes the offender, victim, families, and the larger communities into consideration.


By the end of the lesson, students will:

  • Understand restorative justice, sentencing, and appeals
  • Describe sentencing alternatives and the relationship between crimes and sentences
  • Understand that there are special sentencing considerations given to Aboriginal and young offenders
  • Adopt a position on the need for prisons and incarceration in the reform or rehabilitation of offenders
  • The court system is adversarial and focuses on the actions of offenders
  • Restorative justice takes into account not only the offender, but also the victim, the families, and the larger community

Focus Questions

  1. What are the principles of sentencing?
  2. What are some of the sentencing options that a judge can give?
  3. What is “restorative justice” and how is it an alternative to court?
    • What are some of the ways that the court system is adversarial?
    • What role do offenders play in the court system?
    • What role do victims play in the court system?
    • If a criminal offender, victims, witnesses, authorities and interested community members all sit together to discuss a crime that was committed, what might be some of the outcomes?
    • What are some of the requirements for a restorative justice process to be effective?
  4. Why are special sentencing considerations made? For whom?
  5. What is a mandatory minimum sentence?  Should they be used?

Teaching Summary

Topic 1: Principles of Sentencing

Topic 2: Process of Sentencing

Topic 3: Alternative Measures

Topic 4: Special Considerations


Activities 1 and 2 will cover the topics listed above. For Activity 1, students will begin by reading Handout 1: Purpose and Principles. Students will then break into groups and discuss the questions on Handout 2: Principles of Sentencing: Read-React. For Activity 2, students will conduct a debate on the subject of mandatory minimum sentencing. They will use the information on Handout 3: Debate on Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Handout 4: Debate Information.

For Activity 3 students will read Handout 7: Alternatives to Criminal Court and complete six questions on Handout 2: Alternatives to Criminal Court- Quiz There are two optional role playing exercises. The first is a role play of a community justice conference and the second is a role play of a healing circle. Both activities have two questions for the students to think about and answer after the role-play is complete.