Lesson 2: Criminal Sentencing


Activity 1: Purpose and Principles of Sentencing in Canada

Assign Handout 1: Purpose and Principles of Sentencing in Canada for pre-reading one class prior to this lesson or have the class conduct an active reading activity in class. Debrief the key concepts, emphasizing the complexity of sentencing offenders while balancing the various interests of victims, offenders and society. Provide each student with Handout 2: Principles of Sentencing: Read-React and have them separate into groups of four or five.

Assign the groups one or more of the statements for discussion, reflection and a reaction. Instruct the groups to read the assigned statement, discuss its meaning, take five minutes to write out their reflections and present the opinion to the class. Have each group question, critique or debate the statements made by other groups and encourage discussion while highlighting salient points or valuable insights.

The value in the activity comes when the students must think about the goals of sentencing offenders and move away from simplistic notions of punishment.

Activity 2: Mandatory Minimum Sentence

The students will conduct a formal debate on mandatory minimum sentences. Assign students to teams of six (double up roles if there are teams with fewer than six students). Once teams are set, provide students with Handout 3: Debate on Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Handout 4: Debate Information. You may also want to provide each team with one copy of the criteria for grading in Handout 5: Debate Grading Rubric.

Review the debate topic, process and grading with all students and instruct them to choose roles for the debate. Allow one to two classes for research and writing or adjust the time limits to the debate roles and adjust prep time accordingly. The process for the debate is outlined in the handouts but adjust as required for student ability, class time allotments or research time.

Activity 3: Alternative Measures

Introduction to Alternatives to Criminal Court

Present information regarding alternative approaches to criminal matters by giving students Handout 7: Alternatives to Criminal Court. Students will use the information on this handout to complete Handout 8: Alternatives to Criminal Court - Quiz. The reading and questions could also be assigned for homework from the previous lesson.

See Answer Key for Handout 8 in the Assessment section.

Restorative Justice Conference - Optional

Introduce the case of Jason “The Dare” to the students. Review the case with your students by giving students Handout 9: The Dare: A Justice Conference Simulation and go over it with your students. You may want to have students choose characters in

advance of the class so that they can prepare for their role in the simulation.

Notes about the conference:

  • Before the conference, the facilitator speaks to Jason, his mother, the principal, the vice principal and the investigating officer. He sets up the date and time of the conference. He also informs Jason that he may bring whomever he would like to the conference including siblings, teachers, friends, grandparents or coaches.
  • The principal is representing the victims, the students and staff of the school. He is asked to deal with how the victims should have Jason repair the harm he has done through his actions.
  • Set up the classroom in a circle as it would be in a real justice conference. This simulation will give students an opportunity to learn about what happens to Jason.
  • Roles for the Conference:
    • Conference Facilitator
    • Jason
    • Principal
    • Vice Principal
    • Constable Jacobs
    • Mrs. Grewal
    • Any other people from the community

After the conference, ask questions on the merits of this form of alternative to going to court.

  • Is a restorative justice conference a good alternative for dealing with youth in criminal issues of mischief?
  • Could a restorative justice conference work towards the healing of communities who have suffered great loses in crimes such as rape, child abduction or murder? Why or why not?

A Healing Circle Simulation - Optional

Introduce the Story of Frank Brown to the class by providing students with Handout 10: A Troubled Life – A Healing Circle Simulation.

Your students will be participating in a healing circle simulation role play of Frank’s case. You may want to give out the role cards prior to the lesson so that students can get familiar with the case and the role. See Handout 10: A Troubled Life – A Healing Circle Simulation to help students prepare for the case. You will need to assign roles to your students. You can cut up the Activity Sheet and give each role card to the student.

At the end of the simulation, students are to complete the questions and then have a class discussion regarding the merits of the healing circle as an alternative form of justice.

At the end of the simulation activity, ask students focus questions about the positives and negatives of healing circles as alternatives to court time and regular sentencing. You may want to show the video Voyage of Rediscovery which is part of the First Nations Series, The Circle Unbroken (NFB 1983 ISBN 0-7122-0490-X).