Alberta will have an operational provincial parole board as of Monday, the province's justice minister says.
Former Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson will chair the new seven-member board for its first three years, Minister Kaycee Madu said on Thursday.
The United Conservative Party government passed legislation last year enabling Alberta to become the third province to create a provincial parole board, joining Ontario and Quebec.
Madu said it will give citizens more local input into decisions about which offenders are released from jail, and when.
"I believe that a justice system must reflect the needs and concerns of the very Albertans it serves," Madu said at a news conference. "Albertans must have faith in their justice system to make responsible decisions that are informed by connecting to local communities."
A provincial parole board was a UCP election promise and a recommendation of the government-appointed Fair Deal panel, which examined how Alberta could better assert itself within confederation.
Madu said the board is part of his government's broader strategy to tackle a perceived increase in rural crime in Alberta. He said the board should help stop a "revolving door" of criminals in and out of jails.
The provincial board will only hear parole applications from inmates in provincial correctional centres, who are serving jail sentences shorter than two years. Any federal prisoners in Alberta would still apply to the Parole Board of Canada to request release.
In 2018-19, 212 provincial inmates in Alberta applied for parole, according to statistics previously released by the provincial government. The national parole board approved 50 of those applications and later revoked parole for three people.
Hanson, who ran unsuccessfully as a Calgary candidate for the former Progressive Conservative Party in the 2015 provincial election, said the new provincial board will better reflect the values of Albertans.
"If you're asking what is going to be the difference between the federal parole board and the provincial parole board, it is the representation from the various parts of the province from people who have input into who's being released, when they're being released, how does that impact crime in their community," Hanson said Thursday.
The board will cost an estimated $510,000 this year to establish, and $682,000 in subsequent years. Although the provincial government had hoped the federal government would cover some of the cost, Madu said they haven't yet reached an agreement.
Critics say board of minimal use
Jordan Stuffco, president of the Edmonton Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, says national parole data suggest the new provincial board will do little to reduce crime.
Few provincial inmates apply for early release, as their sentences are so short, he said. Provincial inmates are typically convicted of less serious crimes, and statistics show a tiny proportion of provincial parolees in Canada breach their parole conditions.
Funding for the provincial parole board would be more effectively spent on crime prevention, he said.
"Opioids, drug addiction, mental health are massive causes of anti-social and criminal behaviour," he said. "So to think that communities are going to be somehow safer in dealing with a miniscule amount of time for provincial inmates doesn't afford with data."
Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said legal experts argue a provincial parole board will do nothing to reduce crime.
If the government wants to reduce crime, it should reverse cuts to policing, particularly in Edmonton and Calgary, Sabir said in a statement.
The provincial parole board members are:
Former Calgary Chief of Police Rick Hanson, chair
Northland School Division trustee Randy Anderson, a member of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement
Paul Bourassa, director and vice-president of Altia-ABM, which develops tools to investigate financial crimes
Craig Paterson, Ponoka lawyer and past chair of the Central Alberta Mental Health Review Board
Shelly Takacs, with Alberta Health Services addictions and mental health
Angela Tripathy, Calgary lawyer
Lisa Wardley, Mackenzie County councillor