What is the difference between concurrent and consecutive jail sentences?

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In cases where a person is charged with multiple offences and is either convicted of or pleads guilty to those offences and faces jail time, then it must be determined how those jail sentences will be served. In some cases the jail sentences will be served “consecutively” to each other, and in other cases they will be served “concurrently” to each other.


When two or more jail sentences run concurrently to one another, the sentences are served simultaneously. This doesn't necessarily mean leniency, but often represents a holistic view of justice.

If several offences were committed in a single chain of events or closely related circumstances, a judge might find it just for the sentences to run concurrently. This acknowledges the idea that these offences, while distinct, emanated from a singular intent or situation.

The Canadian justice system places a significant emphasis on rehabilitation. If a judge believes that the offender's chances of reformation are high and that serving sentences concurrently will aid in that process, they might opt for this route. Concurrent sentences might thus serve as a vote of confidence in the offender's potential to reintegrate into society.

Simply put, when a person receives concurrent sentences, they serve multiple jail terms simultaneously. Imagine a scenario where an individual is found guilty of three distinct offenses, with each carrying a penalty of five years. If these are served concurrently, the offender only spends five years incarcerated in total. Judges often opt for concurrent sentences when they believe that this manner of serving time adequately addresses the crimes, especially if these crimes are interconnected or arise from a singular event.


Consecutive sentencing is where each sentence is served one after the other, and it often conveys a distinct perspective on the nature and impact of the offences.

If crimes were committed in different contexts, even if they were close in time, a judge might deem consecutive sentences more appropriate. This would indicate that each offence was committed with a separate intent or had a distinct impact.

Consecutive sentences can also be a reflection of the court's intent to prioritize public safety by ensuring that the offender remains incarcerated for a longer duration. Handing out consecutive sentences might also serve as a deterrent, signaling to potential offenders the severe repercussions of committing multiple crimes.

Crimes that lead to severe harm, involve vulnerable victims, or breach significant trust can result in consecutive sentences as they denote separate and considerable wrongs that warrant individual punishments.

In contrast to concurrent sentences, consecutive sentences require the offender to serve each term back-to-back. Referring to the previous example, if those three offenses resulted in consecutive sentences, the person would be incarcerated for a total of 15 years (five for the first, another five for the second, and the final five for the third). Such sentences are handed down when the court feels the offenses committed are of such severity or distinct nature that a longer incarceration is justified. This could be influenced by factors such as the separate contexts under which each crime was committed, the number of victims affected, or the overall impact of the crimes on society.

The choice between concurrent and consecutive sentences isn't arbitrary; it's a carefully weighed judgment, considering the subtle interplay of legal standards, fairness, and community interests. This reflects Canada's commitment to delivering justice that aligns with the gravity of the crime and also considers broader objectives like ensuring public well-being and helping offenders reform. Like numerous legal verdicts, this decision has implications not only for the convicted individual but also for the broader community, establishing benchmarks and influencing societal views on justice and equity.