JONESIE: The solution to prolific offenders remains the same but for different reasons | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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JONESIE: The solution to prolific offenders remains the same but for different reasons

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OPINION


The buzzword on the lips of many in government following the release of crime statistics last week is the so-called Prolific Offender.

I’ve been hearing about these guys for decades as police chiefs complain that dozens of people were committing hundreds of crimes, inflating crimes stats and making their city look worse than it is.

They’re right, of course. They've tried special enforcement many times and yet here we are. But what put the buzzword in the mouths of B.C.’s big city mayors is movement by the courts to enforce one of the most basic tenets of law: Innocent until proven guilty. The ignorant call it catch and release. Either way, for the 18 months it might take to clear a case, judges are loath to hold a person not guilty of anything — yet.

That’s exactly what happened in this case:

READ MORE: Prolific Vernon offender had thumb cut off in revenge for drug debt 

Count the number of crimes he committed while on bail. All those charges resulted in a fairly lengthy jail term but left a long trail of needless chaos and destruction on the way.

And the nation’s top court continues to push in this direction, in 2020 making it more difficult for judges to even impose bail conditions, again for rather good reasons. 

The court's decisions mean we have to figure out another way. If you polled 100 people, I’m sure at least 95 would say hold them in custody. But B.C.’s former Attorney General and likely next premier David Eby knows that’s not a valid argument.

Marshall Jones, managing editor
Marshall Jones, managing editor

Plus, if you haven’t noticed, this province is in the midst of a serious and long overdue reckoning with crime, justice and social issues. Eby’s NDP government is finally taking a clear-eyed view of homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness — three factors that feed the vast majority of criminal cases.

These are not criminal acts, nor should they be. And Eby is in a tough spot to walk the talk about helping people out of homelessness and poverty, treating mental illness and reducing harm and advancing treatment for addicts while respecting the same among prolific offenders.

I’ve covered crime for 25 years and for most of that time, we had a useless war on drugs, criminalized homelessness and discarded the mentally ill so it’s about time we tried something different.

But this change has been painfully slow and we are dealing with the consequences on our streets. People were frustrated and fed up years ago. Now we have organizations roaming the streets of Kelowna and Penticton and soon likely other cities as well. They have little faith.

Eby was criticized for his response to the problem: Instead of the B.C. Liberals’ throw-back ‘tough on crime’ push, he took no action. Instead he tasked a retired police chief and a criminologist specializing in mental illness to offer some ideas on how to deal with this breed of bad guys. I hope its got answers and he has time implement it because the B.C. Liberals are making plenty of political hay off the inaction. Now that Eby resigned to pursue the leadership, who knows what happens with that report beyond more obvious delays. 

As premier, here's an idea he should consider that balances many of the factors at play but for different reasons — take them away.

The thing many of us don’t appreciate, as we gobble up true and dramatic American crime shows, is we don’t have a penal system like the U.S. We have a correctional system. If we understood that, we might reconsider our perceptions of it — and those who go through it.

Its goal is to ensure inmates get the help they need to never come back. Federal inmates have access to doctors and specialists who can assess, diagnose and treat mental illness, addictions, alcoholism, anger and violence and even sexual offenders, among others. And it actually does a pretty good job at it.

I’ve witnessed dozens, perhaps hundreds of offenders ask judges for federal sentences (over two years) for even minor offences just to get help and get their lives together. I saw a woman say she stabbed a man on the street with a steak knife only because she was desperate to get off meth and knew she needed to commit a serious crime to get in jail long enough.

I’ve seen successes in many of these cases.

I'm obviously romanticizing it a little, it’s not a country club. And not everyone wants to get help, which is the only real barrier and opens a new and valid discussion about civil liberties and forcing treatment.

This idea would not go over well with Eby and the direction the law appears to be headed. They recognize the stigma of criminal offences. But our criminal justice system gets a bad rap and perhaps is set up to fail by simply calling it a criminal justice system.

I’ve always seen it as a filter to identify people having difficulties that could endanger themselves or others. Drunk driving is a symptom of alcoholism. Stealing groceries is a symptom of poverty. Break and enters and robbery are often symptoms of drug abuse. Once in the system, offenders are always directed towards help.

B.C.’s provincial correctional system pales by comparison to the federal system, has few and lame supports and Eby, should he become premier, should bring this reform to that institution. If this government’s vision has merit, and I think it does, it’s no longer a criminal justice system, it’s an extension of our healthcare system.

There's no excuse then, for prolific offenders. Like Long-Term and Dangerous Offenders, they’ve earned their own designation by establishing through clear evidence they can’t remain in our communities peacefully and should be removed to a place where they can get what they need, for as long as they need before they take it.

They’ve already proven they can’t stay here.

For us to have any confidence in this province's plan, Eby's one job is to remove the danger from our communities. His test will be what he does with them after.

— Marshall Jones is the Managing Editor of iNFOnews.ca


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