Why jail isn't the best way to reduce crime rates in Kamloops, Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why jail isn't the best way to reduce crime rates in Kamloops, Okanagan

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There’s more to solving the growing crime rates in Thompson and Okanagan cities than locking people up.

Just as the “housing first” model for helping the homeless has had an impact in their lives and on criminal activity, a multi-agency approach to crime in general is needed in order to make inroads in crime rates, says a Thompson Rivers University professor.

“There has been a distinct shift in recognizing that criminal activity and criminal behavior is a symptom of a deeper problem as opposed to the problem itself.” Thompson Rivers University sociology professor Rochelle Stevenson told iNFOnews.ca. “If we can solve some of those deeper level societal issues, what we have seen is evidence that when we do that with individuals, their criminal activity either stops or substantially decreases.”

That’s no more plain seen than in recent comments by Shelley Kiefiuk, director of housing for Turning Points Collaborative Society in Vernon, commenting on the fact that crime amongst Vernon’s street entrenched population dropped by 57 per cent from 2019 to 2021, in large part because of increased housing.

READ MORE: Housing Vernon's homeless has dramatically reduced certain crimes

But, criminal behaviour is not at all confined to the homeless, since many people who engage in criminal behavior because of addiction and/or mental health issues still have roofs over their heads.

Certain crimes, like threats and assault, were up dramatically in Kelowna in 2021, surpassing 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Property crimes were also growing but had not yet reached 2019 levels.

READ MORE: Threats and assaults up significantly in Kelowna in 2021

“We’re taking a much more critical look at what is happening,” Stevenson said. “What are the root causes of criminal activity? That’s not across the board but, certainly, when you’re talking about mental health and addiction, treating those first definitely reduces the pressure on our criminal justice system and our first responders.”

Kelowna has now an “integrated court” that tries to address those issues in certain cases where the accused pleaded guilty and are willing to make changes.

There’s a similar court in Victoria and Vancouver has a Drug Treatment Court, dealing specifically with those who are committing crimes due to drug addictions. Some larger Canadian cities have mental health courts.

More of those types of courts are needed to stop the “revolving door” of repeat offenders getting busted, being let out of jail awaiting trial or charges and committing more crimes while on the streets.

The focus on housing the homeless is shifting towards a more integrated approach between ministries of health, mental health and addictions. But, dealing with criminality on that same level does not seem to be happening.

“I feel like there have been individuals in police forces and first responders – there are a number of agencies that are advocating specifically for that,” Stevenson said. “In terms of a comprehensive single agency that’s handling all of this, that is a really important piece of the puzzle that may be missing.”

Bringing agencies like B.C. Housing, mental health and addictions ministries together with domestic violence shelters and others to focus on solutions would be a good idea, she said.

“Are we making steps?” Stevenson said. “I think we are. Is at a wholesale, top down, bottom up, across the board shift? We’re still working on that.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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