Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chronic Winnipeg shoplifter, sentenced to one year prison

She is regarded as one of Winnipeg's worst shoplifters. And now there is a steep new price to be paid for her nuisance crimes which show no sign of slowing down.
Claire Downs, 49, was sentenced to one year in jail Monday for stealing frozen shrimp, pecan tarts and a box of chocolate from two local stores late last year. It is the longest penalty she has ever received during a 30-year criminal history which includes a staggering 59 theft convictions.
"For this, you are willing to throw away your liberty?" said provincial court Judge Heather Pullan "You have the longest record for shoplifting I've ever seen. There is nothing we have done, as a system, that has changed your behaviour."

Downs has been the subject of 10 previous probation orders, and even short stints behind bars have seemingly had no impact. Her latest crimes in November occurred only months after she finished serving a 10-month period of custody.
"It's clear jail has done very little to change her ways," said Pullan.
Defence lawyer Ted Mariash said his client -- an otherwise intelligent, well-spoken divorced mother of several adult children -- keeps falling back into her old ways because of a long-standing cocaine addiction. Downs has been unable to hold down a job for years because of her troubled history and often resorts to stealing to trade hot goods for her next fix. There are also examples, like her most recent crimes, where she is simply hungry and helps herself to whatever she can.
A Winnipeg probation officer told court Monday Downs will continue the same criminal cycle unless she gets serious about addressing her demons. Typically, Downs is good at self-control for about a month before she breaks down and follows a familiar path, she said.
Crown attorney John Peden said Downs clearly poses a "danger" to society, even though her crimes are non-violent. He was seeking a penitentiary term of more than two years for Downs. She asked the judge to consider time in custody and release her immediately.
"Since I've been in jail, I've been looking ahead at what I have to do," a clear-headed Downs told Pullan in court Monday. "I've had lots of opportunities in the past to do something about it, but I've chosen not to. When you've been playing games for a long time, at some point you have to stop."
Downs insisted that time has finally arrived.
Pullan gave Downs double-time credit of nine months for her time spent behind bars since her arrest. She must serve another three months. Pullan warned that the sentences are only going to get bigger if Downs continues to re-offend. Pullan also ordered Downs to stay away from any Safeway or Staples stores in Winnipeg, which were the victims of her latest thefts.

I see major problems with this case.. This woman probably wouldn't have kept re-offending, if someone had actually helped her! Did anyone provide her with career resources? Job Skills? Resume writing skills? Counseling for her troubled history? Treatment programs to address her cocaine addiction? The answer is no. This woman's motive is not "criminal", I would argue. She is stealing in order to survive. She is not stealing to support a drug addiction, or "just for fun." This woman needs help to address the underlying factors contributing to her shoplifting program.

I think that it should have been recommended that she attend a 10 week program provided by the Elizabeth Fry Society called "Stop Lifting" to address to causes of shoplifting, be provided with drug treatment, career resources and help to find a job and she should have been given probation.

Prison will not help this woman in any way (except stop her from re-offending). She will likely be released with yet again, no help to address her issues. The cycle will only continue. 

You are definitely right. She may have been through many programs already. She does need to do the work as well and commit to changing and improving herself. Maybe the 3 months in prison will help her to come to the realization that she can't keep doing this and does need to change.

I am passionate about criminal law and am not advocating for criminals to "walk-free." I think that some individuals need to spend time in prison, but it should be reserved for repeat, dangerous and high risk offenders. I think that all other alternatives should be considered beforehand, as they are more successful for most people and show lower recidivism rates than prison.

In this case, this woman requires a combination of counseling, treatment and incarceration, I believe. 

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