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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No more discretion for probation officers -- Young offenders must follow court orders

PROBATION officers will have no discretion when it comes to young offenders ordered by a judge to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, Premier Greg Selinger said Tuesday.
It's the first sign the province is putting its foot down on its probation services after a week of stinging criticism from the Opposition Progressive Conservatives that too many young convicted car thieves ignore court orders because they know they won't be reported to police and re-arrested.

The issue:
The Selinger government has been blasted for the past week on why a 14-year-old chronic car thief thumbed his nose at the law 24 times without consequence in a six-week period, leading to him killing a Winnipeg cab driver with a speeding, stolen SUV in March 2008.
The response:
Attorney General Andrew Swan rejected calls for a tougher zero-tolerance policy on young offenders who breach court orders. Swan said that approach won't help make these kids better people.
What's new:
The NDP was hammered again Tuesday by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and Liberals in reaction to a Free Press story that a probation officer allowed a high-risk young offender to return to the community without wearing his court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet. The youth, 17, went on to commit several new crimes, including a violent home invasion in which he and two adult gang members attacked a man in front of his four-year-old son.
The response:
Premier Greg Selinger said the system failed and vowed it won't be repeated.
"Where an electronic monitoring device is required by a court order it should be implemented fully without any exceptions for the full period of the court order in order to ensure that individual is monitored on a 24-7 basis," Selinger said.

Selinger was responding to a case reported by the Free Press in which a provincial probation officer allowed a high-risk young offender to return to the community without wearing a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet.
"This incident is one which is unacceptable to the public, it's unacceptable to this government and I'm sure it's unacceptable to every member of this legislature," Selinger said firmly in question period. "Clearly, when these kinds of things happen the system can improve its ability to protect public safety and security."
Selinger said when a young offender is ordered to wear an anklet as part of a probation order, as many high-risk auto thieves are, the government now expects them to wear it until the court order expires.
"Resources are being reallocated to provide more monitoring and enforcement for court orders for high-risk offenders," the premier said.
The government's tougher stance on how probation officers do their jobs came after Attorney General Andrew Swan meet Tuesday morning with the province's top law enforcement officials to tighten up probation enforcement.
Swan said he's ordered a review of the case reported by the Free Press to see what went wrong. The results are expected to be known in the coming days.
Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said the province has to take it one step further by also bringing in a zero-tolerance policy so that any breach by a high-risk offender, no matter how slight, lands them back in jail.
The Tories also want the government to disclose how many young offenders are in breach of a court order.
The province has so far declined to do either.
Progressive Conservative Justice Critic Kelvin Goertzen said what Swan can do is crack down on probation officers buying "treats" with department funds for the kids they're supposed to be watching, including Slurpees, doughnuts and tickets to Goldeyes baseball games.
Details of the spending -- Swan describes it as a reward for good behaviour -- came out Monday during a budget-estimates meeting.
"No wonder... high-risk offenders keep coming back into the NDP system of justice," Goertzen said Tuesday. "It's like Disneyland. It's the happiest place on Earth. Slurpees, doughnuts, baseball tickets. It's time he stopped trying to be a pal to every offender."
Swan said he has committed to go through the past five years of probation services spending to see what was spent by officers on young offenders, and what was actually bought.
He said he has not ordered a halt on that spending pending the outcome of that review.

I agree with high risk young offenders being required to wear an ankle bracelet, if that is the sanction they receive from the court. And I also agree with the youths being rewarded occasionally with a treat, if they display good behaviour. It's classic operant conditioning. Rewards are an incentive for teens to maintain their good behaviour, in order to get another reward. I see no problems with that.  

Justice Minister Andrew Swan's spirited defence last week of probation officers' wide discretion in monitoring youth in the community was weakened Tuesday amid revelations a serious young offender was allowed to walk free of his court-ordered ankle bracelet. Winnipeggers are worried about the probation system's ability to keep the public safe.
Mr. Swan says probation officers must exercise professional judgment. True, minor breaches -- late for school, late for checking in with a probation officer -- should not launch an offender back into jail.

There may also be a disconnect between whom the courts and probation services regard as best candidates for ankle bracelets. An inveterate offender is unlikely to be deterred by a bracelet that apparently is easy to remove -- Mr. Swan has told a legislative committee two youths removed bracelets four times each.
But they can't work, in any case, if they're not used. In the most recent case of a failure of probation services to enforce court-ordered conditions of release, a young offender landed repeatedly back in jail and each time he was released in the community without the tracking device a judge had insisted he wear. This year, while on probation, the youth invaded a North End home, where a man was beaten up.
Mr. Swan has announced another review, this one to assess what went wrong. The probation officers' union says the problem lies with a system incapable of keeping up with demand. There are up to 12,000 outstanding warrants in Manitoba but jails are overloaded (see commentary elsewhere on this page). The union concludes there aren't enough jail cells to hold offenders.
It is equally true that without effective enforcement, it is futile for courts to impose conditions upon release. Further, the Justice department does not analyze who is breaching, how seriously and how many on probation commit new crimes.
Mr. Swan and his NDP predecessors insist it is the Youth Criminal Justice Act that is the problem. Absent good analysis, Manitobans can't have real confidence in that assertion. Mr. Swan's immediate concern should be to find out if probation officers have lost faith in both the law and the system.

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