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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Background information on Robert Dmytruk's escorted temporary absences

June 20, 2009

Robert Dmytruk shot an innocent bystander to death and tried to kill the victim's girlfriend so there would be no witnesses.
He's serving time in Stony Mountain and isn't eligible for parole until 2011.
Yet that hasn't stopped the 31-year-old former gang member from exploring Winnipeg shopping malls, visiting the public library, getting a Slurpee from 7-Eleven or exercising at a city gym in recent months.
Dmytruk didn't make a dramatic prison break nor is he a fugitive on the run. His forays into the community have been done with the blessing of the National Parole Board and the Correctional Services of Canada .
"It's ridiculous," Manitoba Tory MP Shelly Glover told the Free Press upon learning Dmytruk started getting a taste of freedom almost three full years before his earliest possible release date. "Where is the consideration for the victim's family here?"
Glover said she thought most Canadians would be shocked to hear of Dmytruk's case. She said the federal government plans to act fast to bring new laws that would prevent convicted killers like him from stepping out of prison before they hit their minimum parole eligibility.
"I believe in truth in sentencing. Criminals who commit first- and second-degree murder should no longer be able to apply for early release," said Glover. "Our government is working on a number of different clauses."
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson recently announced the proposed elimination of the so-called "faint-hope" clause that currently allows murderers to seek parole after serving just 15 years of their life sentence (in cases where their parole eligibility is higher). Glover said a person like Dmytruk wouldn't be impacted by those changes, proving there remains much work to be done.
Caroline Douglas, communications director with the NPB, said there is nothing improper about Dmytruk's situation. Officials with the parole board and correctional services have the power to give escorted temporary absences (ETAs) to all federal inmates at any point in their sentence to prepare them for an eventual full-time return to the community. The hope is to assist with "their personal development for rehabilitative purposes."
In 2007/2008, 201 requests were made for ETAs in Canada -- with 91 per cent of them being approved, according to federal statistics. The NPB numbers don't track at what point in a prisoner's sentence they got their first ETA. Douglas doesn't believe the time frame in Dmytruk's case is "unusual."
The parole board says the success rate of all types of temporary absences -- escorted and unescorted -- is consistently over 99 per cent. And even in the unsuccessful absences, not all of them failed because a crime was committed.

Dmytruk has been approved for multiple passes since last August, which allow him to leave Stony Mountain penitentiary for up to eight hours at a time. ETAs first included community-based treatment and have grown to include partnering with a federal program called "Life Line," which pairs convicted killers already on the outside with prisoners working towards an eventual full-time release. That means Dmytruk has been supervised on occasions by a fellow con who has also killed.

Douglas said there is no restriction on when prisoners serving life sentences can apply for an ETA, but they must have a "structured and specific" plan that is approved in advance. The parole board will not provide copies of reasons for their decision, unlike parole decisions, which are made public on request.
Dmytruk was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder after admitting to police he shot Eric Vargas to death and wounded his girlfriend Quyen-Vn Raceles on July 20, 1996. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 15 years.
"I'll be back," Dmytruk yelled at a throng of police officers in the courtroom as he was led away in handcuffs and shackles. "Go to hell." A co-accused was found guilty of manslaughter and attempted murder, while a third man was acquitted of supplying the gun used in the killing.
Jurors heard that on the night of the killing, Dmytruk and his co-accused arrived at Chalmers Community Centre to fight a rival gang. When nobody showed up, they turned their weapons on Vargas, 20, and Raceles, 19, who just happened to be sitting in a vehicle having a conversation.
Vargas was an honours student studying economics at the University of Manitoba and vice-president of the Filipino Students Association. He was pronounced dead in hospital. Raceles, the driver of the Ford Probe the couple was sitting in, was struck by four bullets that hit her in the shoulder, hip and foot. A quiet, well-liked and talented woman known for her singing, Raceles managed to drive about a block from the shooting before crashing the car into a light standard. The couple had been dating for six months and were thinking of getting married.
A prison official who recently contacted the Free Press said the decision to give Dmytruk ETAs was made without the knowledge of the victim's family. Glover, a former Winnipeg police officer, said that must change.
"Can you imagine, the family of his victim could run into him at Polo Park Shopping Centre," she said. "The memories could come flooding back and they could do something in the heat of the moment they regret for the rest of their lives."
Prison spokesman Guy Langlois said ETAs are a valuable part of getting an offender prepared to re-enter society.
"It's all about making sure the risk is managed. It's a monitored, progressive type of situation, a stepping stone if you will," he said.
Dmytruk's close friend, Pamela Ringach, told the Free Press a prison guard has accompanied him on most of his outings, which are preparing him for a smoother transition back to society.
"It's part of the re-integration process. I think it's good. It's not like he's some crazy mass murderer. He's not a whack job, he's a good person," Ringach said. "He's been in prison for 13 years. He's done his time. He knows he made a mistake."
Not everyone is convinced.
"The prospect of Dmytruk being allowed to wander in the community unsupervised should be of concern to any law-abiding citizen," said the prison official, who is familiar with Dmytruk's case. "Dmytruk was prepared to shoot an unarmed girl who poses no threat to him multiple times at point blank range to cover up his original murder. What would he be prepared to do if he was at risk of having his passes cancelled or his parole revoked because a citizen happened to witness him to do something inappropriate and/or illegal?"

Out and about
Some examples of Robert Dmytruk's recent time spent in the community under supervision:
August 2008 -- Given pass to attend Forward Step, a community-based support program.
February 20, 2009 -- Given pass to visit Polo Park mall, a public library and the YMCA.
March 20 -- Given pass to attend Kildonan Place, Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven and a halfway house.
April 24 -- Given pass to visit St. Vital Shopping Centre, 7-Eleven and a district parole office.
May 12 -- Given pass to attend the Career Construction Expo in Winnipeg.

By the numbers
Some facts and figures on escorted temporary absences:
They can be authorized for several purposes, such as: medical appointments, court appearances, compassionate reasons such as funerals, and personal development for rehabilitation
A federal inmate can apply for them at any time to the Correctional Service of Canada, regardless of their sentence.
The National Parole Board must approve any ETA's -- except ones for medical or legal reasons -- if an inmate is serving a life sentence and more than three years away from their earliest parole eligibility date.
Number of requests for ETAs
2007/08 -- 201
2006/07 -- 240
2005/06 -- 305
2004/05 -- 231
2003/04 -- 310
National approval rate for ETAs
2007/08 -- 91 per cent
2006/07 -- 91 per cent
2005/06 -- 91 per cent
2004/05 -- 91 per cent
2003/04 -- 86 per cent
Approval rate by region in 2007/08
Prairies -- 94 per cent
Atlantic -- 93 per cent
Quebec -- 92 per cent
Ontario -- 90 per cent
Pacific -- 83 per cent
Success rate is consistently better than 99 per cent.
For more statistics, including breakdowns by offence, race and gender, go to www.npb-cnlc.gc.ca

Off the web
FRIENDS of convicted killer Robert Dmytruk will have to find a more traditional way to get hold of him while he remains in prison -- his Facebook page is apparently being taken down.
Officials at the minimum-security Rockwood Institution told the Free Press earlier this month they were surprised to learn Dmytruk was apparently communicating with people on the popular social-networking site despite a jailhouse Internet ban.
Spokesman Guy Langlois said inmates have computer access but are not supposed to be able to go online. Langlois admits some find ways to circumvent that, largely through smuggled phones. "Technology is not our friend on this," he said. Langlois said it's possible Dmytruk accessed the Internet while on escorted temporary absences in the community.
Dmytruk's Facebook page includes frequent interaction with friends and pictures of himself behind bars.
"It is offensive that a convicted murderer has somehow managed to get himself on Facebook so that he can socialize with others while he is supposed to be doing 'hard-time'," a prison official familiar with Dmytruk's case told the Free Press. A message was posted on Dmytruk's Facebook page earlier this week -- purported to be from him -- indicating he was taking his page down for "personal issues." He invited his friends to contact him by writing to Rockwood and said "If your (sic) a hot girl send pics."

I completely agree with escorted temporary absences. The majority of offenders are successful and we need to support the gradual reintegration of offenders into society, as successful reintegration reduces their chances of re-offending when fully released. We need to support offenders with a smooth transition into the community. If we force them to serve their entire sentence in prison, they will be released with no supervision, conditions, support or assistance and that is not in the public's best interests and would not increase public safety. We need to prepare offenders as best as possible, to re-enter society through a gradual process. 

Is it any wonder why the public has so little faith in the justice system?

Take the curious case of Robert Dmytruk.

The former Winnipeg gang member committed one of the city’s most shocking crimes – murdering an innocent bystander and then trying to kill the victim’s girlfriend so there would be no witnesses.

Dmytruk was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years. His earliest date to apply for release is in July 2011.

Or so we thought.

As I reported exclusively in Saturday’s Free Press, Dmytruk has been receiving passes to leave prison for short periods at a time since August 2008 – a full 35 months before parole eligibility.

He has visited at least three Winnipeg shopping malls, a local gym, Wal-Mart, the library and even 7-Eleven. In some cases, his supervisor was a prison guard. In others, he was apparently being watched by another convicted murderer who is currently out in the community on parole. (under the federal Life Line program)

The National Parole Board insists they’ve done nothing improper in the handling of Dmytruk’s case. And there is no evidence to suggest Dmytruk hasn`t been on his best behaviour.

All federal inmates are entitled to apply for temporary absences from prison at any point in their sentence. Some may be for medical reasons. Others may be for court purposes. And then there are ones like Dmytruk, who receive them for so-called rehabilitative purposes.

Dmytruk was one of 201 offenders to receive escorted passes last year. Most of them are also serving life sentences.

Let me be perfectly clear about one thing.

I`m all for easing an inmate`s transition back into the community and not simply opening the prison door on the day of their release, wishing them good luck and giving them complete and absolute freedom. That is a recipe for disaster. There obviously has to be a series of baby steps taken, and temporary absences clearly fall under that category. I`ve got no issue with them being issued.

I sincerely hope Robert Dmytruk does well, can turn his life around and eventually become a productive citizen. If he doesn’t, think of what an enormous waste all the resources – financial and otherwise – that have been invested in him to date would be. If we`re not going to keep an offender locked up forever in this country, then we may as well hope that they at least emerge from prison a better person. Society will be all the better for it, obviously.

However, that doesn`t change the fact that I find it absolutely ridiculous that Dmytruk is already being eased back into society. There is no need for this process to begin a full three years before his parole date. In fact, I don`t think it should be allowed to begin UNTIL an inmate has reached that date.

Shelly Glover, a former Winnipeg cop now serving as a Conservative MP, agrees. She told me her government will move quickly to introduce legislation to bring about so-called truth in sentencing.

If a judge says you must do 15 years before you can be considered for release, then you would have to do 15 years. Only then could the so-called transition process begin.

I just don`t get what the hurry is, but can`t help but wonder if this isn`t a side-effect of our clearly overcrowded prison population. We know that institutions across this country are jam-packed, and recent government proposals to do away with some conditional sentences and introduce mandatory minimum prison terms will only add to the congestion.

While I doubt anyone in authority would admit it, you wonder if there`s a culture that exists to get people out the door as quickly as possible in order to clear out room for the new guests.

I have already heard from several people on this issue, with differing opinions. Many are outraged at the system, while a handful are upset with me for appearing to pick on Dmytruk.

Again, let me be clear. A friend of his called into my national Crime and Punishment radio show Sunday night, explaining that Dmytruk is a changed man who desperately needs these short visits into the community to get him ready for the eye-opening experience of parole. The world has no doubt changed in the time Dmytruk has been locked up and it will take some getting used to.

I understand that. And I agreed with Dmytruk`s friend that these are important steps to take. But I also stated that I see no reason why they have to be taken so soon.

Dmytruk`s girlfriend was also critical, saying he deserves to be given a second chance. She told me he has served his time.

That`s where her argument falls apart. No, he hasn`t. He`s now done close to 13 years of the 15 a judge said he must serve. Only in Canada could that be considering doing one`s time, I suppose.

I completely agree with offenders receiving ETA's before their earliest parole eligibility date. We need to support a gradual and smooth transition into the community and successful reintegration is important and has been proven to reduce the rates of re-offending. The longer one spends in prison, their chances of re-offending increase as they are surrounded by the negative prison environment, influences and subculture. I support this man having a chance to get away from the prison environment and experience a brief taste of life on the outside, especially since he is participating in the Life Line program, where he is paired with another inmate already reintegrating into society. Prison does not facilitate rehabilitation or reform, especially with all the gang and drug influences, violence, overcrowding, etc. 

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