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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We should NOT abolish statutory release!

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he plans to make it harder for convicted criminals to get parole.
"Our government has long been concerned individuals are simply receiving parole as a matter of right," said Toews, at a news conference on another topic in Ottawa this afternoon.
He said the government is "very soon" going to moving on the problem with a shift towards the philosophy that "you have to earn your parole."
He said there are a number of cases that demonstrate why this is necessary.
Toews has already introduced legislation this spring to make it more difficult for convicted sex offenders to be pardoned.
With Parliament expected to rise before the end of this week, legislation dealing with parole could be introduced in just days.

Give some cons an inch and they’ll take a mile.
This was the case all four times Winnipegger Blaine George Hanson was granted statutory release from prison in recent years.
Critics believe it provides ammunition in their calls for changes to Canada’s statutory release system, which is an undelivered election promise by the Conservative federal government.
Hanson, who was arrested on the Legislature’s steps after he allegedly fled police in a stolen car Tuesday, violated his release conditions — usually by absconding from a halfway house— and reoffended within days of getting out in 2008, 2009 and twice in 2010.
Twice the 45-year-old breached conditions the day he was freed.
Despite repeated breaches, Hanson is granted statutory release because, by law, it is virtually automatic to federal inmates, who didn’t apply for parole or were denied full parole, when they complete two-thirds of a sentence. The final third is served in the community under supervision and conditions.
Inmates serving life or indeterminate sentences aren’t eligible.
Statutory release is denied in rare cases when a detention hearing determines the person is likely to seriously injure or kill, or commit a sexual offence against a child or serious drug offence.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Manitoba’s senior Conservative MP, said Ottawa is still committed to creating a system of earned parole.
Hanson’s pattern of breaches supports critics’ argument for earned release.
“They are more likely to respect the conditions,” said Marc Pellerin, vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association.
Early release should be granted based on the inmate’s behaviour and response to treatment, said Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan.
Tory MLA and justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said authorities should be given wider powers to deny statutory release if there is a history of noncompliance.
Hanson is serving a three-year, three-month sentence for two counts of attempted break and enter with intent, and other offences.
The sentence, previously extended due to convictions for offences committed during statutory releases, was to expire in July before Tuesday’s run-in with police.
Hanson was arrested outside the Legislature five days after his latest release. Prior to that he was released March 11 but walked away from a halfway house March 15, leading to a March 30 arrest at gunpoint, according to National Parole Board documents.
Hanson was allegedly driving a vehicle that had stolen licence plates while high on heroin and refused to stop for police.
He was returned to prison but released again June 3 after his statutory release date was recalculated.
Charges for those two incidents are before the courts.

You can’t get a better example of why Canada should get rid of statutory release than the case of Winnipegger Blaine George Hanson.
This is the moron who allegedly stole a Pontiac Sunbird last week, led police on a high-speed chase in downtown Winnipeg, crashed on the front lawn of the lieutenant-governor’s residence on Kennedy Street and was eventually tackled by cops on the front steps of the legislature.
Hanson is a repeat offender who was freed from prison on statutory release earlier this month. Statutory release is where inmates are set free virtually automatically after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
Instead of being behind bars where Hanson belonged, he was out putting the lives and safety of the public at risk by racing through city streets at speeds of about 80 km/h, according to witnesses.
Hanson was released from prison and within days violated the conditions of his release by allegedly walking away from the halfway house where he was supposed to reside.
According to National Parole Board records, it’s not the first time Hanson has breached the conditions of his statutory release. He violated the conditions not twice, not three times, but a stunning four times.
Yet they keep granting him early release, which in most cases they must do automatically by law.
Which is exactly why the law needs to be changed.
Inmates like Hanson obviously have no interest in reintegrating into society. They’re given chance after chance and they keep breaking the law and putting the community at risk.
Those types of repeat offenders should never be released early. They should be kept behind bars as long as possible.
That’s not to say parole should be eliminated.
Parole is a necessary part of good corrections. We want inmates who are interested in changing their lives to reintegrate slowly into society.
But they have to earn it.
Statutory release is not earned and it’s not parole. It’s virtually automatic, even for repeat violators like Hanson, who basically thumb their noses at the law, including terrorizing our communities.
Unfortunately the federal Conservatives promised in 2006 to get rid of statutory release and still haven’t done it.
An independent review of Canada’s corrections system more than two years ago recommended, among other things, that statutory release be eliminated namely because people like Hanson were being released repeatedly despite numerous breaches of their conditions.
But for some reason the Tories, who have made a number of other positive changes to our justice system, are slow to act on this one.
I’m beginning to wonder if the John Howard Society types and other hug-a-thug organizations are starting to get to the Tories.
How else to explain why they’ve failed to act on one of their most important election promises from 2006?
Had they acted sooner, Hanson would not have been on the streets last week.
The social worker types can argue all they want about why we need to keep statutory release. But the reality is, had this guy been behind bars where he belonged, the public would not have been put at risk from a dangerous, high-speed car chase.
That’s just a fact.

I do not believe in the system of earned parole, but instead believe that the government needs to keep stat release. Like many of the Conservatives' other tough on crime policies, I do not see a need to get tough on crime. Crime rates in Canada have been declining for the past 25 years and the rates of violent and non-violent re-offending by those on stat release have also been dropping steadily. So why does the government need to get tougher? Their policies are not based on evidence or research, but on an emotional and misinformed public opinion. There is no evidence that abolishing supervised release for high risk offenders is a reasonable balance against the risk of direct, unsupervised release to the community. Stat release is essential for successful reintegration, as prisoners are supervised in the community. If an inmate did not earn parole and was therefore released at their warrant expiry date, they would be released from prison with no supervision, no conditions, no obligations and no assistance. I can assure you that this would NOT make society safer, in fact, it would make communities more dangerous. An offender released with no conditions or assistance in reintegration, is much more likely to re-offend than one who is supervised. Releasing offenders who have not earned parole, with no conditions or supervision, is NOT in society's best interests, especially concerning public safety. Abolishing stat release would have a negative impact on the federal prison population as more offenders would be serving longer periods of time in prison, leading to further overcrowding, tension and violence. Combine this with mandatory minimum sentences, and you are looking at a substantial increase in the prison population, which has adverse effects on inmates and only increases their chances of re-offending and decreases their likelihood of successful reintegration. It would also have a negative impact on aboriginals. They are already over-represented in prisons (18%) compared to accounting for 3% of the general population and that number is predicted to be 25% in less than 10 years. Prisons are inappropriate sentences for many aboriginals, who come from impoverished communities/reserves plagued by poverty, addictions, unemployment and family violence. Aboriginals need culturally appropriate programming, which incorporates their methods and traditional teachings, such as healing lodges and circles. 

Abolishing stat release means that aboriginals will be less likely to earn parole. They will be serving more time in prisons with inappropriate programming. Gradual release will therefore be more difficult for them to obtain and as a result, more individuals will be incarcerated for longer periods of time. 

Stat release better protects the public by ensuring that prisoners are supervised in the community for a period of time rather than leaving with no supervision. There is no evidence that abolishing stat release would increase community safety which is irresponsible policy making by the government. It would not make us safer as more prisoners would be released on their warrant expiry date with no supervision! No matter what the form of release is, prisoners are not released if they are considered to pose a significant risk to the public safety. We already have a system of earned parole in Canada! If a prisoner wishes to obtain parole, they earn their release by demonstrating that they would not pose a risk to the public by exhibiting good behaviour, participating in programming, gaining prison employment, etc. Prisoners EARN stat release by showing good conduct on parole. Community release is never an absolute. Parole can be revoked. Prisoners are only eligible for parole, it is never a given right. We should trust the decisions of the parole board, in considering public safety when releasing prisoners. Parole is an incentive to promote good behaviour and our current community release mechanisms are proven to be more successful at reintegrating prisoners than longer terms of imprisonment. Earned parole is more restrictive and will result in inmates serving longer portions of their sentence in prison as opposed to being reintegrated into society as productive citizens. THE LESS TIME SPENT IN PRISON, THE MORE LIKELY INDIVIDUALS ARE TO SUCCESSFULLY REINTEGRATING THEMSELVES INTO SOCIETY, THAN THOSE WHO SERVE MORE TIME! 

These stats are from Public Safety Canada (08/09): 
Of those on day parole/full parole, 76% did NOT commit another offence or breach their conditions. 16% did return to prison for breaches and only 6% committed a non-violent offence and 1.7% committed a violent offence. 

Of those on stat release, 60% did NOT breach their conditions or commit a new offence, 8.4% committed a non-violent offence and only 1.3% committed a violent offence. 30% breached their conditions. To me, this illustrates that stat release is relatively effective, although it could be improved, it does NOT need to be abolished. A period of supervision is critical for successful reintegration. We need to examine the nature of the breaches and need more discretion when deciding who to send back to prison. There is room for improvement regarding stat release but we do not need to increase reliance on criminalization and imprisonment to enhance public safety. 
The rate of conviction for violent offences while under community supervision has declined since 1990. Why is there a need to get tougher? These proposals of legislation will erode community-based resources and the punishment agenda which plans to restrict community release will likely force the closure of many community based reintegration programs, which are essential. Along with MMS which limit the ability of judges to sentence individuals to community alternatives, the government is dismantling community based resources which are PROVEN TO BE LESS COSTLY AND MORE EFFECTIVE AT ENHANCING PRISONERS' ABILITY TO SUCCESSFULLY REINTEGRATE INTO SOCIETY! Increasing the reliance on longer terms of imprisonment is ineffective and expensive and in the long term, does not reduce or prevent crime as it fails to address the root causes and contributing factors of criminal behaviour. 

Eliminating accelerated parole release and stat release would only lead to increases in the prison population, less safe communities as a result of individuals being released with no supervision, overcrowding in prisons, and double bunking. All of these things have adverse effects on inmates' psychological states and increase the chances of re-offending. There will be increased levels of violence and abolishing stat release will be costly, as more prisoners will be serving longer portions of their sentences in prison. It costs $99,000 a year to incarcerate ONE male prisoner. Abolishing stat release will also result in the release of more prisoners into the community with mental illnesses and leaving them without conditions, supervision or support. This is a dangerous move.

These proposed changes to legislation only focus on the socially disadvantaged, powerless and marginalized individuals. 

Both parole and mandatory supervision are important for reintegrating criminals into society, so they are less likely to re-offend. Most criminals can become law abiding and productive members once again, with help and assistance.

I posted this comment on the Winnipeg Free Press: Why does Toews want to make communities more dangerous and compromise public safety? There is no research to support the abolition of stat release enhancing public safety. In fact, it will make communities less safe and more prisoners will be released from prison on their warrant expiry dates, if they do not earn parole, and will be released with no conditions, obligations, supervision, assistance or support. This greatly increases their chances of re-offending and decreases the likelihood of successful reintegration. Statutory release is essential, to facilitate reintegration into society. Releasing individuals when their sentence is complete, who have not earned parole, is NOT in society's best interests. Be on the lookout for a more dangerous society if stat release is abolished! 

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