The authors of a government-commissioned report into repeat offenders in B.C. are calling for a far greater focus on mental health and substance use supports.
Retired police chief Doug LePard and Simon Fraser University criminologist Amanda Butler released the executive summary and recommendations of their investigation on Wednesday (Sept. 21). The two were tasked by the province in May with exploring solutions to repeat, or “prolific,” offenders – people who continue to commit crimes despite judge ordered conditions or time spent in jail.
In their four months of consultations and research, LePard and Butler said a few things became clear to them: a small group of repeat offenders are responsible for much of the concerning crime in communities, those people are allowed to continue to offend because of recent federal changes that encourage releasing people with bail conditions rather than holding them in jail, and that an extreme investment in mental health and complex long-term care is required to solve things.
The initial report, which comes ahead of a 150-page one expected to be released later this month, offers up 28 sweeping recommendations aimed at coordinating responses between health and justice agencies.
Province makes three commitments off the bat
On Wednesday, the province committed to acting immediately on three of them. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth promised they will bring back the prolific offender management program, which was scrapped in 2012, create a dedicated provincial committee, and fund a pilot program in Prince George’s Indigenous Justice Centre to address reoffending among First Nations people.
Attorney General Murray Rankin said they’ll take all of the recommendations into consideration and recognized “this is going to be expensive to be done right.”
Specialized facilities for different types of offenders
The recommendations LePard and Butler emphasize include the creation of three different types of facilities or units: crisis response and stabilization units where current, past or possible future offenders can access high-quality mental health and substance use care, either by walk-in or by transportation by ambulance, fire or police; low secure units for people who are at a serious risk of violence and require specialized, long-term supports; and, custom-built therapeutically-designed units for incarcerated people with chronic or acute mental health needs, separate from the general prison population.
The low secure units would be particularly important in getting violent repeat offenders off the streets, Butler explained during a media briefing on Wednesday. Accused offenders with serious mental disorders could be committed to such facilities under the mental health act, where they would be provided with expert treatment and care with security measures in place.
“These units should be designed to provide intensive rehabilitation as well as social, housing, education, and employment services,” the report reads. It adds the units should only be used if all other voluntary options have been exhausted.
More mental-health first investments
Butler and LePard further recommend a greater investment in civilian-led mental health crisis response teams, as an alternative to police, dedicated forensic psychiatric nurses at each provincial court to assess clients and recommend diversion opportunities, and expanded programs for people with acquired brain injuries and developmental disabilities.
They also recommend the BC Prosecution Service looks into “therapeutic bail,” which would allow a delay in sentencing while a person undergoes treatment, and possibly result in them avoiding a criminal conviction.
Clear decision-making guidelines for police and prosecutors, as well as a thorough list of support services to refer people to are also needed, Butler and LePard say.
Increased prosecutors, probation officers
The report also recommends bolstering the number of people handling repeat offender cases. Butler and LePard suggest increasing the number of prosecutors dedicated to such cases, as well as the number of probation officers dedicated to supervising the offenders.
To ensure a continued understanding of the impact on communities, the authors suggest police agencies create a new liaison position as a single point of contact for retailers and businesses to raise their concerns with. Police agencies are also encouraged to submit community impact statements during court proceedings to provide better context on the effects repeat offenders have.
BC First Nations Justice Council recommendations
Butler and LePard note at the top of their report that the voices of Indigenous communities were largely missing from their consultation process, due to what they say was a lack of time required to build relationships and trust.
To help fill this gap, the two included recommendations from the BC First Nations Justice Council.
The council calls on the province to stop using the term “prolific offender” as they say it perpetuates harm and stigma. They also call for better recognition of the underlying systemic issues that feed into the cycle of crime, and better collection of race-based data.
No recommendations on electronic monitoring, compulsory treatment
When then-attorney general David Eby announced the report back in May, he said the government had tasked Butler and LePard with looking into real-time electronic monitoring of repeat offenders and possible compulsory orders relating to treatment facilities. Neither suggestion made it into the final recommendations, however.
LePard explained Wednesday that electronic monitoring is already in place for some people, with about 300 offenders using it at any given time. He said it works well for certain offenders, such as sex offenders who have to stay away from specific schools or home, or offenders with a curfew, but that it would be useless in enforcing most conditions for repeat offenders. Electronic monitors can’t stop someone from possessing certain weapons or tools, or entering parking lots, for example.
When it comes to compulsory substance treatment, Butler said there simply isn’t enough evidence that shows it improves health.
The full report is expected to be released by the end of September.
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