Earned Parole: its time is now

prison“… The typical offender tends to have a history of substance abuse, a previous criminal history, a previous negative correctional history (escape, segregation, revocation of parole), low program completion rates and higher levels of imposed residency conditions at release.”  — Correctional Service of Canada on Earned Parole

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I will.

If governments are really going to take a meaningful “tough on crime” stance while portraying themselves in the virtuous light as true defenders of victims, they would do well to do one thing to back up their rhetoric.

(And it isn’t by increasing the use of absurd mandatory minimum sentences.)

Government must: do away with statutory release policy which frees violent offenders (other than lifers or ones declared dangerous offenders) after two-thirds of their sentences and move instead to an “earned parole” system where an offender must prove his or her early release is justified.

I was given another great example why this is necessary today in a sit-down with Floyd Wiebe, who’s son, TJ, was murdered in 2003 through a truly ugly and feckless conspiracy amongst three (really four or even five, people) — and his body dumped in a field outside the city.

It was a conspiracy which Dominic Urichen, now 29, played a key role in.  He was arrested in 2003 and convicted in 2006. He’s been in institutions since his arrest.

Next week, Urichen will receive statutory release now that he’s served the required 2/3 of his time.

The thing is, he’s done virtually no programming or job training while in custody. Yet Urichen gets out early.

Despite the fact psychologists and the parole board believe he’s a very high risk to reoffend violently, Urichen gets a taste of freedom.

And despite the fact he’s painted by the parole board  as essentially remorseless for what he did (Wiebe tells me Urichen sullenly once told a parole adjudication panel he didn’t even know why he was in prison in the first place), he’s getting out.

Admittedly, his freedom isn’t unfettered. To remain in the community, Urichen, who is clearly mentally ill but denies it, must abide by a number of conditions. They include keeping a curfew at the BC halfway house where he’ll live until his sentence fully expires, keeping up with psych therapy and staying away from drugs, booze and negative peers.

But drilling into the parole board documents on Urichen which reference psychological reports on his case, I realized his was one of the worst I’ve seen yet. In my view, he’s a ticking time bomb. The parole board admits as much in their decision to restrict his movements, they just don’t explicitly say it.  (full decision can be found here)

Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • “Indifferent” attitude towards his victim and “minimal remorse”
  • Struggles to interact with others, which leads to conflicts
  • Limited impulse control
  • Episodes of “delusional paranoid thinking”
  • Denial of mental health issues (he’s been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic/antisocial personality disorder)
  • Substance abuse issues (was caught with drugs in jail)
  • Never had a real job, sold drugs for money in the past
  • Has “persecutory ideas”
  • Has “command hallucinations” to “stab others”
  • Was hospitalized four times at a prison psych hospital
  • No solid understanding of his offence cycle or how his risk can be managed
  • While in custody took a total of two — two — programs: one for healthy living in prison, another for substance abuse
  • Limited education, no upgrades completed in custody

“You have been incarcerated for many years and the contributing factors to your offending are still outstanding, suggesting that you will easily engage in drug use and association with negative peers leading to a deterioration of your mental health, significantly increasing the risk you pose. You have had a very limited exposure to a pro-social life in the past … this leads the board to conclude you will face significant stressors in the community.”

So, based on the above, what can society expect from Mr. Urichen and his new-found freedom? Not much I’d surmise.

But, he’s getting out next week to try and start fresh, get his life off the ground.

He’s had years now to wait for this day. Prison must have been hellish for him. I mean that sincerely.

But the fact is, there’s no way he should be qualifying for early release.

He should have had to earn it through taking measured programming and skills training.

If he won’t participate, then no early release. Simple.

And not because he should be punished more for his crime — but because by not having him do it simply basically ensures he’s going to be entrenched in the crime cycle and punted back in custody yet again at some point.

And that’s not supposed to be the major goal of our justice system in Canada.

Equally important, statutory release sends completely the wrong message to offenders and their victims.

Rewards should not be handed out when nothing’s been done to earn them.

The following is from a 2010 CSC review panel report examining the earned parole issue. Full report is here.

Gradual release of offenders has been a cornerstone of Canadian corrections for many years and the Panel supports that concept. However, the Panel believes that statutory release and accelerated parole have both undermined discretionary release and generally have not proved as effective as discretionary release in mitigating violent reoffending. The Panel believes that an arbitrary release that is not based on rehabilitation is counterproductive, and when aggravated by shorter sentences, reduces public safety. This has been demonstrated by the fact that most violent reoffending by federal offenders is committed by those released on statutory release. To improve public safety and reorient the correctional system to a system that places true accountability on offenders, offenders would be required to earn their way back to their home communities and demonstrate to the NPB that they have changed and are capable of living as law-abiding citizens.

We also must not forget that in Manitoba, provincial inmates qualify for an automatic 1/3 discount off the sentence they’re handed. So the above could also very well apply here as well. Offer more skills training and education in jails. If inmates don’t do the programming, no sentence discount.

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Peace, order and good government

Kevin Chief, running for the NDP in Winnipeg North

The A4-A5 spread in Friday’s Winnipeg Free Press is worth reading, and re-reading, and then reading again.

First, with the civic election now over, the focus now shifts to the upcoming federal byelection in Winnipeg North.

As it was in the municipal contest, crime appears to lead the debate in the area, just in a more oblique and less tangible way. The recent shootings that claimed two lives is the hook.

Crime top-of-mind in Winnipeg North

Mia Rabson quotes CrimeStat stats that state in the last month alone (taken to mean Sept 29 to Oct 29 2010) the riding has been “the site of at least three slayings, more than a dozen sexual assaults, several shootings and countless robberies and assaults.”

Winnipeg North Riding, C/O Elections Canada

Remember: the Winnipeg North riding is not the same as the electoral ward of Mynarski or North Point Douglas. [Map provided, click to enlarge] Crime Stat won’t measure by anything other than police district, electoral ward or precise neighbourhood. Neither does the public view of CrimeStat denote assaults.

The federal catchment area is huge, much larger than what we’d consider the North End.

“The riding includes the neighbourhoods of Jefferson North, Mandalay West, Maple Glen, Garden City, Jefferson, St. John’s, Inkster Faraday, William Whyte, Dufferin, North End, Burrows Central, Robertson, Selkirk, Mynarski, Northwood,Shaughnessy Heights, Lord, Tyndall Park, Garden Grove, Oak Point, Inkster Gardens, Luxton, the south part of The Maples and the north part of Logan CPR in the City of Winnipeg.”‘

But for the purposes of this article, we’ll tabulate the available police-provided stats (homicides, shootings, sex assaults, robberies) from the following defined neighbourhoods: St John’s, Burrows Central, Lord Selkirk Park, Inkster Faraday and William Whyte.

These make up the big bad North End most people would refer to in terms of the “crime-riddled North End.”

The 30 days of data that was available to people via CrimeStat for the last month from today stemmed from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27, 2010.

  • St. Johns: 1 homicide, 7 robberies, 3 sex assaults, 0 shootings
  • William Whyte: 1 homicide, 10 robberies, 1 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • Robertson: 0 homicides, 1 robbery, 0 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • Burrows Central: 0 homicides, 3 robberies, 0 sex assaults, 0 shootings
  • Lord Selkirk Park: 0 homicides, 3 robberies, 0 sex assaults, 1 shooting
  • Inkster Faraday: 0 homicides, 4 robberies, 0 sex assaults, 1 shooting

Total: 2 homicides (Beardy and MacDonald), 28 robberies, 4 sex assaults, 2 shootings

A year earlier, same period:

  • St. Johns: 0 homicides, 2 robberies, 0 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • William Whyte: 0 homicides, 13 robberies, 0 sex assaults, 5 shootings
  • Robertson: 0 homicides, 2 robberies, 0 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • Burrows Central: 0 homicides, 0 robberies, 0 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • Lord Selkirk Park: 0 homicides, 7 robberies, 1 sex assault, 0 shootings
  • Inkster Faraday: 0, 0, 0, 0 in all categories

Total: 0 homicides, 25 robberies, 1 sex assault, 5 shootings

So, from this, we see that for this 30-day period, crime appears slightly up year over year, but realistically, not up by much. Shootings are down; robberies are statistically at the same level. The rise in sexual assaults, however, is concerning.

Saturday Shootings map

So, we have a scary scenario that plays out last Saturday. Three shootings — two fatal— happen within about a 35 minute span. The assumption being made (see page A5 of today’s WFP) is that a single individual (either masked or in a ninja costume) was behind all three.

Police haven’t said as much and are wisely keeping their options open.

Anyhow, despite a jarring and unprecedented warning from the WPS for people in the area to remain in their homes and not answer their doors to strangers directly after the shootings, police quickly locked down the crime scenes and flooded the area with officers.

A mobile command centre is set up in the area a day and half later.

Over the next few days — continuing as I write this — there are scores of police officers in the North End proper, either shaking down potential suspects, scouring for leads in the shootings or otherwise keeping a lid on things.

So, naturally, given the heightened level of police presence and vigilance [more officers = greater safety, remember ; ) ] My eyebrows raised up when I read, re-read and read again the remarks made by would-be NDP MP Kevin Chief in Rabson’s article:

Chief knows first-hand what crime has done to the neighbourhoods of Winnipeg North, where he has lived all his life.

“I live three streets over from one of the (shootings),” he said.

Chief and his wife welcomed their first child three weeks ago, but despite some pleasant weather since, they haven’t taken their son out in the stroller for a walk.

There is no way we’re taking our son for a walk in these circumstances,” said Chief.

Chief said there are things that can be done immediately, like improved street lighting and a heightened police presence.

For a week, police have been crawling all over the area. On the scanner, every two seconds they seem to be spot-checking people, responding to calls.

Chief says he has lived in the area all his life.

Is it a surprise to him that statistically, the level of crime hasn’t changed in two years — and it could even be said it’s dropped in terms of the number of shootings.

But a man who wants to be an elected member of the federal government — wants to lead and represent people who live in a very troubled area — says the current “circumstances” are keeping him and his family indoors. He wouldn’t dare head outside.

To me, that’s got me scratching my head.

The message from leaders, (would-be or elected) should be:

We’re not going to let the thugs, the degenerates and the reprobates keep us cowering inside or homes. We’re going to rise up and start calling police, the powerline  — whatever — if we’re seeing suspicious stuff or crimes taking place.

‘The police are doing their part, now we can do ours,‘ is what I’d be expecting to hear if I was voter in the area.

The last lines of the article also had me scratching my head, but a slight smile on my lips.

Conservative candidate Julie Javier was canvassing Thursday and could not be reached for an interview.

Nice to know not everyone’s afraid to go outside.

Chief’s right about the lighting, tho.