A summary of the report can be read at the bottom of this story
A report into prolific offenders, commissioned this past spring by the provincial government, has 28 recommendations, but does not include mandatory drug treatment or electronic monitoring — two key measures that were to be examined.
Drafted in response to complaints and data from the BC Urban Mayors' Caucus — of which Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian is a member — the report was intended to investigate prolific offenders and random violent attacks and find the necessary actions needed to address the problem.
The two experts hired were Doug LePard, a retired police chief and an independent criminal justice sector consultant, and Amanda Butler, a health researcher and criminologist whose specialties include mental health, substance-use disorders, criminal justice systems and prison health.
Asked during a press conference on Wednesday (Sept. 21) why mandatory drug treatment and electronic monitoring were left out of the report, Butler and LePard replied that both options were indeed covered in the report.
LePard said there was no recommendation surrounding electronic monitoring because it’s already in use, noting there are about 300 people at any given time under it in B.C. He said it is useful for some offenders in some circumstances, such as curfews and sex offenders being geofenced away from parks and schools with an alarm that goes off.
But, LePard added, there are technical challenges. He said electronic monitoring generally requires people to have a home, which isn’t the case for some offenders.
“It was part of the terms of reference, but we don’t have any recommendations to make because it is being well used now and there was no information to suggest Crown counsel aren’t asking for electronic monitoring for the right offenders in the right circumstances,” LePard said.
Butler said there was no recommendation for compulsory treatment as it “has not been robustly shown to improve health,” particularly for life-threatening substance use. She said the suggestion overlaps with the report’s recommendation that the province create low secure units for people with complex mental-health and substance-use needs who are a high risk to harm others. Such people, Butler said, need the safety of a secure setting and cannot be maintained in an open in-patient hospital unit.
The report consists of 12 recommendations under mental-health and substance abuse needs for those in the criminal justice system, five for improving information-sharing amongst government agencies, six on improving public confidence in the justice system and another five recommendations made specifically by the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC).
The NDP government said it intends to immediately implement three of the recommendations in the report — a relaunch of B.C.’s prolific offender management pilot program (which was started and ended under the former BC Liberal government), creation of a provincial committee dedicated to co-ordinate service planning for offenders with complex health needs and funding a proposed $100,000 pilot program run by the BCFNJC at Prince George’s Indigenous Justice Centre to address the issue of criminal recidivism amongst First Nations people.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said many of the recommendations fit into work already underway.
“The report shows how important our investments have been. Things such as supports for people coming out of prison, complex care housing and Indigenous courts and justice centres, but also just how much else we have to do,” Farnsworth said.
Attorney General Murray Rankin said the evolving crime trends are complex, compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and tied to recent changes in federal criminal legislation and decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada. He said he issue highlights the need to continue investing in social and health supports.
Rankin and Farnworth will be meeting with their federal government counterparts in Nova Scotia in a few weeks.
“And you can be sure we will have these recommendations at hand and you can be sure we will be bringing to the federal government’s attention their need to collaborate with us,” Rankin said.
From the report
To improve public confidence in the justice system, the report recommends the provincial government hire more prosecutors, and ones dedicated to prolific offender files. There should also be more probation officers hired to monitor those repeatedly committing crimes. The report also recommends that police agencies submit community impact statements to assist Crown counsel and the courts when it comes to assessing charges, bail and, at trial, repeat offenders.
The report recommends police agencies create a liaison position to provide a single point of contact for retailers and businesses to raise concerns about crime, which could help develop projects aimed at crime prevention.
To improve communication the report also recommends an inventory of mental-health and substance use services — which would benefit people working at all levels of the criminal justice system — be documented in a highly accessible format and regularly updated.
The BC Prosecution Service, in collaboration with the criminal defence bar, should also develop guidelines for making decisions about cases involving accused people with mental disorders, while police services are also asked to create clear guidelines for responding to violent offenders living with serious mental disorders.
As for mental-health and substance abuse, the report recommends the provincial government support the creation of crisis response and stabilization centres that provide mental health and substance use care to walk-ins and people transported by emergency personnel.
The report suggests every provincial court be assigned a dedicated forensic psychiatric nurse and that the BC Prosecution Service review implementing “therapeutic bail,” which is a process that sees sentencing delayed until after a person receives treatment. The provincial government should also explore the creation of facilities or units for people with acute and chronic mental-health and substance use needs who are in provincial custody, make investments in programs for people with acquired brain injuries and developmental disabilities, examine gaps in the the forensic mental-health system and fill gaps in the accessibility of Indigenous healing centres and practices throughout B.C. and expand Indigenous courts.
The BCFNJC also recommended that harm reduction efforts should be centred to focus on the underlying systematic issues and suggested an end to the use of the term “prolific offender” by government agencies as it perpetuates stigma and fails to address that such people lack security and safety.