Fletcher: B.C. justice system’s weak third leg: Corrections

Attorney General Shirley Bond is coming off another busy week, announcing new sheriff and clerk training.

Attorney General Shirley Bond is coming off another busy week, announcing new sheriff and clerk training for B.C.’s constipated court system.

Then Bond joined Premier Christy Clark to introduce B.C. to another kind of sheriff, the former Los Angeles district attorney best known for busting up one of the biggest nests of crooked cops in U.S. history. Richard Rosenthal went on to clean house as independent monitor of police forces in Portland and Denver, and now he takes on B.C.’s troubled police patchwork, which has been losing the public’s confidence along with the courts.

Bond’s other ministry, Public Safety and Solicitor General, announced its senior officials had selected the next commanding officer for the RCMP in B.C. It is unprecedented for a province to do that, but as B.C. gets ready to sign a new 20-year contract with the federal force, Bond and Clark are trying to demonstrate that they, not Ottawa, are now wearing the pants in this relationship. We’ll see.

As the police and court legs of B.C.’s justice system were being strengthened, Auditor General John Doyle released his latest report on the shaky third leg, corrections. In a masterpiece of understatement, Doyle’s office headlined its news release “Opportunities for improvement in community corrections.”

You have likely heard about the overflowing B.C. jail system, where even segregation inmates are now being doubled up, as the long wait continues for a new jail in the Okanagan.

But as Doyle’s report sets out, nine out of 10 convicted adult offenders aren’t in custody. They’re on house arrest or probation, many with court-ordered conditions to report their whereabouts, stay away from their victims, stay sober and complete various rehabilitation programs. Many are violent. There are currently 24,000 of them, an all-time high and an increase of 28 per cent in the past six years.

As with the jail population, a larger proportion have mental illness as well as addiction. And Doyle found that only about a third of them actually complete the programs they are supposed to take to prevent re-offending.

Corrections branch officials say their program for male spousal abusers has a success rate of up to 50 per cent. That’s a pretty good result for an awful crime, the second-largest category of offenders after impaired driving. But that success rate only applies to offenders who actually complete the program.

Doyle found several cases where convicted abusers breached their orders to stay away from a spouse, and were not returned to court. There are undoubtedly more, but B.C.’s 450 probation officers can’t keep all the files up to date, much less punish every breach of conditions. Training hasn’t kept up either—fewer than half of current probation officers have completed the ministry’s anti-spousal abuse course.

The NDP deplores all of this and has decades of practice doing so. The part about offenders not completing their rehabilitation reminded me of Dave Barrett in the late 1960s.

In his autobiography, Barrett tells how he got into politics because prisoners in B.C. jails weren’t able to complete vocational programs. Barrett was a social worker at the old Haney Correctional Institution.

By 1970 he was Opposition leader, demanding that the W.A.C. Bennett government shut down Haney, by then notorious for trades training that prisoners weren’t locked up long enough to finish. Each inmate was costing B.C. more than $4,000 a year, a huge sum wasted, Barrett thundered in the legislature.

Today, Doyle calculates B.C. jails cost $71,000 per inmate per year, or $194 a day. Community supervision spending works out to $7 a day.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

 

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

 

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