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British Columbia Long-term treatment model should be used for B.C.’s repeat offenders: report

Laurie Throness in March 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A long-term, recovery-based treatment model could be a more-effective way of dealing with many of the repeat offenders in B.C.'s prisons, where nearly 90 per cent of inmates spend less than two months behind bars, according to a new B.C. government report.

Laurie Throness, provincial parliamentary secretary for corrections and Chilliwack-Hope MLA, produced the report – released Thursday – with the goal of eliminating violence, and the threat of violence, from B.C.'s correctional system. He made 20 incremental safety recommendations but also a number of longer-term recommendations aimed at transformational change, including the one for the recovery-based treatment model.

According to a 2008 report, 56 per cent of B.C.'s corrections population suffered from a diagnosed mental health disorder, either on its own or concurrent with an addiction, Mr. Throness wrote. A 2012 Statistics Canada publication found 92 per cent of those assessed at correctional facilities in five provinces needed assistance with substance abuse.

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Meanwhile, of B.C. offenders with more than 10 convictions, 45 per cent of all sentences are for property crimes and 28 per cent for offences against the administration of justice, such as breaching probation conditions and failing to appear, according to BC Corrections figures. Eighty-seven per cent of all inmates spend 60 days or less in custody.

Such figures paint a picture of a population that is driven to petty crime by drug and alcohol addictions, or mental health issues, then caught in the revolving door of prison.

"If our society rises to the challenge of releasing people from addictions, chronic offenders can move toward a productive, healthy, law-abiding lifestyle," Mr. Throness wrote, adding there is no reason why provincial courts could not implement such a program without any extra expense.

Among other findings: assaults on staff increased by 18 per cent in the past five years; inmate injuries increased by 70 per cent; and violence between inmates varied by institution but increased by nearly 50 per cent over five years at North Fraser Pretrial Centre.

Dean Purdy, chair of the Corrections and Staff Services component of the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union, said there is no question violence has increased in B.C. prisons but believes Mr. Throness's figures are on the low side. According to the union's count, there have been 244 assaults against staff in the past five years at three correctional facilities alone.

"That's vastly different from their total of 211 at all nine jails over the past five years, as stated in the report," he said.

Incremental safety recommendations include increased officer training, structural safety improvements and adjusting inmate unit capacity levels. Mr. Throness also recommended BC Corrections explore certifiable trades training within correction institutions and reach out to potential employers to help inmates find work.

Also on Thursday, the province released a report on crime reduction from a "blue ribbon panel" set up last year.

The panel – chaired by MLA Darryl Plecas, parliamentary secretary for crime reduction – made six recommendations, including better management of "career" criminals who account for the majority of offences.

Acting on research that indicates about 80 per cent of offences are committed by 20 per cent of offenders, the province in 2008 launched a pilot Prolific Offender Management Program in six cities. The program focused on a small group of prolific offenders and involved more intensive supervision and timely interventions, including links to services. An independent review found the program reduced the reoffence rate by 40 per cent in its first year.

In its report, the panel said it "strongly supports" the government's commitment to expand that program province wide.

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