It has been just over four months since BC announced its plan to combat repeat offenders in the province, and the results of that plan have now been revealed.
Authors of the report include Dr. Amanda Butler, who holds a PhD in Health Sciences from SFU, and Doug LePard, a retired VPD deputy chief.
A vital component of the findings revealed today is a systemic lack of mental health support for people involved with the criminal justice system, particularly when crimes are committed by people suffering from mental health illnesses.
The findings were revealed at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, with BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Murray Rankin in attendance.
A key recommendation from the report pointed to bringing in a model used in the UK, a model that BC piloted between 2008 and 2012. This model would divert people accused of crimes with serious mental disorders from the criminal system to the forensic system or “low secure care.”
The report addresses the term “prolific offender” as potentially problematic because it encompasses a wide range of people, some of who are suffering from mental health and addiction.
“In recent years it has been used much more broadly to include people who are street entrenched, often living with severe mental health and substance use needs, who are engaged in increasingly aggressive theft and petty crime. We provide analysis of both
subgroups, who we describe as people with repeat criminal justice encounters. We acknowledge that “prolific offender” terminology may contribute to stigma and ignores the many systems-level failures that contribute to crime,” reads the report.
The report suggests that COVID-19 had devastating impacts on British Columbians, including worsened mental health and contributions to loneliness, substance use, financial difficulties, and other issues.
The BC government acknowledges that residents have expressed “extreme frustration,” particularly regarding property and violent crime.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities,” said Farnworth.
Farnworth added that enforcement would still be a key component of solving the problem.
“Unfortunately, there is a shortage of resources available to meet the needs of people who have been incarcerated when they are released. This is a crisis that must be ameliorated,” the report adds.
“Many people return to precarious housing, shelters or homelessness, and back to communities where they are at high risk of returning to crime because their needs remain unmet by the systems that should be supporting them.”
Long story short, the recommendations of the report suggest addressing the root causes and the systemic issues which lead someone to a crime, whether they be a lack of mental health support, food insecurity, support for specific groups like Indigenous People, or housing unaffordability.
The key recommendations
There are 28 recommendations from the report regarding addressing the repeat offender problem in BC.
Some key ones include investing in more non-police mental health crisis response teams, creating crisis response centres, and bringing in the UK model.
The province wants to create more opportunities to divert people from the criminal justice system. Another key finding relates to Indigenous communities.
The report acknowledges that the voices of Indigenous communities are missing from consultations.
“Consultation with Indigenous communities requires relationship and trust-building, which takes time and resources that were unavailable as part of this rapid review.”
To support this, the report recommends a pilot project led by the BC First Nations Justice Council to develop a program serving the unique needs of First Nations people.
The report calls for “significant investments” in services for people who have acquired brain injuries and developmental disabilities.
A big part of the report is the recommendation that calls for improved collaboration between partners, community services, law enforcement, and all levels of government. The province wants to improve public confidence in the justice system.
You can read the report in its entirety here.
Another report from Butler and LePard will be released later this month.