moved that Bill C-252, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (statutory release granted only when earned and subject to mandatory supervision), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-252, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (statutory release granted only when earned and subject to mandatory supervision).
My private member's bill takes aim at the root of many problems caused by a Liberal change to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which makes it mandatory that inmates serving a fixed-length sentence longer than two years are released after serving two-thirds of their sentence unless correctional officers make a report against such a release, approximately 11 months ahead of the statutory release date. That report goes to the institutional unit board or the detention review board which in turn must decide whether to send it to the parole board for consideration at the granting hearing.
Existing possibilities at the parole board hearing are that the inmate in question may not get out on statutory release or may be sent to a halfway house or might be released on a one-shot basis meaning that failure to satisfy his parole officer can result in the inmate being sent back to serve the entire remainder of his sentence.
According to the National Parole Board performance monitoring report less than 59% of the offenders released on statutory release during the period of April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2001 completed their sentences successfully in the community. This means a 41% failure rate.
Any organization or company with a 41% failure rate has some serious problems. If people buy an automobile or were using machinery with a 41% failure rate, I am sure that the company would be hauled up on all kinds of financial questions.
Of the 4,900 let out of federal prisons on statutory release, 14.4% of new offenders while 26.7% of offenders on statutory release had those releases revoked for failing to abide by the conditions of their release. By contrast, prisoners who earned their release did much better.
Full and day parole could only be granted by the National Parole Board where statutory release is granted by law, a law changed by the government. Most offenders serving definite sentences, for example six years, are released after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
One of the most tragic failures in the present system involved innocent victims of offenders on statutory release. Although convictions for violent offences by offenders on conditional release have been dropping for the past seven years National Parole Board figures show that 188 convictions for violent offences were still obtained in the year 2000-2001.
We are talking about such crimes as murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, major assault, hostage taking, forcible confinement and armed robbery. These are the kinds of crimes people on statutory release have committed.
Any serious offence by prisoners out on statutory release are simply not acceptable. The parole board is investigating serious crimes committed by those released from jail to see if there are any loopholes in the system. That is an improvement. However the biggest loophole is the present definition of statutory release in the first place. Instead my bill would require offenders to earn their release by good behaviour.
According to the National Parole Board:
All federal offenders are entitled to statutory release after serving 2/3 of theirsentence unless it is determined that they are likely to commit an offence causing death or serious harmto another person, a sexual offence involving a child or a serious drug offence before the expiration ofthe sentence.
Only the National Parole Board determines that inmates are likely to commit such an offence that they now can be detained to serve their full sentence. What if the board thinks there is only a 30% or 35% chance that the prisoner would commit such a crime? In that case, the prisoner must go free. Once they are released I have had the police tell me that in the community where my constituency office is located we are getting some very violent offenders being placed in our power house because parole boards think it is not likely that they will recommit a serious crime.
There were 2,779 offenders out on statutory release across Canada from 2000-01. That is up from 2,016 from 1993-94 when the Liberal government took office. The largest increase took place in the pacific region, up 14.4% for the same year of 2000-01. We had a prison population of 12,791 with 4,698 out on statutory release. In other words 37% were out on statutory release. In anyone's estimation that represents a high percentage when we realize these are people who have not earned their release but simply people that the system was required by law to let out.
Existing laws put the burden of assessing an inmate's status mostly on correctional officers. Granted that they will consult with the inmate, Bill C-252 would put the burden mostly on the inmate to earn his or her release through such good behaviour as getting counselling for anger management, healing addictions to alcohol and/or drugs and so on.
Bill C-252 is based on several points. First and foremost is the desire to protect the public from possible slip-ups by administrators which have in the past resulted in harm to innocent victims by releasing the wrong people into our communities.
In recent months we have seen a startling increase in the number of law enforcement officials being killed or seriously injured when stopping someone who is out on statutory release. Those offenders knowing full well that they will go back to the slammer pull guns on officers.
The member for Provencher told us as recently as February 27 that in less than three months two RCMP officers in Manitoba have been shot, one of them fatally. Just last week the home of another Winnipeg police officer was firebombed. In both shootings we know that the suspects were wanted for parole violations.
While criminals in Canada are increasingly more willing to use violence our solicitor general continues to accelerate the process of early parole that would see more dangerous offenders released from club fed style prisons. This not only defies common sense but it puts the police at an unacceptable risk.
In order to restore public confidence in our justice system and to give police the support they need the Liberal government must act immediately to require that criminals earn their parole. Indeed this area of changing parole is not only the essence of my private member's bill it is one of the keystones of a recent petition launched by the police across Canada. It asks that we end unearned early release from prison.
Regarding danger to the general public the Canadian resource centre for victims of crime sent my party a long list of offenders who committed serious crimes while on statutory release. They include: Luc Gregoire who abducted a woman in Calgary and murdered her; Douglas Parenteau who murdered two people in Millet, Alberta; Fernand Auger who abducted and murdered a woman in B.C. and then took his own life; Irwin Bird who was charged in Alberta with murder, forcible confinement and aggravated assault; Huy Manh Pham who was charged with second degree murder in Vancouver; and John Borden who was charged with second degree murder in Edmonton.
The list goes on and on but it gives us some idea of why statutory release should be changed both to protect law enforcement officers and the general public.
Another principle behind my private member's bill is to recognize that prisoners often need to learn how to make good decisions. Instead, in prison they make very few decisions. This is one of the defining differences between being in prison and being at-large in society. It is that we, free men and women, can decide what we will do and when we will do it. The more an inmate can make successful decisions while incarcerated the better that person is prepared to function successfully when released from a highly structured prison environment.
That is one of the biggest goals of imprisoning any offender. It is not only to punish the offender, it is not only to protect society, it is also to try to turn around the lives of prisoners and make them once again a productive member of society.
That leads me to another principle behind my proposed bill, mainly that early release for good behaviour provides a clear incentive for wanting to improve. It can help inmates form good habits and break bad patterns of behaviour. This can help turn our prisons into locations which are more successful in improving the prisoner's behaviour patterns.
According to prison officials with whom I have discussed this, a soft prison system where inmates get rewards, regardless of whether or not they co-operate with the guards or the programs offered to them, is bad for the public, the guards and prisoners alike. Looking at this issue from the point of view that society wants inmates to succeed once they are released from prison, having prisoners take much more responsibility for their own rehabilitation can help increase the success ratio.
Specifically, if prisoner is not ready to perform well outside prison, my bill would mean that he or she would not be booted out of the door as the present CCRA requires. We have to realize that inmates who have served several years in prison are at high risk to reoffend, unless there is some structure outside the prison to help them adjust.
As one correctional officer told my office recently, “If an inmate is released on Friday with $100 and no structure to his life, he is likely to score with heroin or a hooker and be back in custody in no time. That failure helps nobody”. Such failures also contribute to the overload on our courts and on our police.
In conclusion, redefining statutory release so that it would have to be earned and would be subject to parole, would better protect both the general public and law enforcement officers as well as improve rehabilitation in the correction of inmates in our prisons.