Repeat offenders a constant challenge for justice system

He’s from Montreal and doesn’t appear to have any local ties with Victoria.

He’s from Montreal and doesn’t appear to have any local ties with Victoria, leading police to believe he came to the B.C. capital to work in the city’s drug trade with organized crime.

Police in Montreal are familiar with him; he was out on bail for drug charges in that city. Last week he was arrested for numerous drug offences that involved more than 6,000 doses of a fentanyl/heroin mixture destined for the streets of Greater Victoria.

It’s situations like this that have caused police associations across the country to vent their frustrations with the “revolving door” justice system. Officers catch offenders, put them behind bars to protect the public, only to have them released on bail or given time served, then reoffend.

It’s a pattern police in Victoria are all too familiar with, prompting officers to keep files on repeat offenders, monitoring who they are and their risk to the public.

Despite working closely with the Crown to make sure penalties are consistent and match what police think is the severity of the crime, the penalties handed down by judges sometimes leaves officers scratching their heads.

“There are people who are repeat offenders, like drug traffickers, who basically at times, from our perspective, we feel like they get a slap on the wrist and they are right back out there, creating greater harm in our community,” said acting police chief Del Manak, noting some repeat offenders snub their noses at the criminal justice system and continue to lead an active life of criminal behaviour.

“I think it’s quite obvious that those who choose to lead a lifestyle of crime, most of them do it because it’s profitable, and I think it’s important there’s a strong message of deterrence that is sent to them that if you are a repeat offender and you continue to lead an active lifestyle of criminal activity which involves victimization and violence, then the community is not going to tolerate that.”

According to local provincial court judge Christine Lowe, sentencing has always been a very individual process, with judges forced to look at the root causes of why the person is in their courtroom.

Judges often talk about the step up principal, where offenders are sentenced to more time behind bars if they reoffend, but sometimes Lowe said judges need to step the sentence down.

A few months ago, Lowe had a repeat offender appear before her with a First Nations background — a group that has a massive over representation in the country’s jails. She asked herself, what are we trying to achieve here, then decided to step the sentence down.

“If the goal is to maybe work towards sobriety or deal with the drug addiction or get someone into mental health, then maybe our focus really needs to be on that rather than stepping it up. We can step it up all we want, but are we getting anywhere?” said Lowe, adding it’s always a tough decision for judges.

“I can see how it would create some cynicism. We don’t just make these decisions in a vacuum, we’re trying to make the best decision we can. If the community is better served if that person goes to rehab, then maybe that’s what we need to do than another 10 days in jail to have them right back before us.”

When it comes to the release of high-risk offenders (who’ve already served their sentence) into the community, however, police work closely with corrections and parole officers to conduct a risk assessment, looking at the severity of the crime, their rehabilitation and the likelihood of them to reoffend.

The trick, said Manak, is balancing the safety of the public with the rights of the individual trying to integrate back into the community without being singled out.

“That’s always the challenge — when do you notify the public?” said Manak, adding the number of high-risk offenders living in Victoria is “quite high,” but didn’t give a number.

“I think the public would be quite surprised if they knew how many high-risk offenders are in our area.”

 

 

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