Earned Parole: its time is now

prison“… The typical offender tends to have a history of substance abuse, a previous criminal history, a previous negative correctional history (escape, segregation, revocation of parole), low program completion rates and higher levels of imposed residency conditions at release.”  — Correctional Service of Canada on Earned Parole

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I will.

If governments are really going to take a meaningful “tough on crime” stance while portraying themselves in the virtuous light as true defenders of victims, they would do well to do one thing to back up their rhetoric.

(And it isn’t by increasing the use of absurd mandatory minimum sentences.)

Government must: do away with statutory release policy which frees violent offenders (other than lifers or ones declared dangerous offenders) after two-thirds of their sentences and move instead to an “earned parole” system where an offender must prove his or her early release is justified.

I was given another great example why this is necessary today in a sit-down with Floyd Wiebe, who’s son, TJ, was murdered in 2003 through a truly ugly and feckless conspiracy amongst three (really four or even five, people) — and his body dumped in a field outside the city.

It was a conspiracy which Dominic Urichen, now 29, played a key role in.  He was arrested in 2003 and convicted in 2006. He’s been in institutions since his arrest.

Next week, Urichen will receive statutory release now that he’s served the required 2/3 of his time.

The thing is, he’s done virtually no programming or job training while in custody. Yet Urichen gets out early.

Despite the fact psychologists and the parole board believe he’s a very high risk to reoffend violently, Urichen gets a taste of freedom.

And despite the fact he’s painted by the parole board  as essentially remorseless for what he did (Wiebe tells me Urichen sullenly once told a parole adjudication panel he didn’t even know why he was in prison in the first place), he’s getting out.

Admittedly, his freedom isn’t unfettered. To remain in the community, Urichen, who is clearly mentally ill but denies it, must abide by a number of conditions. They include keeping a curfew at the BC halfway house where he’ll live until his sentence fully expires, keeping up with psych therapy and staying away from drugs, booze and negative peers.

But drilling into the parole board documents on Urichen which reference psychological reports on his case, I realized his was one of the worst I’ve seen yet. In my view, he’s a ticking time bomb. The parole board admits as much in their decision to restrict his movements, they just don’t explicitly say it.  (full decision can be found here)

Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • “Indifferent” attitude towards his victim and “minimal remorse”
  • Struggles to interact with others, which leads to conflicts
  • Limited impulse control
  • Episodes of “delusional paranoid thinking”
  • Denial of mental health issues (he’s been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic/antisocial personality disorder)
  • Substance abuse issues (was caught with drugs in jail)
  • Never had a real job, sold drugs for money in the past
  • Has “persecutory ideas”
  • Has “command hallucinations” to “stab others”
  • Was hospitalized four times at a prison psych hospital
  • No solid understanding of his offence cycle or how his risk can be managed
  • While in custody took a total of two — two — programs: one for healthy living in prison, another for substance abuse
  • Limited education, no upgrades completed in custody

“You have been incarcerated for many years and the contributing factors to your offending are still outstanding, suggesting that you will easily engage in drug use and association with negative peers leading to a deterioration of your mental health, significantly increasing the risk you pose. You have had a very limited exposure to a pro-social life in the past … this leads the board to conclude you will face significant stressors in the community.”

So, based on the above, what can society expect from Mr. Urichen and his new-found freedom? Not much I’d surmise.

But, he’s getting out next week to try and start fresh, get his life off the ground.

He’s had years now to wait for this day. Prison must have been hellish for him. I mean that sincerely.

But the fact is, there’s no way he should be qualifying for early release.

He should have had to earn it through taking measured programming and skills training.

If he won’t participate, then no early release. Simple.

And not because he should be punished more for his crime — but because by not having him do it simply basically ensures he’s going to be entrenched in the crime cycle and punted back in custody yet again at some point.

And that’s not supposed to be the major goal of our justice system in Canada.

Equally important, statutory release sends completely the wrong message to offenders and their victims.

Rewards should not be handed out when nothing’s been done to earn them.

The following is from a 2010 CSC review panel report examining the earned parole issue. Full report is here.

Gradual release of offenders has been a cornerstone of Canadian corrections for many years and the Panel supports that concept. However, the Panel believes that statutory release and accelerated parole have both undermined discretionary release and generally have not proved as effective as discretionary release in mitigating violent reoffending. The Panel believes that an arbitrary release that is not based on rehabilitation is counterproductive, and when aggravated by shorter sentences, reduces public safety. This has been demonstrated by the fact that most violent reoffending by federal offenders is committed by those released on statutory release. To improve public safety and reorient the correctional system to a system that places true accountability on offenders, offenders would be required to earn their way back to their home communities and demonstrate to the NPB that they have changed and are capable of living as law-abiding citizens.

We also must not forget that in Manitoba, provincial inmates qualify for an automatic 1/3 discount off the sentence they’re handed. So the above could also very well apply here as well. Offer more skills training and education in jails. If inmates don’t do the programming, no sentence discount.

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