A two-year pilot program carried out in six B.C. communities, including Prince George, has yielded promising results for getting prolific offenders to change their ways.
As a result, the provincial Ministry of Justice now plans to incorporate the lessons learned in other communities throughout the province.
Launched in February 2008 and lasting until mid-January 2010, it involved 198 people - 28 of them in Prince George - with long lists of criminal offences, usually theft related but also some violent crimes.
The project brought together resources from enforcement agencies - police, corrections and Crown prosecutors - and health and social services and linked offenders to services, while also increasing enforcement and providing better information to the courts.
Researchers at Simon Fraser University found a 40-per-cent reduction in further offending during the first-year followup period compared to their criminal behaviour prior to their involvement in the pilot project.
They also found an increased use of health services and housing and other social services, while having fewer police contacts and spending less time in custody.
There was "significant association" between the program and reduced criminal activity, they concluded, although a direct line could not be drawn. The program is based on a similar initiative in England that has had some measurable success in recent years.
Numbers specific to Prince George were not included in the report but Prince George RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass said it was successful.
"The goal is to not just put them in jail but to offer them alternatives such as treatment of some sort because a lot of them have addiction issues," Douglass said. "And, of course, just let them know that if they refuse treatment and they continue to offend in our community that they will be going to jail."
As the program is expanded across the province, the other option of leaving town will become less attractive, Douglass noted, because the targeting will continue to the point where they have no choice but to get into treatment.
With the results in hand, a transition plan is being developed to ensure that "the best practices determined through the pilot project are used to manage prolific offenders effectively in all communities throughout the province," the ministry said in a bulletin issued this week.
The approach was also tested in Kamloops, Nanaimo, Surrey, Victoria and Williams Lake.