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Proposals to deal with repeat offenders a 'let down,' says MLA Morris

B.C. Liberals' public safety critic says more support for Crown counsel would be a good immediate step

A set of proposals to deal with repeat offenders has come up short in the opinion of Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris.

"To me it was a total let down," Morris said Thursday of the 28 recommendations presented this week in an executive summary produced by former Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard and Amanda Butler, a criminologist specializing in mental health and addiction.

The two were hired in May to investigate how best to prevent the cycles of crime.

Morris, the opposition BC Liberals' public safety critic, said he was "looking for more immediate solutions," such as providing enough support to allow prosecutors to be assigned to specific troublemakers.

That way, during bail hearings, they can "articulate the case to the judge to the point where the judge is seized with the information and they have no choice but to hold that individual in custody until he's dealt with through the court system."

Among the recommendations is one to launch a pilot program based out of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council's Indigenous Justice Centre in Prince George to stem criminal recidivism among Indigenous people.

In a submission to LePard and Butler in support of its proposal, the BCFNJC says the centre in Prince George is "especially significant" because the city "acts as a hub for many displaced and unhoused Indigenous people in British Columbia."

In part, it asserts that data is lacking to determine what constitutes a "prolific offender" and that in some cases, the designation is based only on the number of files police have opened in a suspect's name and not whether they have been charged or found guilty and convicted.

In turn, that has justified "over-policing" of those people, the BCFNJC says, and goes on to claim "excessive monitoring, and notably electronic monitoring," has prevent subjects from moving back to their home communities, "preventing them from accessing pro-social ties."

Morris said he needs more "foundational information" before passing judgment on the proposal for a pilot program in general but took issue with the BCFNJC's claims that the prevalence of prolific offenders appears to be inflated.

Morris said the authors have "obviously forgot" that police are "basically responding only to 911 calls because they're just worked off their feet" due to the mischief prolific offenders create.

He also dismissed as invalid the concerns raised over electronic monitoring, saying the factors raised by the BCFNJC are taken into consideration when the court determines whether the step needs to be taken.

Morris said he would like to see more restorative justice programs in First Nations communities, "but there needs to be some parameters around that, what kind of infrastructure is in place to provide that supervision."

Morris expressed a degree of support for a recommendation to create "low secure units" for subjects with complex mental health and substance use needs and who present with a high risk of harm to others.

Converting the underused Prince George Youth Centre to the use would be a good "short-term solution" while the government works on "building back our psychiatric treatment centres across the province," he said.

In releasing the recommendations, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government will immediately begin to act on the report, starting with the resurrection of the prolific offenders management teams, which were scrapped by the B.C. Liberals in 2012 when a pilot program ended.

Made up of police, corrections officers, Crown prosecutors and social workers, the teams created personalized plans for offenders based on their particular needs and issues. The results from the pilot program found the teams were effective.

Although the teams were disbanded, Morris said a lot of the best practices from the program are "still practiced today."

The full report from LePard and Butler will be released at a later date.

- with files from The Canadian Press