Typically, the news release is topped with a mugshot of the person — usually a man — and a list of previous offences. It will often include a list of conditions. Then, some boiler-plate language: the person will be monitored by the police service’s behavioural assessment unit (BAU), which has “reasonable grounds” to believe the person will commit another violent offence.
Four years out of the police service, news of these releases still make Doug MacLeod shake his head.
“In reading their files, you realize what they’re capable of doing and what they have done in the past,” said MacLeod, a former member of the behavioural assessment unit. “And the fact that they were released in the community with very, very limited supervision.”
The subjects of those news releases are usually among the tiny sliver of Canadian prisoners who for one reason or another are kept until warrant expiry, the last possible moment Correctional Service Canada can hold them within prison walls.
Prisoners are typically eligible for parole one-third of the way through a prison sentence, said Anthony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto. The vast majority — 5,575 people last year — are released with conditions two-thirds of the way through a sentence on what’s known as statutory release.
Both those classes of ex-prisoners are supervised in the community by a network of halfway houses and parole officers who closely monitor them and can send them back to jail or prison for even a minor breach of conditions.
Edmonton had the most ex-prisoners per capita of Canada’s big cities last year, according to an analysis by Postmedia.
But each year, a couple hundred prisoners are denied statutory release, typically due to their behaviour inside. Correctional Service Canada recommends such detentions, while it is ultimately up to the Parole Board of Canada to make the call, Doob said.
Last year, there were 131 such prisoners. Each underwent a “detention review” that determined they should not get statutory release.
When they are eventually released, it’s up to local police units like the BAU to monitor them. There’s typically no controlled supervision — requiring them, for example, to live in a halfway house or be tested regularly for drugs and alcohol.
Local police do their best but aren’t adequately resourced to deal with such offenders, MacLeod said.
Doob said in 1986, Parliament gave Correctional Service Canada the power to ask the parole board to deny someone statutory release after a man recently let out on statutory release killed somebody.
It’s resulted in a system that’s the worst of both worlds — where the public is put at risk, and the people who most need extensive supervision arguably get the least.
“We’re going to go from a maximum security institution to the street and we’re going to wave goodbye, and we’re going to say, ‘And it’s not our problem.’”
In the correctional service’s defence, Doob said many realize the system is flawed and that fewer and fewer prisoners are being held until warrant expiry each year.
“There’s an understanding that you have to look at long-term risk rather than just short-term risk,” he said. “Short-term risk is easy: lock the guy up in a cell. You don’t have to think about it. And then you say, ‘Well, what happens when he gets out?’”