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“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,”: BC Attorney General on prolific offenders

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BC Attorney General David Eby said northern cities like Prince George and Terrace are grappling with the negative impacts prolific offenders are having in their communities.

In a letter sent to Eby by the BC Mayors Caucus, it found PG has 15 prolific offenders, which generated 736 PRIME files across BC.

PRIME files consist of your personal information, including your name, fingerprints, and what you’re charged with, which is then entered into the police computer system.

Eby told Vista Radio the solutions and the capacity to respond to such crimes, that create social issues in smaller communities are different when compared to the Lower Mainland.

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“The crown counsel services are sometimes circuit courts versus a dedicated crown counsel, maybe a courthouse is only open for a couple of days a week. Being able to respond to problems in smaller communities is something we are going to have to take into account.”

“The solutions are different and the capacity in the system to respond is different. I think that many listeners that live in more rural and remote communities would empathize with that because sometimes delivering services in more remote areas is more challenging.”

Earlier this month, the province launched an investigation into prolific offenders.

According to the province, despite overall decreases in provincial and community crime rates, downtown retail areas are hurting from shifting crime patterns during the pandemic.

When asked if a region-by-region approach is needed to shore up the crimes committed by prolific offenders, Eby believes that is likely the only way to go.

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“Our investigators will be in touch with different communities to hear about how the problem is showing up in those communities. That is part of the work they are going to need to do. Part of the challenge is when you have a smaller community where you might have five people downtown that are causing all the problems where you say you have a city like Vancouver where there might be 200 people.”

Eby hinted changes could also be coming to the BC Prosecution Service deals with prolific offenders.

He admits crown counsel is catching a lot of heat for the current “catch and release” system within our courts, however, they are also bound by Supreme Court decisions that may require someone not to remain in jail.

“It’s especially hard with prolific offenders who are committing incredibly disturbing and problematic crimes for the community but relatively minor offenses when it comes to jail time. Even when you seek jail time for someone, even if they are in for 30 days, they come out of jail and they are even worse than when they came in.”

“Let’s say you have someone that as soon as they walk out of a correctional institution they immediately commit an offense in the parking lot on the way out. That person has challenges that go beyond what can be addressed in just a strictly police-based solution.”

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“That’s why we are looking at options such as “catch and treat” so that when we catch people in these offenses can we find ways to compel them to participate in treatment programs or can we find programs that will address the mental health, addiction or brain injury issue that is causing them to make such problematic decisions. Can we address those issues because the current system is not working?” said Eby.

Would the use of electronic monitoring bracelets make a difference in curbing some of the crimes committed by prolific offenders?

Eby stated this method is used elsewhere in the justice system and may be of some assistance down the road but is likely not the be-all, end-all.

“We do use that in probation and within the probation system. We don’t intend to use it on a judicial interim release or when someone is released while waiting for their trial. It may be a partial solution to this and it may not and so that is why before we invest a bunch of money into ankle bracelets and new systems in training police, I want to make sure that it works on the ground.”

“I am intrigued by it. I specifically put it in the terms of reference for the investigators to have a look at. What would it look like around implementation and would it make a difference in helping us address these issues? So, they are going to specifically look at it.”

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