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Thomas: Canada remains far too lenient on prolific, violent offenders

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There is a recurring theme to Parkland RCMP reports delivered to council.

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Over the past three years, Parkland RCMP Detachment Commander Inspector Mike Lokken has delivered four annual reports to the three local municipal councils.

For the most part, the story has been a drop in criminal code offences over the past five years, with slight fluctuations in major areas of concern such as break and enters or thefts of motor vehicles. There are rarely any major jumps in either direction.

One consistent point does however stick out. Lokken consistently gives credit to the team at the RCMP tasked with tracking prolific offenders while simultaneously attributing fluctuations in areas of concern to these prolific offenders.

“We see the same core group of people repeatedly. We do our part. We get them to court, get them to jail. It’s not up to us to keep us there. Especially with COVID there is an increase in people we see back on the street, possibly faster than we expected … We do have our target core group, we do have individuals who are causing the most harm, and we do have an analyst in our detachment who tracks these individuals,” Lokken said during the May 11 Parkland County Council meeting.

The story is the same pretty much anywhere you go in the province and amplified in rural areas. The RCMP detachment has a list of prolific offenders they monitor. The offenders commit crimes, are arrested, processed, and back on the streets within a matter of moths, often repeatedly.

Sentences get a little worse each time, but good behaviour coupled with the laws surrounding time served in Canada usually means the prolific offender is back on the streets within a fraction of their originally allotted time.

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The Canadian justice system is about rehabilitation. This is an important fact to understand when talking about the length of our prison sentences. There is evidence behind the benefit to rehabilitation as opposed to punishment, or long term prison sentences.

It is imperative for a person’s background, past experiences, cognitive disabilities, or mental disorders to be taken into consideration along with the situation at hand. Though I’ve spent time screaming into the void asking for a lock them up and throw away the key ideology when it comes to certain offenders, I have since learned there is good reason for avoiding lengthy prison sentences where possible.

The waters are further muddied by the disproportionate number of Indigenous people incarcerated across the country. Increasing mandatory minimums or placing harsher punishments on repeat offenders could serve to exacerbate the problem.

At what point though, do we say enough is enough? Is it after the fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth time an offender uses a weapon to steal a vehicle or break into a home? How many assaults or robberies does it take? How many sexual assaults, or offences against children does it take before it can be understood it is better for our society to keep these people locked up behind bars.

The solution is not a black and white one. We cannot just lock every criminal up on a life sentence, but we also cannot continue going in the direction we are. I have sat in court rooms listening to people explain how sorry they are for the grief they put their victims through, before giving the same speech three to six months later. I often wonder how much time the elected officials tasked with updating the criminal code have spent in actual Canadian courtrooms.

In communities across Alberta, the police say the same thing; Judges do the best they can within the parameters of the law, but repeat offenders continue to be a plague. It is never going to be as simple as lock them up and throw away the key. There is however no denying the glaring flaws in giving chance after chance.

It is time for the federal government to take a serious look at how this country handles violent and repeat offenders.

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