VICTORIA – The province has received expert recommendations that will help shape actions to keep people and communities safe, and connect people who have been committing repeat offences with the supports they need to break out of that cycle.
Communities throughout B.C. have been dealing with an increase in repeat offending – criminal activity from a small group of people who are disproportionately committing petty crimes in neighbourhoods – as well as unprovoked violent stranger attacks. The Province, in co-operation with the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, hired experts in mental health and policing, Amanda Butler and Doug LePard, to provide a rapid, independent analysis of the public-safety challenges communities are facing and recommend evidence-based solutions.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “Our government shares British Columbians’ frustration and concerns about repeat offending and we are grateful to Dr. Amanda Butler and Doug LePard for their hard work. These recommendations build on work that we already have underway and are already helping us identify further next steps we can take quickly to keep communities safe.”
The recommendations emphasize the complexity of these overlapping challenges that have been compounded by the pandemic. The experts highlight that these issues are linked to changes in federal legislation and case law, and the need to continue rebuilding social and health-care supports to address the underlying, root causes that can lead to a cycle of offending.
The investigation makes recommendations in several areas, such as:
* improving the system of care for people in the criminal justice system with mental-health and substance-use challenges;
* creating more opportunities to divert people from the criminal justice system;
* improving services for Indigenous Peoples;
* improving collaboration between partners, including community services, law enforcement, and all levels of government; and
* addressing repeat offending and improving public confidence in the justice system.
Many of the recommendations align with cross-government initiatives already underway to support B.C.’s most marginalized people by investing in upstream mental health and addictions supports, and building a comprehensive system of care. This includes the Province’s work to provide higher levels of care through new complex-care housing (including for people with acquired brain injuries), civilian-led peer-assisted care teams, and improvements in health-care supports for people who are being released from corrections facilities. The report also recommends bringing back the evidence-based prolific offender management model to monitor and better support repeat offenders in the community. The program operated as pilot programs in B.C. communities from 2008-2012.
“The experts are clear – repeat offending and unprovoked violent stranger attacks are complex issues tied to federal legislation and systemic issues like poverty and access to health care,” said Murray Rankin, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing. “Today’s recommendations will support meaningful, long-lasting change, and offer some opportunities for shorter-term actions so we can make our communities safer and connect repeat offenders with the mental health, addictions, social and housing supports they need to break the cycle of offending.”
The Province is working through the recommendations with its partners to identify how government can move quickly to implement changes to improve public safety. Partners in this work include the First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC), BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, municipal representatives, the BC Prosecution Service, police, and partners in housing, addictions, mental health and health-care services.
“Most people with mental illness are not violent, and most people who are violent do not have mental illness – but there are a small number of people for whom these challenges are linked,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We want people in mental health crises to get help fast, which is why we’ve been investing and expanding care at unprecedented speed. But there’s more work to do. Some of the report’s recommendations were already underway, like expanding community-based services to help people in crisis and free up police to focus on crime. As my ministry continues to build a system of care, we will implement further changes informed by these recommendations.”
More than 60 experts with practical or academic knowledge contributed to the report, including mayors, police, the BC Prosecution Service, health authorities, the Crown Police Liaison Committee working group, and many others. The BCFNJC provided a written submission to the investigation panel, which is fully endorsed by the investigators.
“By working together across levels of government, we fully support the recommendations made by Doug LePard and Dr. Amanda Butler. Today’s announcement is a path towards actions and results for improved public safety, crime reduction and increased support for those most vulnerable in our communities,” said Colin Basran, mayor of Kelowna, and co-chair of the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus. “We are confident that accountability, justice and safety through a balanced approach of adequate care and consequences, will come out of the implementation of these recommendations.”
Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, and co-chair of the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, said: “Thank you to the Province for hearing the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus call to action. We are pleased to see the concerns we raised for our communities reflected, and especially the focus on where health and justice intersect. Taking steps toward a no wrong off-ramp approach to providing care and treatment for those whose criminal activity is a symptom of severe mental-health and substance-use conditions is the right step forward.”
The recommendations are also consistent with the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act’s report, which recommends creating and appropriately funding a continuum of care for mental-health and addictions challenges. As well, the Province’s move to decriminalize small amounts of certain illicit substances for personal use is endorsed by LePard and Butler as a way to reduce recidivism and lengthy court processes.
Butler and LePard’s full report will be released later this month.