Voices Inside and Out

Introduction - Lawrence's warrant expiry release and continuity of medical care

Episode Summary

There isn’t a simple or generic solution for succeeding “on the outside”, and what works well for one person won’t for the next. Co-hosts Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada, and Lawrence Da Silva - a man who served 19 years in Canada’s penitentiary system, explore concepts around successful release and the problems and stigmas attached to community reintegration. Lawrence shares the story of his own release, three-and-a-half years ago, at the expiry of his warrant. This meant no parole and no community support. In fact, he was met by the police at the gate of the prison, placed in handcuffs, and brought to court to have further constraints placed on his liberties not based on what he had done but on the fear of what he might do in the future. (s. 810.2 of CCC) With heightened police scrutiny and without continuity of needed medicines, facing reintegration was a daunting challenge particularly for someone who hadn’t seen modern society in nearly two decades. Those men and women who have made the journey from incarceration back to the real world have a wealth of knowledge, personal insight, and experience to offer, both to those coming out of prison, and those outsiders looking in trying to find their own answers.

Episode Notes

Listeners may not be familiar with some of the expressions used:

SHU (pronounced 'shoe') is the Special Handling Unit which is the highest security federal facility and houses prisoners thought to be dangerous or unmanageable in other institutions

CMT is the Case Management Team which is tasked by CSC with supporting a prisoner's rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community

CSC is the Correctional Service of Canada which has the responsibility of managing those who have received sentences of 2 years or more but in custody and in the community

WED is the term used for 'warrant expiry' which means the end of the sentence imposed by the courts and the end of CSC's authority over an individual.

This episode raises some policy issues:

  1. The Minister of Public Safety's mandate letter to  the Commissioner of the Correctional Services of Canada provides 'your responsibility to Canadians is to ensure that when offenders return to their communities, they are well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives'.  The overriding concern for Parole Board Canada is the safety of the public.  Does it then make sense to release those considered to be the highest risk to reoffend with a violent offence at the very end of their sentences without programming and without any kind of supported, supervised release?   Doesn't that put the public at higher risk than if some support and programming had been provided, including contacting community organizations concerned with public safety who might be able to help with a difficult reintegration? Shouldn't program dollars and supports be allocated to those who have the greatest needs and who are seen as posing the greatest risk to public safety? 
  2. Is it fair for a person to be arrested at the prison gate as he or she is leaving after finishing the sentence imposed by the courts?   Is it fair for further constraints to be based on his or her liberties based on a police officer's fear of what he or she might do in the future?  Is it appropriate for CSC to provide information to the police that informs his or her officer's fear that the person will commit a serious violent offence?  Risk assessment tools may be useful in managing a sentence imposed by the courts but are they sufficiently reliable to predict violent offending within 18 months or 2 years of release?  Liberties are lost based on what a person might do and not what has been done.
  3. Failure to provide a continuity of prescribed medicines, particularly those needed for mental health that help regulate behaviour, set people up to fail as they head back into communities.  The two-week supply of prescription drugs prisoners receive is not enough to allow them to be treated while they obtain health insurance and find a Doctor in the community.