Some of the most vicious crimes of recent years have been committed by men who were actually serving sentences at the time but who were on the streets under so-called mandatory supervision. There was the B.C. druggist, shot in the back during a holdup by a man who had earned early release for good behavior; the 15-year-old girl in Duncan, B.C., who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a man released after serving 16 months of a twoyear term for sexually assaulting a four-year-old; and the 82-year-old Vancouver woman who was raped, allegedly by a man on mandatory supervision who is now pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. Last week, after years of study and heated public outcry, Solicitor General Robert Kaplan finally proposed a new law intended to tighten the supervision program and keep offenders behind bars.
Kaplan’s bill, introduced in the Senate, stipulates that offenders who breach the terms of mandatory supervision or commit a crime will be locked up for the rest of the original sentence. Under current law an offender whose release is revoked can win freedom again, sometimes almost instantly, by earning automatic time off for good behavior. The Kaplan bill would require an inmate to get National Parole Board approval for a second chance at an early release under supervision.
The practice of automatic early release itself has been in place for more than a century; supervision has only been required since 1970. In theory, the policy promotes good conduct in prison and protects society. In fact, however, it has a notorious failure rate. Officials say that fully 41 per cent of all manda-
tory supervisions are revoked and that 23 per cent of offenders are convicted of crimes while they are free under the program.
The sorry record is understandable: mandatory supervision is granted to the hard-core cases in prisons—inmates who cannot win parole. While most prisoners can apply for parole after serving about a third of their sentence, release under mandatory supervision is earned at the rate of 15 days for every month spent behind bars.
The parole board, meanwhile, is taking pre-emptive action of its own. Twice this fall it has slapped warrants on offenders and suspended their releases right at the prison gates. Claude St. Louis, who had just finished two years of a three-year term for indecently assaulting a young boy, was the first affected. Declared board Chairman William Outerbridge: “St. Louis’ file amply demonstrates that he is a dangerous criminal who has not learned to control himself.” It was the first release suspended by the board without evidence of misconduct, and St. Louis, now back in prison, is planning to challenge the action in court.
If and when the Kaplan bill comes up for debate in Parliament, another sort of challenge is certain. Opposition MPs, who want a full debate on prisons and the criminal justice system, were miffed that Kaplan chose to put the measure to the Senate first. It is possible, in fact, that the bill will die unpassed when the current parliamentary session is prorogued in a few weeks. That means it could be months before the public enjoys whatever protection the bill can OFFER.-JOHN HAY in Ottawa,
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