CANADA

Halfway house inquiry

SHERRI AIKENHEAD February 15 1988
CANADA

Halfway house inquiry

SHERRI AIKENHEAD February 15 1988

Halfway house inquiry

CANADA

Late last month convicted murderer Melvin Stanton was granted a two-day pass from Wark-worth Institution, a medium-security prison 130km east of Toronto. Having served 17 years of a 25-year cumulative sentence for a series of violent crimes, including manslaughter and rape, Stanton, 31, was taken to a halfway house in Toronto to begin his gradual reintroduction into society. But early on the morning of Jan. 27, just 36 hours after his arrival at the Montgomery Centre

in North Toronto, Stanton left the house. And later that day the stabbed body of Tema Conter, a 25-year-old buyer for a chain of clothing stores, was found in her apartment just eight blocks away. Within three days police found Stanton in Northern Ontario— and on Feb. 4 they charged him with Conter’s murder.

The incident shocked many residents of the affluent neighborhood around the centre—and revived public controversy about the safety of the 153 community halfway houses across Canada. In Ottawa, Solicitor General James Kelleher quickly ordered an investigation into the decision to place Stanton in a halfway house. Toronto lawyer Jane Pepino, named to head a four-person team making the inquiry, said that it will examine ways to im-

prove the parole system generally.

The 15-bed Montgomery Centre is a private enterprise providing parole supervision with federal funding. Like other halfway houses, it offers counselling and shelter for current and former prison inmates. Thomas McNeil, controller of Operation Springboard, the organization that runs the house, said that his group, the National Parole Board and corrections officials had agreed that Stanton was not a danger to the community. Corrections officials added that Stanton was due to be released in September, 1989, anyway because the law requires that all inmates be freed on mandatory supervision after serving twothirds of their sentence. They argued that he needed to get used to life outside prison.

Stanton has a history of committing violent crimes, starting as a young teenager. At 14, after escaping from a juvenile detention centre, he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a girl brutally beaten with a rock in New Westminster, B.C. Since then he has been in prison almost continuously. During his only s period of freedom, when 5 he was let out on day pa-

role for five months in

1978, he raped a woman I and was sentenced to six X years.

Stanton’s violent history added to the outrage of people living near the Montgomery halfway house. Lee Munroe, a 38-year-old graphic designer who has lived in the area for 11 years, was among those who demanded changes in how residents of halfway houses are supervised. “Right now the horror is what has happened in our community,” she said, “but this is a much larger issue.” Even parole board officials acknowledged that the case raised serious concerns. “Everybody is shocked,” said Simonne Ferguson, the board’s Ontario regional director. “We all have families—and if I were the Conter family I would be questioning the justice system too.” That questioning seemed sure to continue even after Pepino’s inquiry reports later this month.

-SHERRI AIKENHEAD