• 09/03/12 - - It's Time He Came Home

    - - It's Time He Came Home

    By Lee Steven Chapelle, Canadian Prison Consulting Inc:


    Labor Day weekend has come and gone, marking the end of yet another summer. It’s been a long hot one, with record setting temperatures across North America. However, the summer of 2012 will be remembered for different reasons by Richard Atkinson, his wife, family members and friends. Rick Atkinson was incarcerated on June 29, 2012 and is still presently locked up in a federal penitentiary for a parole violation.


    The condition allegedly breached reads as follows; ‘Not to associate with anyone involved in criminal activity or anyone you think is involved in criminal activity’. It is a standard condition applied to all federal parolees, with very few exceptions. However, due to the nature and phrasing of this condition its application by federal community parole officers is far from standard and too often left open to interpretation.


    In recent years a change of culture has firmly taken hold within the ranks of CSC, stemming from the Conservative government’s approach to crime and punishment. A culture now entrenched in medieval beliefs and outright cynicism towards the potential of rehabilitation. As a result the average Canadian citizen today holds many misconceptions regarding the Canadian justice, and penal systems. It is a highly debated subject that grows increasingly heated every time a high profile isolated act of violence occurs.


    Over the past decade, the Harper/Conservative government has touted their tough on crime stance, repeatedly driving home their stance that the Canadian system has been too soft on criminals, referring to the federal system as ‘Club Fed’. The emphasis of legislative changes found in the Conservatives Omnibus Bill C-38 are based upon punitive and reactive ‘solutions’ to crime, nearly eliminating any government funded proactive pursuits or resources allotted towards crime prevention.  Ironically, the fear mongering and wholesale changes came at a time when Canada is experiencing decades of declining crime rates culminating in a forty year low in 2011. 


    Granted, the past twenty years Canada has seen an escalation of gangs and gang related issues placing an increased public safety responsibility upon our government and the criminal justice system. On that subject I am in agreement with taking a hard line stance on violent criminal predators and criminal acts of senseless violence. It is important to set clear boundaries and consequences of harsh sentencing in these cases; the time has come to send that message. Statistically however, the fastest growing inmate populations worldwide are young women, for primarily poverty related crimes.


    Therefore, it stands to reason that more resources should be allotted to two overlapping themes; the way in which the problem of youth and crime is constructed, understood, and considered, and the need to address inequalities that are (re)produced by unequal class, race, and gender relations in society today.  It is important that our government, and law abiding citizens, make these distinctions for the sake of public safety and safer communities. This will not be accomplished via the implementation of the ‘frontier justice’ approach to all ‘criminals’, but rather by dealing intelligently with the realities existent in society today. We need only to look a little south to see how the ‘new’ conservative brand of justice has failed miserably in making communities safer.


    For the record; a federal prison sentence in Canada entails the convicted individual to serve every day of the sentence handed down to them by the courts.  On average, contrary to public perception, statistics clearly show that most convicted criminals serve a minimum of 50% of their sentence prior to being afforded even a chance towards reintegration. According to CSC statistics 21% of federal inmates are incarcerated in maximum security institutions, 65% in mediums and approximately 15% in minimum security prisons.


    Anyone who believes that maximum and medium Canadian penitentiaries are soft and that inmates are coddled has no real experience or knowledge of our prisons. Without exception, all federal inmates must earn their way towards conditional release through meeting programming requirements combined with good conduct. Ownership, accountability and insight are prerequisites for any parole grant.


    Parole is a privilege, affording parolees the opportunity to once again become contributing members of society, providing they abide by the conditions of release. While on federal parole, or conditional release, offenders are far from free. The majority of federal parolees are initially released on day parole to halfway houses, Community Residential Facilities (CRF’s). These facilities are strict; daily routines consisting of numerous daily check-ins, curfews, random urinalysis testing, programming, parole meetings, police check-ins, house meetings, mandatory employment or school, etc.  


    Federal community parole officers play an important role in our communities, contributing on the front lines to the protection of society. They manage big case loads and often don’t receive the recognition they should based upon the thousands of successful cases of reintegration. These cases of success are not heard or talked about in the news nevertheless they do, by far, outweigh the failures.  


    Rick Atkinson’s ‘offence’ is clear; admittedly guilty of obtaining employment, painting a community Mosque and Muslim school. Furthermore, he openly shared that employment information with his community Parole Officer. As it turned out, the teacher that hired Rick has a dated criminal record. Without any indicators about parole concerns Rick was called in to the Toronto West Parole Office for an unscheduled meeting on June 29, 2012 and confronted about his coworker’s criminal record. A three hour meeting ensued. Rick acknowledged his awareness of the man’s history; however, he also clearly conveyed that he had conducted his due diligence and was certain the man was no longer involved with criminal activity of any sort. Rick’s Parole Officer was not satisfied with this and demanded that he begin to report every single person he came in contact with on a daily basis.


    Rick reiterated that he had nothing to hide, was not criminally active or involved and that this proposed change of conditions presented unattainable challenges. His stance of innocence earned him yet another breach of conditions; deteriorating behavior. These are the facts that landed Richard Atkinson back in the penitentiary on the heels of close to four years of successful release on parole, without incident.


    Since implementing the suspension and incarcerating Mr. Atkinson the Correctional Service of Canada has conducted a thorough investigation of his actions while in the community. The result; the same community Parole Officer that recommended suspension is now recommending that the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) re-release him.


    However as he and his family enter into the third month of incarceration, there remains no news from CSC regarding when he will be afforded the opportunity to see the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) for a post suspension hearing (review and decision). This traumatic, lengthy setback comes following years of established pro-social lifestyle and putting in the hard work to regain credibility. Credibility now threatened by a return to prison based upon an interpretation of a standard condition of parole.


    This is unacceptable and impossible to justify in my opinion. Rick Atkinson has dedicated himself to working with high risk youth, putting his specialized knowledge and expertise to good use. He has been a driving force raising awareness, through outreach programs, guest lectures at high schools and community centers to organizing fund raising events;  working tirelessly towards anti-gang strategies and eradicating guns in the streets of our communities.


    Parole is a privilege and Rick Atkinson is cognizant of that fact as clearly demonstrated through his actions in our community. It’s time he came home…


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