Lack of addiction treatment flagged by crime panel

Prolific crime tied to drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, report urges probe of 'predatory' recovery houses

A new report titled Getting Serious About Crime Reduction is the result of a blue ribbon panel appointed by Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.

A blue ribbon panel on crime reduction has urged the province to concentrate even more on the few prolific offenders who commit most offences and expand drug addiction treatment and services for the mentally ill.

Chaired by Abbotsford South MLA and criminologist Darryl Plecas, the panel appointed by Justice Minister Suzanne Anton also urges the province to appoint a senior crime fighting leader to get different agencies to work better together.

The province has already passed legislation that will allow it to force holdout municipalities to join specialized policing teams, such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

The panel report said lack of access for drug and alcohol addiction treatment was “a major issue” it heard across the province, and was told that in Port Hardy, for example, 500 people needed treatment but there were only six treatment beds.

“The lack of funding for abstinence-based and other recovery support programs was described as a serious issue everywhere and as one of the main reasons for the high rates of recidivism observed across the province amongst offenders suffering from substance abuse disorder.”

The report recommends spending more money on drug addiction treatment and mental health services, citing estimates that every dollar spent curing addiction cuts drug related-crime and justice costs by up to $7, and $12 if health care costs are counted.

The report also calls for a task force to probe problems with the proliferation of unlicensed and sometimes “predatory” drug recovery houses.

It noted there are 240 drug recovery houses in the Fraser Health region but just eight are properly licensed.

Jail doesn’t stop persistent offenders, the report said, adding it’s “particularly ineffective” with the severely addicted or mentally ill.

More than two-thirds of offenders in the corrections system in 2012 were repeat offenders, and 40 per cent had 10 or more convictions.

Police have been targeting prolific offenders as pilot projects for several years in Surrey, Prince George, Williams Lake, Kamloops, Victoria and Nanaimo.

Analysts sift data to anticipate repeat crimes, identified chronic offenders are watched more closely on release and they get social supports that help them break away from the crime track.

The re-offence rate of those those career criminals dropped 40 per cent in the first year after release, while more of them took up offers of housing and social services, and had less contact with police.

The report recommends that approach be taken province-wide, noting crime rates in B.C. have fallen faster than anywhere else in North America, in part because of crime reduction strategies.

The province should also aim to monitor more offenders with electronic ankle bracelets, the report said, and improve rehabilitation and treatment programs for inmates.

The province has not yet committed to act on the report.

Anton said one new step under consideration is a regional integrated community safety partnership pilot project that would bring together various agencies to refocus resources, but where and how it might unfold is to be determined.

She also pledged to expand job training for offenders to help them return to society.

SFU criminologist Rob Gordon called expanded use of wraparound services to help offenders re-enter society a “sensible approach.”

But he said the report had few surprises and mainly recommended “more of the same” – including more use of integrated police teams rather than any more radical police service reform.

“It still does not address the hot spot areas where crime has been a major problem, the most obvious one being Surrey,” Gordon said.