With the chronic problem of property crime in Chatham-Kent, it isn’t that no one is doing anything about it, it is that the reasons behind the crimes are complex and our justice system isn’t currently equipped to handle a diversion method for repeat offenders with addictions and/or mental illness.
Chatham-Kent Police Chief Gary Conn reported recently to the Police Services Board that a large number of property crimes are committed by repeat offenders, many with links to addictions and some “career” criminals. The chief acknowledged that issues with addiction were complex and would take the entire community to address.
To that effort, Phillip Mock, Project Co-ordinator for the CK Prosperity Round Table, said his group is engaging the community in discussing “out-of-the-box” solutions to help addicts, the mentally ill, and those living in poverty at any level (from Ontario Works recipients to working people having difficulty paying bills).
Mock said there is a court in Ontario that is looking at diverting offenders with addictions and mental health issues out of the court system into “rehabilitation rather than a punitive system.” It connects people with social workers, psychiatrists and judges to meet in a group setting, and they talk about what is going on with them and connecting them to the right supports.
“What tends to happen currently is they go through court, and our court system – I think rightfully so – is based on rehabilitation compared to a punitive approach. I agree with that, but the problem is that’s only a great idea if we have the supports in place to see rehabilitation forward,” Mock noted.
He said even if the offender serves a short time in jail, they are back in the same situation and they don’t know what supports to access. Sometimes there are none, but Mock said in this municipality, we have plenty, but it’s knowing who to connect with and how.
“It’s very easy to fall back in with the same community and group that put them in that situation in the first place,” Mock noted.
With people who suggest the three strikes system that is used in parts of the United States, Mock said he has studied that system quite a bit. In that system, a person commits the same petty crime three times and then faces 15 years in jail.
“The challenge with that is that jail capacity is exploding. There are people living in bunk beds in gymnasiums. There are no services or supports in the system any more because all the money is going towards housing people in the jails and guard staff and it can create a very toxic environment in the system,” he explained.
When they get out, ex-convicts are handed their clothes and told good luck and are released with no supports once they are out either.
He said criminal justice reform is an issue our entire nation needs to look at, not just Chatham-Kent.
“It’s a country-wide issue we need to understand better about how to better connect our most vulnerable in our criminal justice system to the best supports,” Mock said. “To be very frank, there will always be a very, very small population that no matter how much we wrap around them, how many supports we give, the problem will not go away. But to paint everybody in front of the criminal justice system or with addictions or living in poverty with the same brush doesn’t help the issue.”
Editor’s note: This is a continuing story. Please check back next week for more on the issue.