Experts recommend big boosts to mental health supports to deal with repeat offenders in B.C.

WATCH: Experts have recommended the B.C. government provide a big boost to mental health support in an effort to help make communities safer. The province released the finding of the repeat offender study. Richard Zussman has more

Experts have advised the B.C. government to increase mental health crisis response teams, divert accused people with serious mental disorders from the criminal system, and create secure housing units for clients with complex mental health in order to address chronic criminal offenders.

Former deputy Vancouver police chief Doug LePard and health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler studied the issue of repeat offenders and provided 28 recommendations to the province.

The bulk of the guidance released Wednesday is centered on mental health treatments and mental health supports rather than overhauling the criminal justice system.

“This report confirms the complexity of the challenge,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. “The recommendations so how much more work we have to do.”

LePard and Butler, who were asked to study the issue of repeat offenders in May, are also recommending additional resources to support those released from custody.

“Unfortunately, there is a shortage of resources available to meet the needs of people who have been incarcerated when they are released. This is a crisis that must be ameliorated,” the report reads.

“Many people return to precarious housing, shelters or homelessness, and back to communities where they are at high risk of returning to crime because their needs remain unmet by the systems that should be supporting them.”

Farnworth has committed to acting on three of the recommendations immediately. He was joined in Wednesday’s announcement by Attorney General Murray Rankin, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and the report authors.

The B.C. government will now explore the creation of a provincial committee focused on coordinating communication and service integration between health, criminal justice, and social service organizations.

The recommendations are to create the committee in partnership with the BC First Nations Justice Council, Métis Nation BC, community agencies, and people with lived justice system experience.

“Many stakeholders recommended the creation of new units or facilities which would be therapeutically designed and dedicated to providing high quality psychiatric care to people who are incarcerated,” the report reads.

“Typical sentences for property offenders are often too short for meaningful intervention, but custody provides a unique opportunity to do a comprehensive health screening and assessment and connect clients directly to community-based resources.”

Earlier this year, the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus sent an open letter to the province calling for stronger bail conditions, stricter consequences for breaching those conditions, and stronger consideration for “maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice” in bail and charge assessment policies.

The amount of time the province takes to review files it receives from police has shot up 118 per cent since 2017, the letter added, while the rate at which the BC Prosecution Service chooses not to charge suspects based on police evidence has risen by 75 per cent.

The province has is also committed to revisit the Prolific Offender Management model that formed the basis of the pilot projects from 2008 to 2012. The management model will create a cohort of people who are involved in repeat crime using a selection prioritization tool and identify the unique needs of each person in the cohort.

“While increased coordination of stakeholders is important, its impact will be limited by the services available to address the underlying causes of offending, including substance use and mental disorders, parental neglect, trauma, poverty, and homelessness,” the report reads.

The report also noted due to decreased crime reporting, official reported crime statistics may not provide an accurate picture of crime trends in B.C.

For example, the Vancouver Police Department reported that in the first three months of 2022, 40.5 per cent of calls to the non-emergency line managed by E-Comm went unanswered due to lack of capacity.

This marked a dramatic increase from the 24.7 per cent not answered in the previous quarter.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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