Penetanguishene police board wants action on repeat offenders

·4 min read

Change never comes easy, which is why the police are hoping a group effort will make it happen.

A letter by the Penetanguishene Police Services Board (PSB) has been sent to municipalities across the province in an effort to raise awareness of repeat criminal offenders in the court system, and to advocate for change by minimizing their presence.

Recidivism, by definition, is the tendency of a person to relapse back into crime.

A trend of “surprisingly high” crime-rate numbers for the area was brought to Penetanguishene PSB's attention during a second quarter report in 2021 from Southern Georgian Bay OPP detachment commander Insp. Joe Evans.

Further examination revealed that recidivism rates had increased by 11 per cent in two separate time-frames: from before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2018 to February 2020, and after that point from March 2020 to September 2021. A total of 12,427 charges were analyzed and Penetanguishene alone had 519 people, who had charges withdrawn in the same time periods.

The statistics were provided within a letter which was sent by the Penetanguishene PSB to many parties, including: Attorney General Doug Downey, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, interim executive director of the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards Bruce Chapman, and all municipalities in the province.

“Hopefully this will bring the right information,” said Evans at a later PSB meeting, “to say that we can’t keep chasing our tail here.”

He added that by working together with the provincial courts, the police can stop “running in circles” and start keeping communities safer.

According to the PSB, while it was apparent from the data provided that offenders weren’t learning their lesson to stay out of trouble, recidivism also makes more work for police who are taken away from other duties to attend to repeat offenders within the cycle.

“Chances are, and this is my opinion,” said Penetanguishene PSB chair Brian Cummings, “(the offender is) getting a lawyer that’s paid for by the province because he can’t afford his own lawyer, and then he’s getting back out on the streets only to re-offend and do it again. From a cost perspective, everybody’s paying but the guy who’s doing the crime.”

Cummings felt that the disconnect resulting in recidivism was between the provincial court system and the OPP.

“I remember I was on council at the time when the CNCC (Central North Correctional Centre) opened up,” said Cummings. “I believe it was (Bob Runciman) who was the (Ontario Consumer and Commercial Relations) Minister at the time who told us that this new prison system, the new facility, was going to prevent any further recidivism from happening because they had education programs, so they could learn a trade.”

Percentage-wise within the 12,427 charges of the analyzed area: Midland held 35 per cent of total charges with 54 per cent of those withdrawn; Tiny Township was at 21 per cent of total charges with 13 per cent withdrawn; Tay Township had 14 per cent and of those 10 per cent were withdrawn; Penetanguishene saw 8 per cent with 17 per cent withdrawn; Georgian Bay Township had 2 per cent and of those 2 per cent were withdrawn; and the remaining 20 per cent of total charges were laid on the provincially-owned areas of the CNCC, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health and along Highway 400.

According to Cummings, if recidivism doesn’t level off or decline, “there could be some huge increases in calls for service, which is the new billing model that we’re going into.”

The letter serves to raise awareness of recidivism rates, to advocate for the Southern Georgian Bay OPP, and to “enact change within the provincial court system to help minimize these rates” for all provincial detachments through monitoring and recording repeat offenders and “highly consider recidivism when sentencing”.

“We sent it to all municipalities, and we’re starting to get letters of recognition and support regarding this because everyone’s running into the same problem,” stated Cummings.

Tay Township received the letter as correspondence during a recent regular council meeting.

“It is disheartening when you … continually read on our OPP reports (about) the same individuals committing the same crimes,” said Coun. Barry Norris. Council later passed a motion supporting the letter.

Penetanguishene CAO Jeff Lees stated in regards to the local aspect and the larger provincial impact: “We really wanted to drive home the message that we’re not alone in this.”

Cummings noted that even if successful, “it could be a long process” in the sentencing portion due to the discretion of judges on the cases. “That’s the unfortunate part about it. You don’t change Rome in a day.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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