Some say be­ing home to more for­mer in­mates per capita than any other big city in Canada boosts Ed­mon­ton’s crime rate, but crim­i­nol­o­gists sug­gest it’s more com­pli­cated than that

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JONNY WAKE­FIELD

Some­times called a “dump­ing ground” for Canada’s vi­o­lent crim­i­nals, Ed­mon­ton has more for­mer fed­eral pris­on­ers per capita walk­ing its streets than any other big city in the coun­try, sta­tis­tics sug­gest. The Jour­nal’s Jonny Wake­field looks into the link be­tween crime and the num­ber of parolees.

Ed­mon­ton has more for­mer fed­eral pris­on­ers per capita than any other big city in Canada.

The large pop­u­la­tion of for­mer in­mates, in­clud­ing parolees, has been blamed over the years for con­tribut­ing to the city’s crime rate and ty­ing up police re­sources. Ed­mon­ton’s been called a “dump­ing ground” for vi­o­lent crim­i­nals from other parts of the coun­try.

Crim­i­nol­o­gists who study pris­ons and pa­role say the link be­tween crime and for­mer pris­on­ers is more com­pli­cated. But there’s no ar­gu­ing that Ed­mon­ton has a high num­ber of for­mer in­mates.

Across Canada, 8,712 of­fend­ers were un­der su­per­vi­sion in com­mu­ni­ties in the most re­cent fis­cal year of 2016-17, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal sta­tis­tics Post­media ob­tained from Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada through an ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

Ed­mon­ton had 623 of those, in­clud­ing full parolees, peo­ple on day pa­role, of­fend­ers un­der long-term su­per­vi­sion and peo­ple on statu­tory re­lease. Only Mon­treal had more, with 913.

Per capita, Ed­mon­ton has around 67 parolees per 100,000 peo­ple — the high­est rate among Canada’s big cities and nearly three times the na­tional av­er­age of 24 of­fend­ers per 100,000.

“A lot of peo­ple might be sur­prised at this,” Ed­mon­ton police Chief Rod Knecht said, when shown the num­bers dur­ing a De­cem­ber in­ter­view. “Do we have a bit of an over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Canada? You could draw that con­clu­sion from some of those sta­tis­tics.

“But I would say we have a lot of parolees in the City of Ed­mon­ton.”


In 2011, con­fronted with ris­ing crime and a plan to add beds at the max­i­mum se­cu­rity Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion, then-mayor Stephen Man­del railed against the num­ber of prison beds in the re­gion.

“We don’t want any more prison space here,” Man­del said of a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar fed­eral prison ex­pan­sion plan. “We have enough, that’s quite clear. We bear that cost for the en­tire re­gion.”

Man­del be­lieved that by build­ing larger pris­ons, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was “down­load­ing ” costs onto the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, re­quir­ing higher police bud­gets to keep track of of­fend­ers.

Kim Krushell, then a city coun­cil­lor for north Ed­mon­ton’s Ward 2, went fur­ther, say­ing the city had ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion as a “dump­ing ground for pris­on­ers across the fed­eral sys­tem” and that this contributed to crime in the city.

By some mea­sures, Ed­mon­ton has a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of parolees, the Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Canada num­bers sug­gest. The city is home to around 2.5 per cent of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion, but 7.15 per cent of fed­eral in­mates who are serv­ing part of a sen­tence out­side prison. It has dou­ble Cal­gary’s num­ber of of­fend­ers per capita (31 per 100,000), and more than Toronto (19), Ot­tawa (27), Win­nipeg (49), Van­cou­ver (44) and Mon­treal (53).

Smaller cities and towns had higher rates. Thirty-five mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with pop­u­la­tions be­low 250,000 had more parolees per capita than Ed­mon­ton, led by tiny Kentville, N.S. That town of 6,271 peo­ple had 44 parolees, equat­ing to a whop­ping per capita rate of 702 per 100,000.

An­other stand­out was Vic­to­ria, B.C., with nearly 218 of­fend­ers per 100,000. Two smaller Al­berta cities — Red Deer and Drumheller — had more re­leased of­fend­ers per capita than Ed­mon­ton.


Why does Ed­mon­ton have so many for­mer pris­on­ers? One rea­son is the num­ber of prison beds in the area.

The Ed­mon­ton re­gion is home to three fed­eral cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, the largest of which is the 324-bed, max­i­mum-se­cu­rity Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion, lo­cated in the city’s north­east on High­way 15.

The Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion for Women, near 111 Av­enue and 178 Street, houses 167 low, medium and high-se­cu­rity of­fend­ers. The Gri­er­son In­sti­tu­tion, a min­i­mum­se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity meant for 30 of­fend­ers, is lo­cated in the city’s core at 95 Street and 101 Av­enue.

Pa­role and statu­tory re­lease are de­signed to ease of­fend­ers back into so­ci­ety, in­stead of dump­ing them with no sup­ports or su­per­vi­sion at the end of their prison term, said An­thony Doob, a Univer­sity of Toronto crim­i­nol­o­gist.

Pris­on­ers typ­i­cally are able to ap­ply for pa­role a third of the way through their sen­tence, Doob said, but only a mi­nor­ity are granted re­lease. Most are let out two-thirds of the way through their sen­tence to serve the re­main­der in the com­mu­nity un­der con­di­tions — known as statu­tory re­lease. With very few ex­cep­tions, “every­body gets out at the two-thirds point or ear­lier,” Doob said.

Most parolees are re­turned to their home com­mu­ni­ties. While of­fend­ers are some­times moved around within the fed­eral sys­tem and re­leased in an­other province, that is rare, he said.

How­ever, some of­fend­ers from smaller Al­berta com­mu­ni­ties might end up be­ing paroled to the big cities, Doob said.

That’s in part due to half­way houses. Some for­mer in­mates are paroled to a half­way house, known by Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada as com­mu­nity-based res­i­den­tial fa­cil­i­ties.

There are seven such fa­cil­i­ties in Ed­mon­ton, tai­lored to spe­cific types of of­fend­ers and meant to serve as a “bridge be­tween the in­sti­tu­tion and the com­mu­nity.”

Ed­mon­ton has 199 half­way house beds set aside for Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada in­mates. Cal­gary also has seven, but just 111 cor­rec­tional ser­vice beds — roughly pro­por­tional to the num­ber of ex-in­mates in each city. The cities each have two pa­role of­fices.

The avail­abil­ity of so­cial ser­vices is an­other rea­son one city might have more for­mer in­mates than an­other, said Chris Hay, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­berta John Howard So­ci­ety, which op­er­ates pro­grams and hous­ing for ex-in­mates.

If you look at (the) num­bers, peo­ple on some form of con­di­tional re­lease just aren’t a big con­trib­u­tor to crime in Canada, pe­riod. An­thony Doob, Univer­sity of Toronto crim­i­nol­o­gist

“When they come to us on pa­role, we of­ten have a dif­fi­cult job,” he said. “Not just be­cause they’ve had a life­time of God knows what — gang af­fil­i­a­tion, drug ad­dic­tion, low education, poverty, no job, I could list prob­a­bly 40 risk fac­tors — but we also have the added bonus of deal­ing with all the crap that hap­pened in prison, quite frankly.

“You won’t find any re­search that will sup­port that in­car­cer­a­tion re­duces re­cidi­vism,” he added. “In fact, in­car­cer­a­tion ac­tu­ally in­creases re­cidi­vism.”


The per­cep­tion that for­mer in­mates drive crime has its roots south of the border, where parolees tend to re­of­fend at a much higher rate.

Prof. Richard Berk, a statis­ti­cian at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia who stud­ies crim­i­nal jus­tice is­sues, said around half of parolees in the United States are re­ar­rested, of­ten for se­ri­ous crimes.

“That’s true pretty much across the coun­try — some­times a lit­tle higher, some­times a lit­tle lower,” said Berk, who spe­cial­izes in al­go­rithms that help fore­cast the like­li­hood a for­mer pris­oner will re­of­fend. “It’s also true that the crime rate for parolees is much higher than the crime rate for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.”

In Canada, peo­ple on pa­role re­of­fend at a much lower rate. Ac­cord­ing to the Pa­role Board of Canada, the in­de­pen­dent tri­bunal that de­cides whether to grant pa­role, nearly 90 per cent of of­fend­ers finish pa­role with­out com­mit­ting a new of­fence or breach­ing their con­di­tions. Less than one per cent com­mit a new vi­o­lent of­fence while on pa­role.

Peo­ple on statu­tory re­lease, many of whom would have been de­nied pa­role, are more likely to re­of­fend. Cor­rec­tional ser­vice sta­tis­tics show that around 63 per cent of of­fend­ers in 2015-16 com­pleted their statu­tory re­lease with­out breach­ing their con­di­tions or com­mit­ting an­other crime.

“If you look at (the) num­bers, peo­ple on some form of con­di­tional re­lease just aren’t a big con­trib­u­tor to crime in Canada, pe­riod,” Doob said.


When Man­del (now run­ning for lead­er­ship of the pro­vin­cial Al­berta Party) com­plained about the costs of pris­ons on cities in 2011, Chief Knecht was ask­ing for $4.8 mil­lion to hire 65 new officers and three other staff.

One of the chief’s con­cerns was the num­ber of parolees in the city, then es­ti­mated at around 400.

Al­most six years later, Knecht said man­ag­ing parolees takes up sig­nif­i­cant police time. Al­most weekly, he said he gets a no­tice about an of­fender be­ing re­leased back into the com­mu­nity whom is deemed a threat to re­of­fend.

In the last six months, police have is­sued five news re­leases no­ti­fy­ing the pub­lic about high-risk of­fend­ers — one vi­o­lent of­fender, one vi­o­lent sex of­fender and three peo­ple con­victed of vi­o­lent sex of­fences. All are be­ing mon­i­tored by the police ser­vice’s be­havioural as­sess­ment unit, which be­lieves they are at risk to re­of­fend.

Knecht said police also have to step in if they find some­one break­ing one of the con­di­tions of their re­lease, whether that’s by be­ing in a bar, or be­ing out after cur­few.

“All of a sud­den, you’ve got a file, all of a sud­den, you’ve got to ar­rest that in­di­vid­ual, you have to process that in­di­vid­ual, you’ve got to put a court case to­gether be­cause some­body’s go­ing to de­ter­mine whether they should stay (out) or go (back in),” Knecht said.

“If they vi­o­lated their con­di­tions, is it to the ex­tent that they should be re-in­car­cer­ated? So it ab­so­lutely does have an im­pact on polic­ing. There’s no ques­tion about it.”


Per­haps the best ex­pla­na­tion for why Ed­mon­ton has more ex­in­mates than other cities is the sim­plest — it had more crime to be­gin with.

In 2016, the Ed­mon­ton cen­sus re­gion ranked third on the crime sever­ity in­dex, a mea­sure of po­licere­ported crime. Oc­cu­py­ing first and sec­ond were fel­low prairie cities Regina and Saska­toon.

De­mo­graph­ics are of­ten used to ex­plain West­ern Canada’s rel­a­tively high crime rates. Al­berta, for in­stance, is one of the youngest ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada and the only province with more men than women (men com­mit the ma­jor­ity of vi­o­lent crime).

“If peo­ple are on pa­role in Ed­mon­ton, the chances are prob­a­bly they came from Ed­mon­ton orig­i­nally,” said Doob, the Univer­sity of Toronto crim­i­nol­o­gist.

“So in a sense they’re go­ing home.”



The Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion for Women houses 167 low, medium and high-se­cu­rity of­fend­ers.

Rod Knecht


At full ca­pac­ity the Ed­mon­ton In­sti­tu­tion, a max­i­mum se­cu­rity fed­eral in­sti­tu­tion, is home to 324 in­mates. In 2016, the Ed­mon­ton cen­sus re­gion ranked third on the crime sever­ity in­dex, a mea­sure of police-re­ported crime.


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