‘It used to be for the worst of the worst’: dangerous offender designation

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Dangerous offender status: what it means and who qualifies in the prison system
WATCH: Dangerous offender status: what it means and who qualifies in the prison system – Mar 15, 2017

Wednesday marked day three of court proceedings in Prince Albert, Sask., and if the Crown gets its way Leslie Black, the man responsible for viciously attacking a homeless woman, will be declared a dangerous offender.

In 2014, Black’s case garnered attention after he brutally attacked a homeless woman before lighting her on fire. Marlene Bird survived but she would need both her legs amputated because of her injuries.

READ MORE: Leslie Black capable of extreme violence: psychiatrist

Now as part of a two-week hearing, Black is back before the courts as the Crown seeks to have him designated a dangerous offender.

“The types of offences are patterns of persistent violent or aggressive behaviour or things that are rarely of a brutal nature,” Kevin Hill, a criminal defence lawyer who outlined what type of crimes would constitute an application by the Crown, said.

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File / Global News

If Black is deemed a dangerous offender, he could be kept behind bars indefinitely – one of two sentencing routes.

According to Ron Piché, Black may never see the light of day if stats from late 2015 are any indication.

“Of 120 offenders who have the designation in the Prairie provinces only four have been released from custodial facilities so the stakes are very high.”

READ MORE: Woman who was viciously beaten attends Leslie Black’s hearing in Prince Albert

The current inmate population at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary is 698 – of those 35 have been designated dangerous offenders.

Correctional Service Canada would not disclose how many of the 35 had been serving terms longer than 25 years because of privacy concerns or the length of time the longest serving dangerous offender has been locked up.

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Amendments to the Criminal Code in the last decade, say counsel, have increased the scope of individuals subject to this status.

“It used to be what was called the the worst of the worst and frankly my experience has been it’s nowhere near the worst of the worst that are getting these applications brought against them,” Hill said.

File / Global News

In Saskatchewan, approximately 75 per cent of dangerous offenders are aboriginal leaving counsel with more questions than answers as to what the solution is.

In terms of the very few who are released, that decision is part of a parole review – a process that begins on year seven.

“Seven years is a still a long time to wait for any glimmer of hope if you will,” Piché said.

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According to Hill, an estimated 95 per cent of inmates who are not given this distinction are released on their statutory release date or even earlier, whereas 95 per cent of dangerous offenders facing an indeterminate sentence will never be freed from prison.

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