Does something look familiar about that mugshot?
With the news Thursday that a repeat sex offender with a lengthy criminal history was being released into the city, many Winnipeggers worried about the apparent revolving door that sees offenders labelled as a ‘high risk to re-offend’ repeatedly arrested and released.
Criminal defense lawyer Scott Newman told 680 CJOB that it’s more complicated than simply locking someone up and throwing away the key.
Newman – who isn’t involved in the specific case of Winston Thomas, the recently-released offender – said the justice system has a number of different tools when it comes to dealing with people who pose a risk to the public.
“The most serious is (labeling someone) a ‘dangerous offender’,” said Newman, “where someone is such a dangerous risk to commit something that’s terribly aggressive, or a pattern of repetitive behaviour of such a brutal nature, that we say that person has to be locked up for the rest of their lives.
“We, as a society, save that as a last resort. We don’t want to pull that as the first club out of the bag. We’ve got to be really sure that before we send somebody to jail for the rest of their life, that we’re sure this is a person that needs to be locked up for the rest of their life.”
Newman said language like “high risk to re-offend” – especially in cases where a person has been convicted of serious crimes – can be misleading.
If, he said, ‘high risk’ can be taken to mean there’s a 70 per cent chance of re-offense, there’s still a significant number of people – three out of 10 – who will be rehabilitated and will never commit any future crimes.
Punishing a person who has already served a sentence for their past crimes for something they might do in future, he said, isn’t an effective strategy.
“If we’re going to lock all these guys up, we’re going to have a lot of wrongfully held people.”
While Newman said he couldn’t speak to the particular post-release supervision in Thomas’s case, high-risk offenders are usually monitored extremely closely once they’re back in the community, and any slip-up, no matter how minor, means they’re likely to be thrown back behind bars.
An offender with a 7 p.m. curfew, for example, is likely to see police waiting at his door, ready to re-arrest him if he’s even a minute past the cut-off.
Thomas’s conditions include a lifetime weapons ban, as well as supervised probation until December 2020. His conditions include alcohol and drug prohibitions, a daily curfew, and required treatment and counselling.