Is it any wonder why the public has so little faith in the justice system?
Take the curious case of Robert Dmytruk.
The former Winnipeg gang member committed one of the city’s most shocking crimes – murdering an innocent bystander and then trying to kill the victim’s girlfriend so there would be no witnesses.
Dmytruk was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years. His earliest date to apply for release is in July 2011.
Or so we thought.
As I reported exclusively in Saturday’s Free Press, Dmytruk has been receiving passes to leave prison for short periods at a time since August 2008 – a full 35 months before parole eligibility.
He has visited at least three Winnipeg shopping malls, a local gym, Wal-Mart, the library and even 7-Eleven. In some cases, his supervisor was a prison guard. In others, he was apparently being watched by another convicted murderer who is currently out in the community on parole. (under the federal Life Line program)
The National Parole Board insists they’ve done nothing improper in the handling of Dmytruk’s case. And there is no evidence to suggest Dmytruk hasn`t been on his best behaviour.
All federal inmates are entitled to apply for temporary absences from prison at any point in their sentence. Some may be for medical reasons. Others may be for court purposes. And then there are ones like Dmytruk, who receive them for so-called rehabilitative purposes.
Dmytruk was one of 201 offenders to receive escorted passes last year. Most of them are also serving life sentences.
Let me be perfectly clear about one thing.
I`m all for easing an inmate`s transition back into the community and not simply opening the prison door on the day of their release, wishing them good luck and giving them complete and absolute freedom. That is a recipe for disaster. There obviously has to be a series of baby steps taken, and temporary absences clearly fall under that category. I`ve got no issue with them being issued.
I sincerely hope Robert Dmytruk does well, can turn his life around and eventually become a productive citizen. If he doesn’t, think of what an enormous waste all the resources – financial and otherwise – that have been invested in him to date would be. If we`re not going to keep an offender locked up forever in this country, then we may as well hope that they at least emerge from prison a better person. Society will be all the better for it, obviously.
However, that doesn`t change the fact that I find it absolutely ridiculous that Dmytruk is already being eased back into society. There is no need for this process to begin a full three years before his parole date. In fact, I don`t think it should be allowed to begin UNTIL an inmate has reached that date.
Shelly Glover, a former Winnipeg cop now serving as a Conservative MP, agrees. She told me her government will move quickly to introduce legislation to bring about so-called truth in sentencing.
If a judge says you must do 15 years before you can be considered for release, then you would have to do 15 years. Only then could the so-called transition process begin.
I just don`t get what the hurry is, but can`t help but wonder if this isn`t a side-effect of our clearly overcrowded prison population. We know that institutions across this country are jam-packed, and recent government proposals to do away with some conditional sentences and introduce mandatory minimum prison terms will only add to the congestion.
While I doubt anyone in authority would admit it, you wonder if there`s a culture that exists to get people out the door as quickly as possible in order to clear out room for the new guests.
I have already heard from several people on this issue, with differing opinions. Many are outraged at the system, while a handful are upset with me for appearing to pick on Dmytruk.
Again, let me be clear. A friend of his called into my national Crime and Punishment radio show Sunday night, explaining that Dmytruk is a changed man who desperately needs these short visits into the community to get him ready for the eye-opening experience of parole. The world has no doubt changed in the time Dmytruk has been locked up and it will take some getting used to.
I understand that. And I agreed with Dmytruk`s friend that these are important steps to take. But I also stated that I see no reason why they have to be taken so soon.
Dmytruk`s girlfriend was also critical, saying he deserves to be given a second chance. She told me he has served his time.
That`s where her argument falls apart. No, he hasn`t. He`s now done close to 13 years of the 15 a judge said he must serve. Only in Canada could that be considering doing one`s time, I suppose.
Feel free to share your thoughts below. And if you haven`t already, go to www.twitter.com/mikeoncrime to follow me in real-time, both inside and outside the courts.