Lawrie McFarlane: Day-parole decisions ignoring the need for public safety

A repeat sexual offender has been granted unsupervised day trips by the Parole Board of Canada.

In 2004, Brian Edward Abrosimo kidnapped two girls, aged 15 and 11, while they were riding their bikes in Langley. He taped shut the mouth and eyes of the 11-year old and sexually assaulted her.

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Eventually the child escaped, and ran to a nearby house. The other girl was left behind in a ditch with a broken wrist. Abrosimo was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

But this was only the latest in a string of brutal acts. A month earlier, he had handcuffed and gagged a sex-trade worker before violently raping her.

That same year, he went to the home of his ex-wife, assaulted the woman and allegedly tried to rape her.

In 2003, he threatened to shoot a police officer.

In 1993, while on full parole, he was arrested for firing shots at his sister’s ex-boyfriend.

The year before, he gagged and raped his former girlfriend with her children present.

In granting Abrosimo unsupervised day trips, the Parole Board noted he had “an extensive criminal record that demonstrates a pattern of persistent violent behaviour,” and that he had “a poor community supervision history” in which he had “breached conditions and returned to high-risk behaviour.”

So why the unsupervised day trips? Because he had “demonstrated compliant and stable behaviour for over six months.” That sounds like the lowest possible standard to apply in such circumstances.

Yes, rehabilitation is always a goal, where feasible. And second chances should be granted.

But that has to be weighed against the need for public safety. Looking at Abrosimo’s record, it’s hard to believe a proper balance has been found.

Indeed, we might wonder whether the board understands the message some of its decisions send. Recently, the driver who smashed into a cruiser driven by West Shore RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett received day parole. Beckett, a young mother of two, was killed.

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to five and a half years last July and already he’s out on day parole? With his history of drunk driving, what kind of message does this send?

Now I concede that parole decisions are like airliners. You only hear about the ones that crash.

And yes, recidivism is a contentious matter. Many prisoners given early release pull their lives together.

Yet a study in 13 high-income countries found that Canada had one of the worst records of recidivism among released prisoners. Over a two-year period, 41 per cent re-offended.

Those Canadian figures are dated (1995). But estimates by the Correctional Service of Canada suggest that between 25 and 47 per cent of offenders released on full or supervised parole are re-admitted to prison.

Some broke their parole conditions. Others committed new offences. This is scarcely reassuring.

Which leads to the matter of accountability. It is legal in Canada for victims or family members to sue the Parole Board if they believe a prisoner was inadvisably set free.

There have been more than a dozen of these cases. For example, the parents of a 10-year-old who had been murdered by a paroled pedophile won a settlement against the board. So did a Regina woman, after she was sexually assaulted by a parolee.

In neither of these cases, and others like them, were the terms of the settlement made public, to spare the board’s blushes, one imagines.

But is this genuine accountability? Those settlements weren’t paid by board members. They were paid out of the public purse, that is to say, by you and me.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. On the one hand, is it fair to hold individual board members accountable when decisions they make go wrong? How were they to know? And who would be willing to serve on such a board if they faced the risk of personal liability?

On the other hand, while these considerations have weight, this feels like too easy a let-off. If there are no personal consequences for errant behaviour, where is the accountability?

I have no solution to offer. But when people like Abrosimo are given unsupervised day parole, we have a right to ask whose interests are being served.

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