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Study backs local findings: Nearly half of inmates reoffend

Article by: Rob Tripp
Local News – Nearly three years ago, a controversial study of reoffence rates done by Kingston Police ignited a furious debate.

The Kingston study, completed by Brian Cookman, now an inspector in the department, concluded that 47 per cent of inmates freed from area prisons commit new crimes.

The finding was a dramatic departure from traditional claims by the National Parole Board and Corrections Canada that recidivism, the rate at which freed prisoners break the law again, hovers at roughly 10 per cent, rising to at most 15 per cent.

Now the solicitor general, who is reponsible for the federal prison system, has released a new study spanning three years that appears to affirm Cookman?s findings.

According to the study, released yesterday by Solicitor General Wayne Easter, the re-conviction rates for federal offenders were 44 per cent in 1994, 43 per cent in 1995 and 41 per cent in 1996.

Cookman was surprised to hear of the solicitor general?s finding.

?My methodology was just … barebones,? he said, in an interview yesterday. ?I looked at whether or not [freed inmates] re-offended.

Cookman said after the release of his study in 2000, he met with officials from the Correctional Service and the National Parole Board who were puzzled by his dramatically higher numbers.

?We … agreed to disagree,? he said. ?No one would agree to give up their ground or their way of thinking.?

The solicitor general?s study released yesterday notes that nonviolent offences accounted for the bulk of the new crimes.

?More than half the reconvictions occurred after the sentence was completed, when the offender was no longer under supervision,? the report states.

The violent re-conviction rate was 13 per cent and the sexual re-conviction rate ranged from 0.7 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

The parole board and Corrections typically track re-offence only while a freed prisoner is under some form of supervision and has not yet completed his or her sentence.

When Kingston Police released their findings in September 2000, the John Howard Society, an agency that helps inmates, condemned the study, saying it didn?t constitute ?serious research.?

?I don?t think they?ve trumped up the numbers in an intentionally manipulative way, but I do think that their numbers are highly unreliable and don?t represent an accurate picture,? Graham Stewart, executive director of the national agency, told The Whig-Standard at that time.

The Kingston Police study tracked nearly 1,400 inmates freed from Kingston area prisons between 1990 and 1998 and found that 642 of them committed new crimes.

?We?ve always said openly that we have unique policing problems as a result of those federal institutions being here,? Cookman said yesterday.

The department has often suggested that it deserves special federal funding to deal with the problems, which include solving crimes committed by highly organized and practised criminals who sometimes hone their skills in prison.