Murder victim's family speaks out against transfers to minimum-security prisons
CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from Annie Bergeron-Oliver
Published Friday, December 14, 2018 10:09PM EST
After CTV News reported that 27.5 per cent of all convicted murderers in Canada are serving their time in minimum-security prisons, more family members of murder victims are speaking out against the practice of placing violent offenders in these open-concept, communal-style institutions.
Darlene Nichol is one of them.
Seventeen years ago, her sister Shelley was murdered in Woodstock, Ont., after Shelley’s estranged partner, Christopher Cowell, handcuffed and stabbed her 19 times. Ten years after his conviction, he was transferred to a minimum-security prison.
“They need to be punished,” Nichol told CTV News. “And they need to spend at the minimum of 25 years in maximum security.”
According to Nichol, her sister’s killer moved through the system too fast. He was transferred out of maximum security within three years of his conviction to serve out the remaining 15 years of his sentence, first in medium security and then in minimum.
“Receiving news like this as a family member makes us feel like we’re reliving it all over again,” Nichol said.
According to Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) data, there were 227 inmates convicted of first-degree murder and 593 inmates convicted of second-degree murder serving their time in minimum-security institutions as of Oct. 14, 2018.
The Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness says that inmates are reclassified to different security levels to prepare them for the possibility of parole.
“A transfer to lower security usually occurs later in an inmate's sentence and allows the inmate to begin experiencing responsibilities associated with potential controlled reintegration into society,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Canadians are better protected when offenders are gradually prepared for supervised release. The alternative -- releasing offenders ‘cold turkey’ from maximum security into our communities -- is far less safe.”
John Muise is a former Parole Board of Canada member.
“If somebody has made their way to a minimum-security institution, cascaded through max and medium to get there, then that’s an indicator that the Correctional Service trusts them,” he said.
When that happens, victims’ families are only notified if they had previously registered to receive transfer updates. But many, like Shelley Cowell’s family, do not even know that such a registry exists.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale recently addressed that issue.
“What I’m asking the CSC is to consider all the ways in which they can enhance their communications,” he said.