An opinion from a former inmate of the federal prison system in the Fraser Valley.

What do we do?

I think something needs to be said about Raymond Caissie. As I’m sure everyone knows he is the man charged for murdering a young girl recently and is now the poster boy for why criminals shouldn’t be released from prison. I’m not trying to defend him; I only seek to point out that it is not for the press to convict him in the media already. If I’m not mistaken that is the job of the courts. I’m sure there will be some readers out there who may not agree with my opinion, but emotion needs to be set aside, so that the situation can be analyzed objectively.

We are talking about a man who served every day of his 22 year sentence and that to me represents a failure on the part of the system to prepare this man for his eventual reintegration. I heard that at one of his hearings he said that he was afraid of what he might do when released. This was a cry for help that went unanswered because the system as it is structured is not capable of dealing with certain types of offenders. Sure the prison staff will say that programs were offered and that there is no responsibility on their part. They are partially correct, inadequate programming was offered but they bear some responsibility just as the rest of us do. How is it our responsibility you might ask? Our elected government – that’s right I said elected – chooses to go with harsher sentences as a deterrent rather than trying a new direction. Caissie’s sentence was 22 years, a sentence he got as a young man, and it didn’t have any deterrent effect.

What could have been done differently? I don’t know anything about what was done to try and rehabilitate this man, the public isn’t privy to that information. If I had to guess by the nature of his previous offences, I would say that he served all his time in Mountain Institution which among inmates is known for housing a large population of sex offenders. Now I don’t know if he did programming or not during his time, but clearly there needed to be more done in the case of this man.

Through all his time in prison and 8 parole hearings, no progress was made. This is a man who had an eventual release date. I know that from public opinion there are those who would call for the suspension of civil rights for those convicted of violent crimes, but I’m here to say that is a very slippery slope. We as a society decide that we must arbitrarily keep some people locked up indefinitely despite the fact that a sentencing judge did not see it that way. Where does it end? In this case a tragedy occurred, and a young girl died. We need to seek solutions not knee-jerk reactions if we are to prevent future tragedies. Let’s call on the government for meaningful change and let’s call on the Correctional Service to lead the way towards creating a system that recognizes the need to change the way it does business. As a society we need to be involved in changing things, and not just count on the people that we have elected. Let us remember that they work for us.

  1. Heather says:

    Hi, Ed,
    What a well written piece! This author makes sense and is of similar opinion to mine as mentioned in a previous email to you. He did, however, inadvertently, also appear to convict the accused in his further paragraphs. I was appalled at the news reports and comments from talk show hosts on CKNW. As far as I am concerned, I do not see how the accused can get a fair trial and I wonder if a judge might see it the same way.
    Anyway, all in all, I liked what I read – the way it was written, the thoughts behind it.

  2. jcommittedk says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on a very sad situation. Unfortunately, I run across many such comments. Not as many, of course, as the more nasty, less thoughtful kind. Still you are certainly not alone in thinking the way you do. The problem is that a ready solution is not available. We need to change public perception of this issue and the only way to do this is through the media. But the media cater to the masses. We find ourselves in a catch 22. Can anyone out there think of a way out of this, toward a system that actually provides a means of reform and rehabilitation? I’d be all over it.

  3. As usual, a thoughtful and spiritual approach to the larger questions of incarceration. Why do we lock people up? As punishment for a crime, or to punish them further for the crime. The different answer is hugely impactful on the community as well as the inmate.
    We do not attempt to help a person become a citizen of society and insist on treating them as animals. Then when they are released, they are usually entering society that continues to punish the past. They respond with animal instincts and anger.
    Not saying that everyone should be freely released. But- the question is- If we are not going to lock people up for their natural life, regardless of their crimes, then wouldn’t it be safer, more productive and wiser to not waste that time and use it to create responsible and more responsive future citizens. After all- that is where most of them will spend the rest of their time- among ordinary people. It doesn’t make sense the way we are doing it, and it seems to be a failure in every sense of the word, as it stands.

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