Alberta has set up its own parole board as part of an ongoing effort to tackle crime – especially in rural areas.
The seven-person Alberta Parole Board will be headed by former Calgary Police Service chief Rick Hanson and will include Ponoka lawyer Craig Paterson, who is former chair of the Central Alberta Mental Health Review Board.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu announced the new board Thursday and said its members are drawn from a cross-section of Albertans and “will be more responsive and reflective of the needs of Albertans seeking justice.
“We have heard time and time again of Albertans in rural communities being victimized multiple times,” he said, pointing out that the province’s Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence (RAPID) Response was formed to address that. RAPID expands the authorities of provincial peace officers and the Alberta Sheriffs to help fight rural crime and reduce response times.
“Now, the Alberta Parole Board can futher address those concerns when it encounters repeat offenders seeking parole,” he said.
“The Alberta Parole Board will act as a safeguard against repeat offenders targetting families and properties, particularly in rural Alberta,” said Madu.
Hanson, who is also a former RCMP chief superintendent, said the board will “reflect the values of Albertans,” adding that the government sees the board as a vital part of community crime and safety and how that is managed.
“Having community input from various parts in the province, I think, is critical,” he said. “That type of involvement from various communities around Alberta is one thing I think that is significantly different than the federal parole board.”
Alberta now joins Ontario and Quebec in having its own parole board. It will deal only with provincial prisoners, who have been sentenced to less than two years. Those sentenced to more than two years go to federal prison and their parole applications will continue to be reviewed by the federal parole board.
The parole board will be effective as of Feb. 1 and is expected to cost $510,000 this year. Negotiations are ongoing with the federal government to have it pick up a share of the cost.
Red Deer lawyer Jason Snider said the parole board could prove effective if it is backed up by the necessary supports to help former inmates leave their lives of crime behind them.
“The idea of a provincial parole board could be an overall good thing for the community and the criminals,” said Snider, who is president of the local Criminal Defence Lawyers Association.
However, its success will depend on if those who are granted parole are able to get the follow-up provided through parole officers, programs and facilities such as halfway houses, he said.
If the parole board’s work is backed up with support for former inmates “it could very well have an effect on the recidivism rate.”
Trying to reduce crime by locking people up more often or for longer does not have a long-term impact on crime. It only reduces crime for as long as a person is in prison, he said.
“It’s really the services that help a person get past the things that led to their crime that really makes a difference in reducing crime.”
NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir was disapproving of the government’s move.
“Experts agree this parole board will only add another layer of bureaucracy and do nothing to reduce crime,” Sabir said.
“If the UCP really want to reduce crime, they should invest in supporting Albertans through the pandemic and reverse the cuts they’ve made to the justice system, including the $17 million they cut to the Edmonton and Calgary police budgets.”
Other members of the parole board include: Randy Anderson, manager of Indigenous Relations at North Lake College; Paul Bourassa, director and vice-president of Alta-ABM Inc.; Shelly Takacs, Alberta Health Services project manager; Angela Tripathy, executive leader and general counsel; and Lisa Wardley Mackenzie County councillor from Zama City.