Michaels: Time for powers that be to deal with what contributes to crime

“Nearly 80 per cent of prison inmates have suffered a brain injury…”

Rarely does anyone get what they want from the courts.

Victims of violent crime and their loved ones almost always feel their suffering was not properly weighed in the sentencing process.

That sentiment is all the more pronounced if the perpetrator of whatever heinous act that’s before the courts is found not criminally responsible.

Most who have read the news in recent months have come to some sort of conclusion on the justness of that designation, courtesy of Vince Li. He was found not criminally responsible for beheading his seat mate on a Greyhound bus in 2008, and granted an absolute discharge Feb. 10.

The Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board said Li, who is now known as Will Lee Baker, does not pose a significant safety threat. He was suffering from untreated schizophrenia when he stabbed, beheaded and partially cannibalized Tim McLean, 22.

He was in treatment for that condition for seven years, then walked away a free man, causing McLean’s mother much pain and suffering. She lobbied to change Canada’s not criminally responsible laws. And that, if nothing else, makes sense. What she’s suffered is nothing short of heartbreaking.

But there’s another issue at play.

When will this country address the needs of so many people with mental illness and varying cognitive troubles?

Here’s an alarming detail. More than one in 10 men and nearly one in three women held in federal prisons have mental health problems, according to 2009 figures from the Correctional Service of Canada. Those numbers represent a near-doubling in the total proportion of inmates with mental illnesses between 1997 and 2009.

Adding to that, nearly 80 per cent of prison inmates have suffered a brain injury.

What is the strategy for identifying or treating these issues before they become fodder for grisly headlines?

John Smith, who spoke with the Capital News recently, has come to the realization that something is terribly wrong with the system in the hardest way possible.

He was brutally assaulted last year while walking his daughter to school. He suffered a brain injury that has caused cognitive difficulty and a mental illness.

He has high hopes that he’ll one day heal, but he can’t find the help he needs now and is frustrated; scared that the misery he’s in now will only continue on.

He’s been told that he’d be more likely to get support if he did commit a crime, like the man who left him in the condition he’s in. That man was in January found not criminally responsible for his crimes against Smith and will soon be in treatment.

That treatment, court mandated or otherwise, would have been a lot better if it had come before he rampaged through Kelowna forever altering the life of Smith.

The fact that Smith can identify how his attacker was let down by the system and have compassion for what he did is nothing short of amazing.

Now we need the powers that be to open their eyes.

It will offer more people what they deserve. A life free of coping with the aftermath of violence.

Kathy Michaels is a reporter for the Kelowna Capital News, a Black Press newspaper.

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