Fresh approach needed for prolific offenders

Chief Joe Alphonse of Tl’etinqox-t’in First Nation (Anaham) is calling on the Ministry of Justice.

Chief Joe Alphonse of Tl’etinqox-t’in First Nation (Anaham) is calling on the Ministry of Justice to take a different approach when it comes to dealing with prolific offenders.

Nine of the 12 prolific offenders that commit crime in the region come from his community, situated about one hour’s drive west of Williams Lake.

“If an offender from my community is incarcerated, I want to have the ability to go and visit them and chat with them one-on-one. In prison they don’t want anyone talking to them about their crimes so they hide. But to beat crime you have to talk about it.”

Last week Alphonse met with Justice Minister Suzanne Anton and her deputy ministers in Vancouver and has also invited her to visit the community first-hand.

Everyone in Williams Lake and the region wants safe communities, Alphonse said.

“I tell these offenders I have aunts, sisters, nieces and grandmothers and they have the same. They need to look at it from that point of view and find a better way to live.”

Anton’s office did not respond to the Tribune’s request for an interview.

Closer to home, Alphonse and Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb have agreed to work together on the prolific offender problem.

Cobb said a lot of things have been done, there have been changes but with prolific offenders, there doesn’t seem to be an avenue to reach out to them.

“Eventually they are going to end up killing somebody and end up in jail for the rest of their lives. I don’t think anybody wants that.”

The topic of gang violence was also central at a meeting held Thursday afternoon at city hall organized by Erin and Pat Graham of Guardian Youth At Risk and Family Services.

The meeting attracted around 30 people, mostly those working and volunteering with agencies already.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Del Byron asked Mr. Graham as an ex-gang member why his approach would be any different than that of other agencies already working in the community.

“I think that’s what some people in the community are wondering,” Byron said during the meeting.

Graham responded that most people working in agencies are school-trained or book-learned.

“They have some life experience where as I have experience to actually sit down and touch base with them. I know exactly where they come from and a lot of guys in this town know who I am from my past,” he said. “When you’ve been from that way of life and they know who you are, it opens up doors for them to tell you more than they would if I was a social worker or police officer.”

Byron said the RCMP and a judge made a deal with the Grahams to take in a youth and it did not take long for that youth to be on the loose with warrants for his arrest.

“If all you are bringing to the table is ‘I’m an ex-Renegade’ (gang member) then that’s weak from our standpoint,” Byron said.

RCMP Insp. Milo MacDonald said there are some groups right now that are having a lot of success engaging with youth who are at high risk, but certainly there are some who are falling through the cracks.

“Where the solution lies is community engagement and it’s positive that so many people are here willing to have this conversation,” MacDonald said, encouraging the Grahams and other people in the community to contact some of the existing programs, such as community policing or the social planning council if they want to help.

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