How a single typo secured the early release of a notorious B.C. gangster
Legal experts say human error was likely to blame for the early release of Jarrod Bacon
It was a "7" that was actually supposed to be a "9."
That mistake is now having ripple effects, not just on the life of Jarrod Bacon, but on the public's perception of the corrections system.
In 2012, Bacon was sentenced to 12 years in prison, minus time served, for smuggling 100 kilograms of cocaine. He was supposed to serve nine years before being eligible for statutory release. But according to the Parole Board of Canada, that was recorded as seven years instead on a prison document. Because of that, Bacon was released early in February 2017.
Bacon breached the conditions of his release a few months later and was taken back to prison. His statutory release was revoked. Somewhere along the way, the typo was discovered. Bacon then argued he never should have been released at that time and, therefore, can't be held responsible for the breach.
The Parole Board of Canada's appeal division agreed. Bacon is now set to be released on the correct date in June 2018
It's unclear how often these types of errors occur, but some legal experts say this case highlights a need to re-examine input procedures, as well as staffing and training levels in the justice system.
What makes this case different: Bacon is no ordinary convict. He's one of the founders of the Red Scorpion gang, a group that's been associated with the Surrey Six slayings, one of the bloodiest gangland killings in B.C. history.
What went wrong
A spokesperson for B.C.'s attorney general said Wednesday the typo was made at the federal corrections level and not in the provincial court system.
Correctional Service Canada issued a statement Wednesday that said the mistake was found during an internal audit.
"In this case, a discrepancy was discovered and a subsequent review was undertaken. Steps were immediately taken to ensure the correct sentence was administered as pronounced by the court," the statement read.
Legal experts say it's impossible to know just how that number was incorrectly entered, but that it's likely the product of human error.
"Computers very rarely make mistakes. Humans make mistakes much more frequently. It's usually the human interfacing with the computer that has the problem," said Craig Jones, a law professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Jones said it's difficult to know how often these mistakes happen, because, in most cases, we don't hear about them.
He'd like to see procedures changed that would ensure paperwork is double-checked.
"If this kind of carelessness can lead to a release of somebody early, you do wonder in less high profile cases, with less scrutiny, that it isn't happening more often," said Jones.
"I think they really have to take a look at their systems and figure out what went wrong here and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Breach likely led to discovery of typo
Exactly when the typo was discovered isn't known, but criminal lawyer Paul Pearson said the error might have gone unnoticed had Bacon not breached his release conditions.
"It looks like it may well have never come to light had there not been an allegation of breach that came up," he said.
"It's probably rare for the parole system to go back and review all of its records and say, 'was everyone we let out, supposed to be out?'"
Pearson said while the error is serious, and there is likely going to be public disappointment, it's not a reflection of the justice system as a whole, but rather a symptom of what he calls a poorly funded justice system.
"If anything can be taken from the case it's that we can't rachet down budgets and streamline staff down to skeletal crews and expect everything to go smoothly all the time," said Pearson.
"If you want double-checks and no errors to be produced, you have to fund the processes properly."
Jones agreed the justice system is being squeezed financially, but said it's impossible to know whether that factored in to the Bacon case.
He said one thing is certain: the recent decision to grant Bacon statutory release is straightforward administrative law.
"That part of it is quite expected and uncontroversial."