Convicted killer would have moved to 'honour system' before escape, prof says

Moving inmates, even those serving time for murder, to the "honour system" of a minimum security prison is a necessary step on their way back to society, a criminology professor says.

Although he hadn't been granted parole yet, Steven Bugden was beginning transition back to society

Steven Bugden, 45, escaped from Dorchester Penitentiary in southeastern New Brunswick last Wednesday night and was caught last Thursday night. (Submitted by RCMP)

Moving inmates, even those serving time for murder, to the "honour system" of a minimum security prison is a necessary step on their way back to society, a criminology professor says.

Correctional Service of Canada had moved convicted murderer Steven Bugden into the minimum security section of Dorchester Penitentiary before he escaped last Wednesday.

"From the public's perspective, that might be difficult to understand," said Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

"But in many ways, unless someone is sentenced for a longer term, if they are eligible for parole, CSC has to move them and prepare them for parole."

Bugden, 45, walked away from Dorchester on Wednesday evening and was found the next night in a ravine between Dorchester and Sackville after a tip came in from the public.

Bugden was sent to prison after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the stabbing of a university student in Ottawa in 1997. Parole Board of Canada records say Bugden had become infatuated with the woman, who was a friend.

In April 1999, Bugden started serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 15 years.

Boudreau said that once prisoners serve their mandatory time before parole eligibility, risk assessments are done to determine whether they are ready to live in minimum security. Then they are moved.

Criminologist Michael Boudreau says Dorchester's minimum security unit works on an honour system. (CBC)

Boudreau said this is all part of a process used by Correctional Service Canada across the country to help prisoners eligible to apply for parole make the transition back into society. 

Bugden would have been deemed "a low risk to reoffend and a low risk to the public," Boudreau said.

There literally are no walls," he said. "You can literally walk away, as this individual did.- Michael Boudreau , criminology professor

"As a result he was moved to this particular facility with an eye to his eventual release."

Boudreau said mixing low-risk offenders with "hardened criminals" in maximum security can put inmates at high risk.

RCMP returned Bugden to Dorchester, which has both minimum and medium security levels. The Correctional Service would not confirm he was still at Dorchester or what level of security he was in. 

Boudreau said Bugden's escape likely jeopardizes his chance of getting parole.

According to the Correctional Service, Bugden was not present for an inmate head count at about 10 p.m. last Wednesday.

He'd last been accounted for at 4 p.m. that day, when recreation started at the minimum-security section, where there is nothing to keep prisoners in.

"There literally are no walls," he said. "You can literally walk away, as this individual did.

"It's important to keep in mind that this does not happen very often."

Escapes are exceptions

In the winter of 2016,Jeffrey MacLean also escaped from Dorchester Penitentiary and led police on a chase that ended in Fredericton. During his time on the lam, he assaulted two women and stole their car.

But MacLean and Bugden are the exceptions, and Boudreau said the honour system is still working. He doesn't see a need to increase security.

"I do not see this as a serious risk to public safety," he said. "Literally, all of them could walk away if they wanted to, anyone in minimum security [and] they haven't been."   

Looking at it from the standpoint of the surrounding communities, Boudreau said he could see why the public might want more protection.

Transitioning to society

Dorchester Penitentiary, about 43 kilometres southeast of Moncton, has both minimum and medium levels of security. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

When inmates are incarcerated, Correctional Service Canada will look at their behaviour to see whether they're model prisoners, Boudreau said.

"Do they follow the rules, are they involved in any altercations within the institution? Are there psychological assessments done?" 

The idea of remorse is also a "trigger" for Correctional Service Canada and a parole board to see whether prisoners are prepared to move back into society. 

Looking for remorse

"Do they show remorse for their act? Or are they continually in denial, that, 'No I didn't actually commit this act.'"

In 2009, Bugden was denied both day parole and unescorted temporary absences, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

The board's decision said police didn't support the request, and parole officers believed Bugden "should cascade to a minimum-security institution" as part of a more gradual release plan that was to include psychotherapy. The Correctional Service also opposed the request.

The decision noted Bugden expressed a willingness to receive therapy, but the risk to the community remained "unmanageable" at that time.