Nfld. & Labrador

An impossible task? Victims' rights advocate, lawyer weigh in on rehabilitation

From his law office in St. John's, lawyer Bob Buckingham sees the intergenerational cycle of incarceration. In Ottawa, Aline Vlasceanu hears what victims want out of the correctional system.

Bob Buckingham and Aline Vlasceanu react to CBC documentary Killing Time

Aline Vlasceanu is the executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime in Ottawa. (CBC)

From his law office in St. John's, lawyer Bob Buckingham sees the intergenerational cycle of incarceration.

"I represent people now who are the grandchildren of the people I was representing when I first starting practicing law 30 years ago," Buckingham says.

The defence lawyer recalls one case in which two parents were shoplifting with their child in the stroller — a prime example of someone learning the criminal ropes early in life.

Buckingham's comments come on the heels of the release of CBC documentary Killing Time, released Wednesday, which explores the cycle of crime and rehabilitation through an inmate in the federal correctional system. 

"In this particular case, Philip [Pynn] was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the village failed him," Buckingham said.

Bob Buckingham is a defence lawyer in St. John's. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"It's not good for the individual, it's not good for the community, it's not good for our society, and we should be looking at the causes of situations that send people down this road."

Pynn is currently incarcerated at Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick after breaching conditions while on statutory release. He was convicted in 2014 of manslaughter, and has spent nearly his entire adult life behind bars.

What do victims want?

And Aline Vlasceanu, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, said it's not just offenders being failed by the system.

"I think most victims are pretty cognizant of the fact that even when offenders do go to prison the rehabilitation aspect — while corrections and parole say they're they're rehabilitating offenders — I don't think victims feel as though offenders are rehabilitated when they come out," Vlasceanu said.

Victims of crime fear the moment when offenders are released on parole because of a lack of faith in rehabilitation, she said.

Vlasceanu said part of the solution is digging into the root cause of why the person is offending in the first place, in order to prevent crimes from happening.

"Addressing things like poverty, addressing education, I think Philip [Pynn] even mentioned that he saw his parents committing crimes and he got into it himself," she said.

Navigating the justice system is also challenging for victims who often feel their voices are not heard, she said.

"They are grief stricken, they're feeling victimized, and then having to deal with a process that's hazy — no one is explaining things."

Correctional Services of Canada offers a number of programs and services in federal facilities catered to men, women and Indigenous inmates.

People in that situation need a leg up.- Bob Buckingham

Inmates can avail of education programs, with some restrictions, as well as social and vocational programs.

Buckingham said he has seen cases of far worse offenders be able to rehabilitate and become productive members of society.

It is possible, Buckingham said, but there's no doubt more needs to be done to create a system focused on reform rather than punishment.

"People in that situation need a leg up," he said, adding that means starting when a person is young.

Instead of putting money toward housing inmates, focus on increasing the number of social workers and counsellors, Buckingham said.

Given the way the system is currently set up, Buckingham was asked how often do inmates come out of prison better people.

"Not very often."

Read more by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.