Having “Go-To” People to Go To?

This morning as I was working, I heard on the radio a segment from CBC Radio One called “White Coat, Black Art.” The program is about the Canadian Medical System and is hosted by a medical practitioner who gives in-depth interviews and takes different perspectives of the many facets of the art of medicine. Today’s topic, a rerun, was the use of a person who would work in the hospital or medical system as “navigator/helper” who would stay with the patient who has been diagnosed with cancer.

I thought to myself that this is such a wonderful idea that why would we not have such a program for the Criminal Justice system? As I thought about this, I could count so many areas that would cut cost, incur time and resource savings and streamline the system by a good portion of what we are spending right now. There are huge parallels between the medical and justice systems that I thought this idea would be revolutionary all around.

I talked about this with a colleague of mine who currently works for the Provincial Courts in Surrey, BC. He laughed at me when I told him about the CBC program and my idea of having go-to people to work with both victims and offenders going through the justice system. His first remark was that these are two totally different systems with two totally different goals: one heals while the other punishes. He also said that with Canada moving to the political Right, that any Conservative government would quickly quash any attempt that promotes help for offenders. “In essence,” he said, “people would bulk at the idea of helping offenders when they have lawyers appointed to them…” We both know, I thought, that lawyers are sometime a liken to doctors when it comes to helping their clients: different language, white/black coat professionalism and heavy case loads, and so on. People expect that the justice system should punish as much as possible, especially if the offender is found guilty, so any added punishment is seen a possible deterrent and could likely avert recidivism.

So I mauled this over in my mind. Two different systems, two different goals. It just didn’t add up for me. I can see this mentality of making sure the offender is punished as much as possible and making his/her stay through the system unpleasant; however, the issue of treating everyone innocent until proven guilty kept leaping up in my thoughts. Lawyers can only do so much. I have seen Crown Lawyers literally pass off their clients like poker chips because of the tight scheduling and case overloads, not to mention the quick decisions that are often made between lawyers while in negotiation, all the while not even explaining to their clients what just happened. I am absolutely certain that if offenders were aware of everything that was going on in the justice system around them their decisions would be very different.

So what do you think? Should the justice system afford “go-to” people to help the offenders and victims who have very little understandings of the lawyers and court procedures that goes on in the Courts today?

3 Thoughts on “Having “Go-To” People to Go To?

  1. Hi Tom:

    In Abbotsford – there is Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) located in Montrose Avenue in Abbotsford. With regards to youth who are on probation, ACS (or through them) often link up a youth worker with a kid on probation. The youth worker often escorts the kid to see his probation officer or to his mental health counsellor. They don’t do this for all kids – mostly the ones who need more support than the other ones.

    Abbotsford Community Services also works with victims of crime under ‘Specialized Victim Services’. They assist victims through the ‘legalese’ and set them up with counselling, etc.

    Give them a call at 604-859-7681 to get more info.

  2. Hey Gudrun,

    Yes, I am very familiar with the ACS. I’ve also volunteered with Victims Services in Vancouver when I was doing my undergraduate at Kwantlen.

    However, unlike youth who get a totally different form of treatment through Corrections, I was focusing more on the adult offenders who enters the justice system. One of the biggest complaints I get when I do research interviews from inmates are the miscommunication they have with their workers/lawyers and authorities. Getting an advocate for these cases is very difficult and expensive, yet I see it as a necessity.

    When I was visiting the Burnbay Youth Custody Centre last month, I had the opportunity to talk to one of the forensic psychologists who works there. He said that kids are very intuitive yet so vulnerable to peer influences. Explaining to them what is going on with them in the facility about all the processes can require a huge amount of time and constant communication. He says that some only understand a small fraction of what it is they are up against while in custody.

  3. Tom are you nuts, maybe a little insane!!
    A “go to” person would cost tax payers huge amounts of money and this money would be wasted on adult inmates who may or may not have the mental capacity to understand what a “go to” person is trying to explain. Most peaple are in prison for a reason, they cannot function in society and follow the rules in which we live by. If they cannot understand our laws, how could they understand a system that’s so complex that one must get a degree in law just to have the knowledge of what is going on.

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