Hopefully the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal in Lisa Neve's case will result in broader systemic changes to the administration of justice for women in Alberta and across Canada. The Court reaffirmed the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Lyons case, by indicating that the dangerous offender provision, "applies to "...a small group of highly dangerous criminals" and that "the court must be satisfied that the pattern of conduct is substantially or pathologically intractable." They also challenged the acceptance in the lower courts of a psychological assessment of Neve that "effectively implies ... that a woman's thoughts about murder can somehow be equated with a man's commission of a murder..."
The Court also pointed out that "dangerous offender legislation is targeting that small group of recalcitrant offenders whose past behaviour is sufficiently entrenched that future risks to public safety warrant preventative detention" and noted that "every offence which Neve committed was entangled in some way with her life as a prostitute." They also pointed out that while it was not to be condoned, Lisa's violent offences were generally characterized as attempts to avenge wrongs done to others. Furthermore, they characterized Lisa as "a young woman with a relatively short criminal record for violence, [who was] disposed to telling shocking stories of violence."
Finally, in determining if and when the dangerous offender provisions should apply, the Court of Appeal determined that, "the question is whether, relatively speaking compared to all other offenders in Canada male and female, young and old, advantaged and disadvantaged Neve falls into that small group of offenders clustered at or near the extreme end of offenders in this country." They also found that Lisa Neve did not fit into that group at all and thereby cast significant doubt on the entire assessment and classification process, particularly when said process does not place the index offence or individual in the context of their lived realities and life experiences and circumstances.
Application of Actuarial Assessments Designed for Adults
The Correctional Service of Canada and provincial corrections authorities use several tools and policy guidelines to determine the risk to the public that prisoners in their custody will re-offend if/when released from jail on conditional release or upon the expiration of their sentence(s). Risk assessments generally commence with an examination of criminal record histories, including young offender histories where they are available, an assessment of the offence severity, and identification and analysis of prisoners' needs. The needs assessment is essentially based on a systemic review of factors that relate to each of seven criminogenic need areas; namely, employment, marital and family relations, associates and social interaction, substance abuse, community functioning, personal and emotional orientation, and attitude overall. The needs assessment is designed to provide corrections' staff with an overview of the issues and backgrounds of each prisoner, which is then linked to his or her respective histories of criminal behaviour.
A 1997 study by CSC research staff, entitled "Maximum-Security Female and Male Offenders: A Comparison," compared the characteristics of men and women prisoners who had been classified as maximum security upon admission to prison. When security classifications were assigned, the same criteria were applied to both men and women. No account was taken of the ways in which the various criteria might impact women and men differently, particularly in terms of how they might affect their degree of risk to public safety. Not surprisingly, when the same criteria was applied to both groups, the results of the study indicated that both maximum-security populations showed a similar history of disadvantage. Moreover, maximum-security women showed more disadvantage and higher needs in such areas as drug abuse, spousal abuse, as well as frequent experiences of victimization in social relations.
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