Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight Sept. 3, 2004)

Halfwits Defend Halfway House

  By John Martin

The reaction surrounding the home invasion beating death of Vernon resident, William Abramenko, by a parolee from a nearby halfway house is tragically, both predictable and typical.  Local residents are outraged and parole officials are tripping over themselves to remind us what a great job they’re doing.

Even though the alleged killer, Eric Fish had gone AWOL and failed to return to the halfway house as per the conditions of his parole, officials, once again citing the privacy rights of parolees, opted not to warn the public that a convicted murderer was on the loose.

Fish was serving time for another murder during a previous home invasion in 1984.  Notice no one has said anything about the privacy rights of homeowners who keep getting killed during these home invasions.  A mere oversight I guess.

Officials are adamant that despite the odd slip up, the supervision of parolees is a success story.  This, despite the fact that four murders have been tied to the halfway house and a fifth is under investigation.  All this in lil’ ol’ Vernon.

And to drive home their point, Corrections officials are referring to their statistics that clearly demonstrate that, the odd disaster notwithstanding, parole and halfway houses are working quite splendidly, thank you.

This is going to be a little harder to swallow than in recent years.  Corrections Canada, for years, bragged that a low recidivism rate of less than 12% was evidence that the system was working.  Critics, including opposition members in the House of Commons were told they didn’t know what they were talking about when they disputed these numbers.

Corrections managers held their ground until Ottawa based author and broadcaster, Michael Harris, armed with irrefutable evidence, forced the Solicitor General to check the numbers and admit the rate was actually 43%; just as Randy White and others had been saying for years. 

The federal government has been very clear that it wants to reduce the number of inmates in custody and has ordered the system to move in this direction.  Despite initial denials, access-to-information legislation makes it quite clear that there exists a corporate objective to have at least 50% of federal inmates serving their sentences in the community.  A quota, if you will.

Parole officers have actually been instructed to, wherever possible, avoid breaching parolees on their caseload, even when they’ve clearly broken the terms of their release.  So long as they’re not caught committing another offence.

Mistakes and miscalculations are inevitable in any field where the task is to predict behaviour and manage people who have basically been unmanageable throughout their lives.

Clearly, if we’re not going to keep rapists and killers in prison, it’s preferable to release them under some supervision scheme, however faulty, than to simply let them walk away at the expiration of their sentence with no conditions whatsoever.  Supervised, gradual entry is always preferable to  merely cutting them loose when their time is up.

But it is truly mind boggling that officials expect outraged residents to take comfort in statistics (which, if the past is any indication, may be less than valid) that parolees don’t actually kill people very often.

In a 25-year period, parolees in this country have killed 58 people.  Yet corrections officials and the federal government maintain the system is working. 

The people of Vernon don't appear to be buying it this time.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

Correctional Service of Canada

National Parole Board


The John Howard Society of Canada  


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