would've 'isolated' Rogers
Sudbury - Many female offenders and even their lawyers and parole officers do not fully understand the terms of the conditional sentences they are given.
That was the testimony of Kim Pate, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, to the coroners inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers on Tuesday.
Rogers, 40, died of an overdose of antidepressants in her apartment in August 2001 during a heat wave. At the time of her death, she was eight months pregnant and under house arrest for welfare fraud.
The terms of her sentence allowed Rogers to leave her apartment from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays to shop for essentials, or at any time for medical or religious reasons, or for other reasons approved by her supervisor.
A lawyer by training who has testified at United Nations conferences, Pate testified that even many criminal lawyers and parole officers often do not understand the terms of conditional sentences such as house arrest, so it is understandable that Rogers may have misunderstood the sentence to mean she would have to perform all outside errands in the space of three hours on Wednesdays.
Lawyer Brian Whitehead of the Ontario Ministry of Public Safety and Security, asked Pate, an expert on women in conflict with the law, why none of the lawyers who assisted Rogers with her Charter challenge or other matters could have explained the sentences terms to her, or why groups such as the Elizabeth Fry Society do not simply telephone probation officers and ask for details.
Pate replied her group does its best to undertake such work, but cautioned: its much more difficult than that, adding it does not have many resources to work with, and many probation officers are already overworked and drowning in paperwork.
Pate testified that Rogers would not have been better off in prison, as many inmates find it a very isolating experience, and prison life either exacerbates or creates mental health difficulties such as depression, which probably affects more than 90 per cent of the women who go to jail.
Pate added that as many as 15 women are sometimes housed in the five female-reserved cells in the Sudbury jail, and overcrowding in provincial facilities has prompted women in many parts of the province to request federal sentences.
Conditional sentences, explained Pate, became popular in Canada in the mid-1990s as a means of reducing the numbers of mostly non-violent people sent to prison.
She said that while conditional sentences have had some success in reducing the numbers of people sent to jail, she suggested that many women who are given house arrest sentences would have likely been given fines or probation instead.
Asked why women in Rogers position would be unwilling to report other sources of income, Pate argued that current welfare rates are insufficient to live on, and the erosion of social services in Ontario has forced many women into crimes, such as welfare fraud or even prostitution.
Deterrence, she added, is often not a very useful method of dealing with crimes created out of necessity, so it makes little sense to impose lifetime welfare bans, or imprison people for welfare fraud.
No matter what the penalty, if you cant eat, if you cant feed your children, if you cant pay your rent, people will be forced into becoming homeless or committing welfare fraud, Pate said.