Why even the ‘worst of the worst’ criminals get transferred to medium-security prisons

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The revelation that one of Tori Stafford’s killers has been transferred to a medium-security prison has sparked outrage from members of the slain girl’s family, as well as Opposition MPs and many ordinary Canadians.

But moving prisoners from maximum to medium security, even murderers serving life sentences, is not uncommon in this country, experts say.

« At some point in somebody’s sentence — even somebody who’s sentenced for a horrific crime and serving a long or perhaps even a life sentence — it is not unusual for them to be moved down the security ladder, » said Howard Sapers, the former correctional investigator of Canada, an ombudsman for federal offenders.

In a recent Facebook post, Rodney Stafford raged against the decision to transfer his daughter’s rapist and killer, Michael Rafferty, from the maximum-security Port Cartier Institution in Quebec, asking:  « Where in the world does it make sense that the worst of the worst of criminals … even get the opportunity at a better life? »

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the Correctional Service of Canada is reviewing Rafferty’s transfer to the medium-security La Macaza Institution, northwest of Montreal, back in March.

On April 8, 2009, Rafferty and his girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, abducted Tori Stafford off the street near her school in Woodstock, Ont. The eight-year-old’s body was found three months later, buried under a pile of rocks in a field more than 100 kilometres north of her hometown.​

Rafferty was found guilty in May 2012 of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering the little girl. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

McClintic, who is also serving a life sentence, was recently returned to prison after her transfer to an Indigenous healing lodge also prompted widespread condemnation.

‘Cascaded to medium security’

John Muise, a former member of the Parole Board of Canada, Ontario region, says he was among those critical of McClintic’s transfer to the healing lodge. And while he certainly understands how upsetting Rafferty’s transfer is for the Stafford family, he says it’s fairly typical for someone serving a life sentence.

« If there’s no institutional adjustment concerns, no escape concerns, they’re usually cascaded to a medium-security institution, » he said.

« There are hundreds, indeed thousands of people that have committed despicable crimes that are serving their sentences in medium-security institutions. »

Tori Stafford’s father is furious Rafferty was transferred to a medium-security prison. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

According to Corrections Canada, 62.1 per cent of the nearly 13,000 inmates who are in a federal prison in this country were classified as a medium-security risk in 2016-2017.

The observations of institutional parole officers and security staff who interact with the inmates every day help determine their custody rating, and whether they belong in a maximum-, medium- or minimum-security facility.

An inmate’s rating is based on his behaviour in prison, participation in correctional plans, escape attempts, alcohol and drug use, number of prior convictions and the severity of the offence that currently has him behind bars.

« All the decision-making that goes into [the rating] is a good one, » Muise said.

« It’s based on … ‘This is the offender. This is the offence. This is the criminal record. These are all the things we know about this fella. And so this is why we think it’s safe [for him] to go here.' »

How do you prepare them?

Many inmates convicted of first- or second-degree murder will eventually be released, he said.

« So how do you prepare them for that? »

Muise suggests incarcerating criminals in maximum security for 25 years and then just releasing them may not be the best way to do it.

People aren’t sent to prison for punishment. They are sent to prison as punishment.– Howard Sapers, former correctional investigator of Canada

A maximum-security institution is designed to house offenders who present a greater threat to the safety of the public, require a higher degree of supervision and/or have a higher chance of attempting to escape, according to Corrections Canada spokesperson Esther Mailhot.

Movement, association with other inmates and privileges are very restricted, she told CBC News in an email.

A medium-security institution has the same security safeguards as a maximum-security prison but allows for more interaction among offenders, she said.

Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, shared his thoughts about Rafferty’s transfer in a recent Facebook post. The federal government is reviewing the transfer. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Inmates in medium security might spend more hours out of their cell, and more time participating in group activities, but their freedom hasn’t actually been increased as much as it may seem, Sapers said.

« If you consider work a privilege or counselling a privilege or group therapy a privilege, then those are the kinds of things that you would typically have more opportunity to participate in, » he said.

Sapers also pointed out that people in maximum security also qualify for family visits, and have some recreation and leisure time, just as people in medium security do.

Purpose of prison system

He said it’s important for Canadians to understand the purpose of Canada’s prison system.

‘It may sound like a cliché, but people aren’t sent to prison for punishment. They are sent to prison as punishment, » he said. « That’s an important distinction. »

Despite what some Canadians may think, a maximum-security prison isn’t meant to be a « more punitive » facility, but to afford more safety and security, Sapers said.

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Ontario wolves to be trapped, transferred in effort to restore population on Michigan island

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Wolves from Ontario will soon be moved across the border to try to help restore the dwindling population in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park.

This fall, officials at the park began a multi-year effort to move wolves from the mainland to the island, to try to restore the balance between wolves and moose on the isolated island, which is located on Lake Superior, not far from Thunder Bay, Ont. 

The multi-year wolf transfer will involve capturing and moving mainland wolves from Michigan and Minnesota, but Isle Royale National Park superintendent Phyllis Green says they now also plan to move a pack from nearby Ontario.

The first wolves to be moved were trapped in Minnesota, but officials were hopeful that Canadian wolves would also be added to the mix. That plan has now been given the green light, said park superintendent Phyllis Green.

« Actually we were fortunate that Michigan’s Governor [Rick] Snyder had a conversation with [Ontario’s] Premier [Doug] Ford and talked about the importance of the project, » she said.

« And so after that conversation we were able to have further conversations and we’re definitely going to be — weather providing — receiving wolves from Ontario this winter. » 

The wolves will come from Michipicoten Island in northeastern Lake Superior, where a very different wildlife management problem has made headlines. While Isle Royale’s wolf population has faced near extinction, wolves on Michipicoten were weakening the caribou population.

If weather permits, suitable wolves will be trapped during a normal collaring exercise done by Ontario researchers in January and transferred to Isle Royale by helicopter, Green said. 

Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, stands in front of an empty crate that held one of the first wolves to be transported to the island. (National Park Service/John Pepin)

‘Robust’ Canadian wolves desirable for genetic strength

The Ontario wolves are desirable for several reasons, said Green, including the fact that the animals on Michipicoten are well-studied by Ontario researchers who will be able to identify alpha males and females that might be well suited to the trip.

« And also we actually know that they’re actually pretty prolific on pups, and that’s certainly what you would hope to see when you start a new population. »

« And the other positive is that they’re very robust genetically, » Green added.

« On the U.S. side, we’ve had situations where the wolf population has dropped and then there’s some incursion of coyote or dog genetics into the population. »

A trail camera photo shows one of the female wolves transferred to Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park this fall, as part of a multi-year effort to restore the population and balance the ecosystem. (U.S. National Park Service)

Two wolf fatalities so far

The wolf transfer is not without risks. During the first phase of the project this fall, a wolf that had been cleared for transfer died before it could be moved to Isle Royale, prompting changes to protocols in an effort to reduce stress on the animals. 

One male and three females were successfully moved to the island, but in November, the National Park Service confirmed that the male wolf had been found dead. The cause of death is not known, Green said, but autopsy results expected in December should yield more information. 

Some natural mortality is to be expected, Green said.

« It’s unfortunate but in the wild population about 25 to 30 per cent of the wolves die annually, » she said.

« It’s a tough life out there for them. »

The transferred wolves are being monitored using GPS technology and the other three are doing well, Green said. 

The Isle Royale wolf relocation effort is expected to take three to five years, with the eventual goal of moving up to 30 animals. 

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Child killer Terri-Lynne McClintic transferred from healing lodge to Edmonton prison

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Child killer Terri-Lynne McClintic has been transferred from an Indigenous healing lodge to an Edmonton prison for women.​

McClintic, who is serving a life sentence for the brutal rape and murder of Tori Stafford, 8, of Woodstock, Ont., was transferred from the Grand Valley Institution for Women near Kitchener, Ont., to the Okima Ohci Healing Lodge for Aboriginal Women on Nekaneet First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

McClintic’s transfer back to a conventional prison was confirmed to CBC News by Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford.

He posted a message on Facebook praising the development.

The transfer to the lodge sparked public outrage, protests and divisive political debate.

McClintic is not eligible for parole until 2031.

On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale ordered Correctional Service Canada to improve policies related to transfers of « medium-security women offenders to facilities that do not have a directly controlled perimeter. »

More to come

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