Meet new faculty member Dr. Nicole Myers
By Christine Palka
Dr. Nicole Myers joined the School of Criminology in September 2014 as an assistant professor. Her primary areas of interest include bail; remand/pre-trial detention; policing; court processing; sentencing; corrections and criminal justice policy. She teaches two courses: Sociology of Law and a seminar course on correctional practice.
The School of Criminology’s newest faculty member, Nicole Myers has tasked herself with investigating areas for improvement in Canada’s bail system.
“I’m really interested in doing things better. We have these systems and processes, but there has to be more effective, more efficient, and more just ways of doing things. Ways that we can be more
transparent and let people know what’s going on so that they believe in a system that’s operating in a way that makes sense,” says Myers of her overall interest in criminal law policy.
Myers’ dissertation, defended in October 2012, explored the troubling fact that Ontario has more people in pre-trial detention who have not been found guilty of a criminal offence, than the province has in sentenced custody post conviction.
Subsequently, a landmark project for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association collecting bail data from the Yukon, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia further demonstrated that Canada has a pre-trial detention problem across the nation.
A large remand population is problematic for both financial and logistical reasons. It is costly and time consuming to keep the remand population in custody or to see them appear in court multiple times. Additionally, from a personal standpoint, it is an extremely challenging time for the individuals detained, who experience lasting impacts on their lives. What is more, people are being held in detention at a time when they are to be presumed innocent.
“What became clear is that the pre-trial population is not so much a problem because a lot of people are having their bail formally denied and they’re staying in custody until their trial. Instead, we have a lot of people who spend several days in custody waiting for a bail decision to be made,” says Myers. “And so, I was trying to get a handle on how this bail process has come to be so slow and what it is that is feeding the pre-trial detention population.”
After gaining a clearer picture of what is happening in Canada’s bail courts, Myers expanded her research to consider how conditions of release are impacting the pre-trial detention problem.
“Once the court imposes a condition it is a criminal offence to breach that condition. Conditions of release will be things like curfews, don’t talk to certain people, don’t consume alcohol or drugs, and don’t go to particular areas,” says Myers.
“If you look at our crime rates, we know that crime rates are generally going down but charges against the administration of justice have been going up. This suggests, that it is these charges of failing to comply that are really fuelling the bail system because if you break a condition you are almost automatically re-arrested and held in detention for a bail hearing.”
Myers next step is to find out what conditions of release people are breaching. Her access to past records has provided details on the number of people who failed to comply with bail conditions, but the files do not actually give specifics on what condition of their release was violated. She’s now working on getting access to court files that will tell her the specific charges, along with the consequences, and if people are being released or if they are spending more time in detention.
Her arrival at SFU is helping to secure this data. By using resources available through ICURS, Myers will have access to provincial court records going back seven years. With these files, she’ll be able to track individuals through the court system to see why they came back into the courts. She’ll also be able to find out if people commit serious offences when out on bail or if they are committing administrative offences.
The purpose behind this research is to see if imposing conditions of release is actually accomplishing its goal: to keep people from committing any offences on bail and to ensure people return to court.
“We haven’t been able to test the effectiveness of the system. We don’t actually know if all these conditions contribute to the expected results. My sense is that it actually makes no difference. These conditions are not doing what we actually think they are going to do. And instead, they are having what I would say are somewhat unintended consequences,” says Myers.
“In times of declining crime rates we are creating our own crime. Failures to comply contribute to the slowing down of the system because cases now have more charges and are more complex. Everything about it gets more complicated and gets more expensive,” says Myers.
Myers’ research aims not to necessarily change the law but to assess how the law and resources available can be used in a more effective manner. In terms of bail this means making the bail decision sooner after arrest and using restraint in the imposition of bail supervision requirements and conditions of release.