Peter Collins, who is serving a life sentence for killing Const. David Utman of Ottawa back in a 1983 botched robbery, will receive an award for his advocacy work behind bars. On Monday the Human Rights Watch and the HIV-AIDS Legal Network will honor him with the award for his work in ensuring prisoners are provided risk reducing programs such as a safe needle exchange. The irony of this is that it was announce only days after Collins was denied parole and called an unacceptable risk to society at large.
The award committee didn’t know what Collins was serving time for, they were only aware of the work he has been doing in ensuring that the health care in prisons is on par with the care received by those not incarcerated. While he will not be allowed out to receive the award, he does have a prepared acceptance speech.
Like many people I struggle sometimes with the rights and privileges given to convicted killers. While I studied rehabilitation and methods of alternative justice, I sometimes have a very hard time with the liberties allowed to inmates. When Karla Homolka was permitted to study law – paid by you and me – while serving time for manslaughter in the killings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffey I was shocked.
I think that it’s great that while serving time Collins is trying to improve life for all prisoners, but I don’t necessarily think he should be rewarded for it. For me, it’s not the fact that he is in jail. It isn’t even really the crime that he committed. It’s the reality that he was denied parole meaning he is considered a risk to re-offend. This is sending out a mixed message: we think you’re dangerous, but these groups want to reward you for your work in here. And I think that this has the potential to upset and hurt many unnecessarily, particularly Const. Utman’s family.