Canada’s criminal justice system stressed and nearing a breaking point, says a federal parole officer survey by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees
OTTAWA (May 16, 2019) – A national survey of Canadian parole officers conducted by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE), a federal public service organization, says Canada’s correctional system is stressed and nearing a breaking point – with a majority of respondents asserting their working conditions often prevent them from properly assessing, supervising and preparing offenders for their safe return to society.
High offender caseloads, chronic understaffing, and significant changes to correctional programs and services in federal institutions and communities are cited as presenting insurmountable challenges to managing offender risk.
More than two-thirds (69%) of parole officers surveyed worried they are not able to sufficiently protect the public given their current workloads. The vast majority (92%) agreed an increase in staffing would improve their capacity to keep Canadians safe.
A further 85% agreed a decrease in the number of offenders assigned to them would improve public safety.
“I'm so busy trying to keep my head above water, the chances that I'm missing things is inevitable. I feel like my integrity is being compromised,” noted one survey participant. “The argument that I believe many parole officers are trying to make is not simply we are overworked but, in fact, our work impacts public safety and we take that seriously,” commented a parole officer.
“We are doing a horrible job of preparing offenders to return to society,” another participant concluded.
A majority of respondents (87%) said the top reason for workload increases was the introduction of new policies to accommodate high needs offenders such as those with mental health issues, Indigenous offenders who are tragically overrepresented in Canada’s federal correctional system, and an intensification of parole officer duties due to years of streamlining of services.
USJE National President Stan Stapleton, who represents 1,600 parole officers in Canada, says while many of the changes being made to Corrections are well-intended, their implementation is fraught.
“USJE welcomes measures for meaningful correctional reform, such as the proposed Bill C-83 to replace solitary confinement, but the success of these reforms rests disproportionately on parole officers and others working on the frontlines of offender rehabilitation,” said Stapleton.
Adding new programs or changing others in an already overburdened corrections system without sufficient resources to ensure success, he says, is taking certain public safety employees to the brink, and posing potential risks to communities.
“Any new reforms must be sufficiently resourced and staffed, and the existing system must be better funded, to allow parole officers and other rehabilitative staff to do their jobs effectively to keep Canadians safe.”
Stapleton said reductions in staff, programs and services in federal institutions have been felt since 2012 budget cuts under the Deficit Reduction Action Plan (DRAP), a streamlining process that resulted in serious and cascading impacts through the federal correction system.
He said USJE conducted the survey to understand the impact of DRAP cuts over the last seven years – with survey data and personal testimony indicating cutbacks have had a negative impact on the rehabilitative outcomes for offenders and increased the potential risk to Canadian communities.
The Union of Safety and Justice Employees, (USJE)
USJE is a union that works to keep Canadians safe every day. It represents parole and program officers, tradespeople, frontline staff and teachers who work inside and outside the federal prison system. Our members support the day-to-day operations of hundreds of RCMP detachments. Across 17 federal departments nationwide, we protect the privacy and security of Canadians as well as help provide access to information, justice and human rights.
Jo Anne Walton
Strategic Communications Specialist/USJE
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