The cells within the 40-year-old Prince Rupert RCMP building are expected to be renovated this year to meet national standards. (Pixabay photo)

The cells within the 40-year-old Prince Rupert RCMP building are expected to be renovated this year to meet national standards. (Pixabay photo)

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Canada’s parole officers say the country’s corrections system is at a breaking point due to workloads that are “insurmountable” — a situation they say poses real risks to public safety.

A recent survey of parole officers by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees suggested more than two-thirds of parole workers are worried they’re not able to properly protect the public because they do not have time to adequately assess, supervise and prepare offenders for release.

The union, which represents the officers, says this means many offenders are left to fall through the cracks — offenders who, in some cases, may re-offend and harm the public or themselves.

“What we’re saying is that we are at a critical point here. We have parole officers throughout our survey who are genuinely concerned about public safety,” said David Neufeld, a national vice-president of the union.

“Almost 70 per cent of our members who responded to the survey are saying that they’re worried that they’re not able to sufficiently protect the public because of their current workloads. Things can get missed. Information can get missed.”

The survey results were included in a report issued this week by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees, offering a detailed breakdown of the concerns being raised by the 1,600 parole officers in Canada’s corrections system.

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions. The rest work with inmates in the community after they are released. They are responsible for developing correctional plans for each inmate, which is how decisions are made about what levels of security inmates need and what kinds of rehabilitation programs will help them.

Decisions made by parole officers determine when and how inmates are released, as well, and into what transitional facilities.

Last fall, a federal auditor general’s report found that the Correctional Service of Canada didn’t have enough spots in halfway houses for prisoners who were ready to begin reintegrating. The report said parole officers often didn’t get key information about inmates’ health as they prepared release plans, and officers dealing with parolees often couldn’t meet offenders as often as they should have.

That report echoes findings by authorities at other levels. Ontario’s auditor general, for instance, reported in 2014 that officers doing similar work at the provincial level often couldn’t supervise high-risk offenders adequately and weren’t equipped to deal with offenders’ mental-health problems. A follow-up assessment two years later found little to no progress had been made on several important recommendations.

The federal officers say high caseloads and chronic understaffing have led to “insurmountable challenges to managing offender risk.”

“Many worry these unmanageable workloads mean key pieces of information could be missed in the monitoring of an offender, which in turn, could impact the safety of the community where the offender is released,” the report states.

Lines from officers who provided comments for the survey paint a picture of employees suffering anxiety, depression and burnout.

“I’m so busy trying to keep my head above water that the chances I’m missing something is inevitable,” says an unnamed parole officer quoted in the report.

Neufeld says the problems stem from funding cuts under the former Conservative government, which led to a reduction in staff and increased caseloads for many officers.

Since then, new approaches introduced by the Trudeau government to deal with the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s penal system have only added to officer caseloads, Neufeld said.

In addition, policy changes aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement in prisons have not led to a corresponding increase in staff or resources to deal with growing numbers of inmates with mental health and addictions issues, according to the union.

But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s spokesman Scott Bardsley said significant investments have been made in the correctional system, totalling almost $700 million. Much of this money has been attached to policy changes involving expanded mental-health care in prisons and more healing and rehabilitative care for Indigenous inmates.

The union report says an increased emphasis on moving inmates toward release has added to the concern about risks to public safety, Neufeld says.

“With the change in government there was a renewed focus on reintegration … and we’ve been very successful in increasing the number of inmates being released back into our communities, but the resourcing has not been improved or increased in the community,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is that parole officers struggle greatly with the amount of work that is on their hands in trying to monitor these offenders very closely and ensuring we’re having the quality contact that is required to really understand how well is that offender really doing on the street and how safe is it for them to come back to our communities.”

The union is calling for more staff and more resources to ensure inmates are being properly assessed for risk.

In January, Goodale held a roundtable in Ottawa with community and institutional parole officers from across the country where the workers were able to outline their concerns.

Bardsley said money to hire additional parole officers and other staff is attached to the Liberals’ corrections legislation, Bill C-83, which is before the Senate.

“We know there is more work to do, and we look forward to doing it in partnership with parole officers,” Bardsley said in a statement, adding a dig at the former Conservative government for “penny-pinching” in areas of public safety.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

A search is underway for David Borden in Oyama, since he was last seen Wednesday, June 16. (Contributed)
UPDATE: Missing Lake Country man found

Family thanks Facebook community for sharing photo of missing man

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Kelowna Fire Department. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Abandonded campfire results in Kelowna bushfire

The fire was measured at 20 feet by 20 feet in size and has been deemed not suspicious in nature

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce will host the Valley Wide Business Expo May 4 at Predator Ridge Resort. (photo submitted)
Golf raffle helps Okanagan families score homes

Habitat for Humanity Okanagan swinging into action this summer with a new raffle

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

Fanny Chapman doesn’t just serve up Mexican flavours at the Kal Lake Food concession at Kal Beach, she also teaches Spanish. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernonites asked to share funniest Spanish translation stories

Mexicans living in town holding a contest to offer free Spanish classes

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Hundreds of people, young and old, joined the three-day Walking Our Spirits Home procession, honouring residential school survivors, those who never made it home and all those affected by the institutions. Here people walk the third portion on June 13. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

Canadian blues sensation Colin James will close down Saturday night, Aug. 14 of the 2021 digital Salmon Arm Roots Blues Festival. (Black Press Media file photo)
Salmon Arm’s Roots & Blues Festival returns online after 2020 success

Nine acts, including Colin James, Caleigh Cardinal, to perform on festival website Aug. 13 and 14.

A truck rolled several times off Highway 6 in Coldstream Thursday night, sending two to hospital. (RCMP photo)
Rollover near Vernon sends 2 to hospital

Highway 6 closed temporarily while emergency crews extricated occupants

Most Read