Canada’s Correctional System Close to Breaking Point

Le Soleil, February 27, 2020

The case of Eustachio Gallese, who will plead guilty Thursday to the murder of Marylène Lévesque, has highlighted weaknesses in Canada’s correctional system, which is nearing the “breaking point,” according to a report released last May by the Union of Security and Justice Employees (USJE). “With nearly 40 per cent of the federal offender population under the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in the community and only six per cent of the correctional budget allocated to support services […], many offenders are falling through the cracks,” warned the Union after an extensive survey of 540 parole officers across the country.

First, a word about the work of parole officers. CSC has approximately 1,600 parole officers, half of whom work exclusively in federal correctional institutions. According to the USJE, approximately 13,900 offenders are supervised by parole officers working in penitentiaries, and another 9,100 are supervised by community-based parole officers. The role of these officers is to accurately assess and manage offenders both inside and outside the walls.

Throughout an offender’s incarceration, parole officers assess their risk factors (primarily the likelihood of recidivism) by monitoring behavioural changes and modifying correctional plans as required.

These assessments are used by the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to determine whether an inmate can be conditionally released and safely managed in society.

In the community, parole officers meet with offenders in Community Residential Centres (or halfway houses, such as Painchaud in Quebec City) or in Community Correctional Centres (such as Marcel-Caron in Quebec City). During these contacts, they must constantly assess and manage the degree of risk offenders pose to the community.

At the outset, the USJE report recalls that in 2012 the former Conservative government imposed budget cuts on the CSC that had an impact on the entire federal correctional system.

As there is little statistical information on the impact of these cuts, the report indicates that the Union undertook a survey of its members “to understand how a long-term trend of underfunding of Canada’s correctional system has affected the ability of parole officers to ensure public safety,”.

The majority of respondents indicated that they do not have the time to properly assess, supervise and prepare offenders for release. Offenders who, in some cases, may reoffend and cause “more harm to the public and to themselves,” it was noted.

“Insurmountable Challenges”

In particular, the USJE noted that the survey results show that “high caseloads, chronic understaffing and the reduction or modification of CSC programs and services in institutions and communities present insurmountable challenges to the management of offender risks,”.

Faced with pressure in federal institutions “to expedite the processing of inmates through the system,” parole officers say they are “unable to spend valuable time with offenders and maximize rehabilitation opportunities,” added the report.

According to the union, an “alarming” number of parole officers report anxiety related to the fact that they have less and less time to work with an ever-increasing number of offenders, and that this anxiety is affecting their psychological and physical health.

As a result, the public loses the expertise of experienced professionals who go on sick leave and are replaced by new, less experienced staff.

The USJE even reports that when parole officers go on leave for health reasons, “many offenders are, in some cases, left without an officer for unacceptable periods of time, meaning that they do not have access to the rehabilitative support and supervision of a parole officer”.

What we know about Gallese

To date, the CSC, the PBC and the USJE have kept quiet about the Gallese case. It is known, however, that Eustachio Gallese’s risk of reoffending to a partner was deemed “high” in 2007, while the offender was serving a sentence for the murder of his spouse four years earlier.

Eustachio Gallese was granted day parole in March 2019, which was extended by the PBC last September. The offender was living in a Community Residential Centre (or halfway house) in Quebec City when he was arrested for the murder of Marylène Lévesque. In September, his case management team assessed his risk of reoffending as “moderate.”

We asked the CSC this week why Gallese was sent to a Community Residential Centre rather than a Community Correctional Centre, which has 24-hour parole officers and therefore better management of security issues, but we had not received an answer at press time.

In its September decision, the PBC stated that Gallese had benefited from a strategy developed by his case management team to meet with women, but only to meet his sexual needs. The PBC disapproved of this practice and asked that it be “reconsidered”, it states in its decision.

The USJE stated in a communiqué issued earlier in February that Gallese was no longer allowed to date women for sexual gratification since the PBC had disapproved of this permission.

In the press release, the Union referred to “significant systemic challenges in our federal correctional system,” while stating that it is bound by confidentiality restrictions that prohibit it from disclosing the specific details of the tragedy.

The CSC and the PBC commissioned an internal review to shed light on the circumstances that led to the murder of Marylène Lévesque. An insufficient exercise, according to the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Ivan Zinger, who believes the investigation should instead be conducted independently by a retired judge or a lawyer, he told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.