Front-line cuts by Harper government direct hit on public safety

Why the general public needs to wake up and see how the Harper government cuts are impacting them directly

The Harper government has been on a cost-cutting rampage, also known as Deficit Reduction Action Plan, with his ministers touting the party-line of protecting the taxpayer from the greedy federal public service. The general public might believe that the way most cuts will affect them is longer line-ups for services. They are being kept in the dark by this government on how they and their safety will be directly affected by the cuts. Let’s take for example cuts to community-based front-line staff within the Correctional Service of Canada, and how the strategy to achieve these cuts has a direct impact on the safety of Canadians.

One must first understand the role of a Community Parole Officer. Very briefly, they are responsible for supervising Federal and Provincial offenders on all forms of conditional release in the community (such as Work Releases, Day/Full Parole, Statutory Release, and Long Term Supervision Orders). The offenders they supervise pose varying degrees of ‘risk’ with the most notable being high risk recidivist sexual and/or violent offenders.

Parole Officers are required to continually assess an offender’s risk to re-offend by interviewing, observing, listening, questioning, and counseling. They must have an in-depth knowledge of the offender’s background, and be involved in all aspects of their life in order to fulfill their mandate and carry out their duties. In order to achieve this, Parole Officers meet with offenders on a regular and frequent basis and at various locations, such as their home, their job site, their friends/families home, and in the office. This is the core of a Parole Officers job – physically meeting with the offender. These meetings allow the Parole Officer to build a relationship with the offender and an awareness of their ‘normal’ behaviour. Any deviations from the norm allow the Parole Officer to intervene early, before the offender re-offends and therefore, protects the Canadian public.

Through reports and investigations by the Office of the Correctional Investigator, it has been made clear that the Parole Officer is in charge of managing an offender’s case and is ultimately responsible for every aspect of it. The public has an expectation that offenders on release, especially the highest risk and most dangerous of them all, are being held accountable and are being supervised by the strictest and utmost standards available. Cost cutting measures should NEVER put the public directly at risk from offender recidivism.

Thus far, 42 Community Parole Officer positions have been cut across the country. In addition, there have been changes to policy that effectively reduce offender “frequency of contact”. This change is meant to legitimize those cuts and will likely result in additional cuts to front line positions – all while Parole Officers are being advised that they are to now start seeing their most dangerous offenders less.

Parole Officers have been advised that they may meet offenders more frequently if they feel the risk justifies the visit, however resources will not be provided to allow these visits to take place – thereby effectively making it both impossible for the Parole Officer to properly do their job, while simultaneously making them carry the burden for not ‘making time’ to see all of their offenders at the frequency at which they should be seen.

This is a public service cut that can easily generate more victims and seems hypocritical for the ‘tough on crime’ agenda of the current government.

It is also an outright lie regarding the government’s promise that there would be no cuts to front line staff that could impact Canadians.