Media Release – Federal Public Safety Union Urges Government to Invest in Front Line Parole Officers to Reduce Mental Health Injuries and Keep Canadians Safe

Ottawa, Ontario – Today, the Canada-wide Union of Safety and Justice Employees released a new report on Canadian parole officers entitled, The Mental Health and Well-Being of Canadian Federal Parole Officers: A Qualitative Investigation.

The report, conducted by public safety expert Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli, highlights that hundreds of federal parole officers who supervise Canada’s highest risk offenders are experiencing untenable levels of occupational stress and, by extension, compromised mental health. The reality of overwhelming caseloads, as well as ongoing exposure to physical violence and psychological trauma can potentially undermine public safety outcomes.

The report reveals that many parole officers feel competing pressures to meet certain deadlines while making crucial professional assessments that inform parole and reintegration decisions for Canada’s highest risk offenders.

In Dr Ricciardelli’s report, federal parole officers repeatedly signaled their concerns about regularly assuming responsibility for many additional offender case files when their colleagues are on leave. In doing so, they bear an even heavier caseload than normal and are managing critical public safety files while not being fully supported to do so.

Further, despite the recent emphasis by the federal government on ensuring sufficient access by Indigenous, marginalized, and other racialized offenders to parole and programs, the Correctional Service of Canada has not made the commensurate investments to ensure consistently positive outcomes.

“Unfortunately, the constant pressure of managing complex offender files while balancing the risks of making a mistake when it comes to public safety has a major impact on occupational stress and mental health of these parole officers,” said Dr. Ricciardelli. “Parole officers feel an intense responsibility for their clients (i.e., federal offenders), and the safety and well-being of the larger community.”

In addition to caseloads, parole officers cite regular exposure to physical violence and vicarious trauma as having an impact on their mental health and how they relate to their families – in some cases leading to post-traumatic stress injuries, and even death by suicide.

“Parole officers we spoke to in this study cite witnessing stabbings inside federal penitentiaries, being trapped inside an offender’s home unarmed, and having to view footage of crimes and related violence – these are just a few examples of what they’ve been exposed to,” said Dr. Ricciardelli.

In seeking mental health support, parole officers say that counselors provided to them through CSC’s Employee Assistance Program are rarely effective because they have not been adequately trained in trauma informed therapies.

“Due to the nature of a parole officer’s work, it is critical they have access to mental health providers who are trained in the complexity and intensity of correctional services,” said David Neufeld, USJE’s National President. “USJE has been asking for over five years that the Correctional Service of Canada improve its mental health benefits for public safety employees, including federal parole officers. Nothing has changed.” 

Among several important recommendations in the report, USJE is seeking the immediate implementation of the following:   

  1. Reduce caseloads: Federal parole officers are struggling to manage the complexity of offender caseloads which includes a range of high needs offenders from already marginalized backgrounds – as well as those with a history of mental health challenges. A reduction in caseloads would better equip parole officers with the resources and time necessary to respond to offender needs in a comprehensive manner and ensure positive public safety outcomes.
  2. Backfill offender case management: Parole officers report that when a colleague is on leave or absent, there is no one person to assume their cases, thereby increasing the responsibilities and stress on the remaining officers, while juggling any potential risks to public safety. This policy must change so that when an Officer is on leave and not managing cases, there is someone assigned to these cases.
  3. Hire additional indeterminate parole officers: The recommendation to reduce parole officers’ caseloads is only possible if a greater number of parole officers are hired. As such, USJE is strongly urging that CSC hire additional parole officers to increase the number at each correctional institution, parole office, and Community Correctional Centre. USJE has appealed to the Correctional Service of Canada to increase the number of parole officers since 2017.
  4. Increase mental health treatment and services: Parole officers struggle with mental health needs, either through direct exposures to physical violence/aggression, or from vicarious trauma. Despite repeated efforts since 2017 to get expanded mental health coverage for federal parole officers, the Correctional Service of Canada has not increased the cap on group benefits to support access to qualified, trauma informed psychologists and other experts. This must change. Further, the establishment of annual mandated “check-ins” with a mental health provider to help reduce the stigma of accessing mental health support and to help ensure the parole officer workforce is in good health is also recommended.
  5. Improved parole officer training opportunities: CSC must invest in regular, expert- driven and high-quality training opportunities. Parole officers expressed a strong need for more frequent opportunities to complete relevant training on a wider variety of training options, including how to manage potentially psychologically traumatic events, working with specific populations of prisoners/parolees (e.g., those convicted of sex offences or fraud, Indigenous, etc.), and more training in cultural awareness. Parole officers also require interaction with other correctional professionals (including parole officers from other work sites). Overall, providing leading edge, dynamic training will help address parole officers’ concerns that CSC does not adequately support their work.

About USJE

USJE represents nearly 18,000 federal Public Safety and Justice employees, including thousands of Correctional employees who support the rehabilitation and re-integration of federal offenders. Across 18 federal departments nationwide, USJE members actively protect the safety, privacy and security of Canadians as well as provide crucial access to information, justice and human rights.


Sébastien Bezeau
Director of Policy, Projects and Media Relations