MPs Ferreri and Bezan tour Osborne Community Correctional Centre with President Neufeld and RVP Sandelli

On May 3rd, Member of Parliament (MP) Michelle Ferreri (Peterborough-Kawartha) and MP James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) met with National President, David Neufeld, Regional Vice President, Jeff Sandelli and other USJE representatives for a tour of the Osborne Community Correctional Centre (CCC) in Winnipeg, MB.

MP Ferreri has attended a number of USJE sponsored events in Ottawa, including most recently the USJE Public Safety Awards held in April 2024, while MP Bezan is acquainted with Correctional Service of Canada USJE members through his annual visits at Stony Mountain Institution (SMI) which happens to be located in his riding.  Both MPs expressed keen interests in continuing to gather information and experience as it relates to seeing and hearing from the front-line.

Parole Officer, Lesley Thibault and Reintegration Officer, Max Becker-Golden, whom both work at the CCC, were gracious enough to volunteer their time to lead a tour and answer questions.  As part of ensuring an understanding of the reintegration process, the MP’s were provided with an overview of the federal system and how offenders move through their terms of incarceration, being given opportunities to engage with programs and services in preparation for their eventual supervised release in the community.

The benefits of a release under supervision provided by the Federal system, which includes elements of accountability, structure, monitoring and support was highlighted as a preferred model relative to “end of sentence” where offenders are left to their own devices and community safety is ultimately diminished.

The MP’s had many questions about the various forms of community release and how supervision and support models were applied.  With particular attention to those being released to the CCC, which can house up to 40 offenders, it was explained that over the past decade there had been a systematic change in the offender profile receiving release to the site.  It was shared that there is now a high concentration of high risk and high need offenders, which is to say those that proportionally have the higher potential to reoffend but also with the most need for intervention coupled with complexities such as being diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness.

The noted concentration of complexity presents an immediate requirement for support, intervention and supervision as it is well known that the first 30 days of release are the highest stress and most likely period for relapse.  When it came to a discussion of the resources dedicated on site, it was shared that there are 4 Parole Officers (ratio of 10-1) one Reintegration Worker and a Elder that are dedicated specifically to the offender’s that reside at the site.  It was noted that a Programs Officer and Psychiatric Nurse also provide services, however they also maintain caseloads from outside the CCC.   It was explained that staff have felt the moral responsibility to go above and beyond to try and fill gaps which are left by the lack of resources which has left them feeling stretched thin.  There was agreement that by adjusting the PO to offender ratio to a more reasonable level or providing more dedicated mental health resources, there could be considerable improvement.

The Mps having heard the complexities of the CCC and further the lack of resources, then inquired as to the health and safety of those that work on the site.  It was shared that over the past decade, there had been a systematic turn-over in Parole Officers on a regular basis, with some applying for and drawing coverage from Workers Compensation Benefits and others being moved to other sites, given the psychological trauma that they experience.  It was shared that the trauma has been overt (direct threats and/or witnessing violence) and cumulative given what they are both reading, hearing and bearing witness to content that is exceptionally graphic and unsettling.

The MPs both acknowledged the need to protect public safety personnel given the importance of their role in protecting Canadians.  MP Ferreri made reference to her knowledge of the USJE Presumptive Injury campaign which was then discussed in greater detail.  All of those in attendance agreed that when one of our members identifies that they have been psychologically impacted by the work they do and require help, the provincial WCB programs should provide presumptive coverage, that is, our members should not have to apply and face potential rejection but rather should receive immediate support in much the same way that Police & Firefighters do in most jurisdictions.

The MPs were also provided with a guided tour of the facility where they were able to view the kitchen area where the offenders can store and prepare the food they purchase.  It was impressed upon them, that up until employment is attained, the offenders are provided with an allowance of $12/day which they must utilize to purchase all of their basic needs.    They were also shown one of the small rooms where two offenders reside, which caused them to reflect on how in many ways the space was worse than what they would have had in prison.  The tour continued with a viewing of the basement common and programming areas, which led to comments around the level of problems in the facility, including leaks and general damage.  Coupled with the relative high crime rate around the CCC, the MPs reflected on the challenges for both offenders and in turn, our members.

At the end of the tour, both MPs expressed their gratitude for the time taken to share with them in addition to thanking our members for their dedicated service. 

USJE also expressed a thank you for the time the MPs took to understand the realities experienced by our front-line members and remain open to providing access to other MPs with interest in doing site visits where our Public Safety Personnel undertake their critical work.