Federal Member of Parliament and Official Opposition Public Safety Shadow Minister Raquel Dancho met with National President, David Neufeld, and other USJE representatives for a tour of the Osborne Community Correctional Centre in Winnipeg on January 25th.
This facility houses some of the highest risk and highest need offenders in the Prairie region. Most offenders living in this facility have a residency condition imposed upon them by the Parole Board of Canada to live at a federally operated CCC.
These residency conditions are designed to ensure close supervision of individuals who are regarded to be at higher risk of re-offending and who could potentially pose a public safety risk. CCCs offer additional levels of supervision and support in preparing offenders for the possibility of full reintegration back into the community.
Ms. Dancho demonstrated a strong interest in learning more about how federal offenders at CCCs are supported in their rehabilitation and reintegration upon release from a federal institution.
USJE’s members at the Osborne CCC took the time to explain their roles as federal parole officers, program officers, and as Indigenous Community Liaison officers, and highlighted some of the challenges of doing this work.
These challenges include:
- offenders having no identification (birth certificates, in particular) when finishing a sentence at a federal penitentiary. A lack of ID is an immediate barrier to access to health care, longer term housing and employment;
- a lack of access to community operated addictions and substance abuse programs because the Correctional Service of Canada will not offset the costs for participation, despite their value;
- a lack of access to dedicated and trauma informed psychologists and psychiatrists for federal offenders with complex mental health needs, who typically wait up to a year (if not longer) to see the appropriate mental health expert, or have been convicted of particularly egregious crimes, including sex offences;
- insufficient funding for and access to indigenous informed programs and individuals who can offer culturally relevant guidance and support;
- the absence of police liaisons who historically supported federal Parole Officers when warrants had to be executed because an offender had breached his conditions and needed to immediately return to jail.
Given these various challenges, USJE has — for the last seven years — specifically called for the reinstatement of the Police liaison program (also known as the Community Correctional Liaison Officer program) in order to protect public safety and support Parole Officers when revoking an offender’s release, and to help prevent some federal offenders from going Unlawfully at Large.
During the meeting with Ms. Dancho, USJE members also spoke of the significant challenges to their own mental health, and the ongoing struggle to access the necessary supports.
Correctional staff working in a rehabilitative capacity are at higher risk of mental health injuries owing to their ongoing exposure over many years to:
- traumatic materials (graphic details of violent crimes committed by offenders, extensive documentation of the impacts on victims and their families, social histories of offenders which detail histories of abuse, neglect, criminological profiles etc);
- experiences of violent incidents with offenders where the safety of staff may have been compromised;
- the ongoing rehabilitative work that staff do with federal offenders which requires engaging frequently and personally with them while holding the knowledge of the damage they have done to others, and could do again.
USJE also spoke to Ms. Dancho about its efforts to amend the federal Government Employees Compensation Act so that it provides for presumptive injury coverage for mental health injuries that are incurred by federal Public Safety and Justice employees on the job.
Currently, Workers’ Compensation boards and legislation at the provincial and territorial levels determines the criteria and eligibility for all WSIB claims, including for federal public service employees who do not work under provincial jurisdiction.
This means that, overwhelmingly, federal public safety and justice employees do not have access to Workers’ Compensation benefits for mental health injuries that have been incurred owing to the workplace.
As a result, unfortunately, for many years now USJE members have experienced lengthy appeals processes, and a litany of WSIB claims denials. This forces employees to resort to using their own banked leave and their personal workplace benefits programs (which are woefully insufficient at $2000/year) to manage workplace-related mental health injuries, and to access seasoned mental health experts, particularly psychologists.
In wrapping up the meeting, Ms. Dancho expressed her appreciation for the robust nature of the dialogue about the role of the CCCs and the staff who work there.
Ms. Dancho asked many insightful questions about how she could be an advocate for more resources to support the effective rehabilitation of offenders — and the mental health of correctional staff (USJE’s members) who work closely with them.
USJE appreciates the warm welcome that its members showed to Ms. Dancho.
USJE would like to invite all Members of Parliament to consider visiting a federal Correctional facility, whether it’s a federal penitentiary, Parole Office or Community Correctional Centre.
Elected officials and their staff can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to request a tour of a federal facility in their area, or call 613-560-2990. If sending an email, put “visiting a federal facility” in the subject line.