USJE National President David Neufeld, Regional Vice-President Carol Osborne and Local President JR Legault visited the Downtown Toronto Parole Office on July 25, the Hamilton Parole Office on July 26, and the Keele Community Correctional Centre on July 27. They spoke to members about job security, the “new normal,” and other workplace issues.
It was clear that USJE members at these sites are proud to be working for CSC and contributing to public safety. In speaking with President Neufeld and Ms. Osborne, these Correctional Safety employees demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for their work, and the successful re-integration of offenders and protection of public safety. They shared their experiences working through COVID-19 and making a very rapid transition to the “new normal.”
Reports indicate that USJE members appreciate and value the work/life balance afforded by having a hybrid work environment where some work is completed off site. President Neufeld and Ms. Osborne were pleased to hear that members at all locations are still being given the opportunity to work in a hybrid environment, though Case Management Assistants and others are not included at this time at the Downtown Toronto site.
USJE continues to advocate for the maintenance of a hybrid work environment for all members where it is possible to perform some duties off site. At the Downtown Toronto site, Local USJE representatives will meet with local management to develop a plan so that all requests from Correctional employees are actively considered for hybrid work, even if only for one day per week.
Given the dynamic correctional environment, and the fact that Toronto and Hamilton are expensive cities to live in, workload and job security were among the top priorities of correctional employees working at these offices.
Consistently high caseloads, where many offenders have complex needs creates overwhelming work days, heightens the risks for occupational stress injuries. Work/life balance is very difficult if not impossible to achieve. High staff turnover, and a lack of backfill when Parole Officers are away on annual or short-term leave, exacerbate already difficult workloads for those who remain. Being chronically short-staffed means that employees are regularly working well beyond the 37.5 hour week.
Further, many members are on term or casual contracts which means they may have a higher learning curve and need additional time and support. Given high workloads, there is an understandable absence of informal mentorship or formal instruction being provided to ensure that newer Parole officers are well equipped to effectively support offenders and manage risk. This is a major gap in succession planning and poses a serious risk to public safety.
USJE members also expressed concern about whether CSC is doing enough to ensure that internal Parole Officer candidates pass competition testing. Candidates are highly qualified and receive positive performance appraisals but are not always passing the exam. President Neufeld pledged to follow up with NHQ regarding Parole Officer testing and why so many term employees are unsuccessful when taking the tests. USJE recognizes that more mentorship and feedback would be invaluable to these newer officers who often have very limited orientation and training and are learning in a “trial by fire” environment due to everyone being so stretched.
In Hamilton, USJE members also reiterated that the work of Parole Officers and Parole Officer Supervisors has changed significantly over the past 10 years; cases are more complex and require additional time and care. USJE parole and program staff struggle to secure additional access to community programming, mental health supports, and social workers which would assist significantly with community supervision of offenders. These conversations confirmed what Parole Officers and Parole Officer Supervisors across the country have been reporting to USJE for many years.
Thank you to Area Director Kim Gillespie in Hamilton for the positive discussions around the development of improved tools; to Erin Brennan in Toronto for facilitating the tour of the Downtown Parole Office; and to Sheriff Giwa at the Keele Centre for facilitating the tour there.