USJE invited to present to the Senate Committee on Human Rights

The Senate Committee on Human Rights is presently studying the human rights of prisoners in the federal correctional system to investigate access to mental health treatment, the effect of segregation and the overrepresentation of minorities in prisons, among other topics. USJE was invited to present to this committee and on February 6, 2019, Stan Stapleton, USJE’s National President, made the following address:

Thank you so much for your interest today, and for making space for the Union of Safety and Justice Employees to shed light on the arena of federal corrections. 

As you likely know, USJE represents the vast majority of CSC employees – both in the institution and the community – with the exception of Correctional Officers, aka guards. 

Consequently, we bring a holistic perspective to the federal correctional system given the crucial role we play at every stage of the process – 

  • from intake and assessement, 
  • to the development of correctional plans, 
  • the deployment of offenders into programs, education, or training opportunities, 
  • the actual delivery of those programs,
  • to the preparations and planning for offenders’ release into the community.

To this end, USJE includes all of Canada’s federal parole officers (approx. 1500), as well as managers of assessment and intervention, program officers, Aboriginal liaison officers, ACDOs, food services employees, maintenance workers, etc.

At the community level, CSC employees that USJE represents are directly involved in monitoring and supporting the re-integration of offenders into the community. 

There is no doubt that most CSC’s employees take their roles and responsibilities within the federal correctional system very seriously.

However, what sets USJE apart is that the vast majority of the employees USJE represents are involved in supporting the ongoing rehabilitation of federal offenders from the minute they enter the system – so that they can be re-integrated back into the community.

Just last week, USJE convened a ground-breaking roundtable with Minister Ralph Goodale and 12 parole officers from across the country.

I saw this roundtable as critically important because USJE believes that our federal correctional system is extremely stressed… nearing a breaking point.Why? 

Due to the cuts made under the Deficit Reduction Action Plan in 2012, there was a streamlining process within Corrections that has had serious and cascading effects ever since.

These consequences directly affect the quality of the work Correctional employees undertake every day in support of the rehabilitation of federal offenders. Three issues dominated last week’s roundtable with Minister Goodale. 

1) We have a ratio problem in our institutions and in the community.Parole officers have too many offenders on their case load and do not have sufficient time or resources to give so that offenders, especially high needs one, get the attention they deserve.DRAP increased ratios in federal prisons to 1 to 25 (min), 1 to 28 (medium) and 1 to 30 (maximum). 

Further, there is chronic under-staffing of federal parole officers, and Aboriginal Liaison officers (ACDOs) throughout the country.In order to save money year after year, CSC does not always fully staff many positions, including parole officers.What does this mean? 

That means when a parole officer, for example, is on annual leave, stress leave, urgent family or medical leave, there is rarely anyone dedicated to the management of the offenders this individual supervises.Parole officers have to ask for personal favours from their colleagues to cover their caseloads.

At Kent Institution in BC this past summer, this approach meant that there were nearly 90 offenders this past summer that had not been assigned a parole officer.This presents INSURMOUNTABLE challenges when it comes to managing risk that offenders pose, and maximizing rehabilitative opportunities while they are in custody. 

In the community, we are seeing significantly higher numbers of offenders being released with parole conditions, but with NO adjustment to the workload formula of parole officers to ensure they have sufficient time.Just 6 percent of CSC’s overall budget is spent in the community 

Further, access to supervised housing, & half way houses is totally insufficient, especially when it comes to Community Correctional Centres which houses the highest risk and highest need offenders.

This means that offenders are often warehoused in institutions as they wait for a bed in the community.Community supports, including for things as basic as access to elders, or substance abuse supports, are NOT funded by CSC and many offenders fall through the cracks.

2) Further, due to the significant changes to key rehabilitation programs within Corrections, which are now the Integrated Correctional Program Model, and Aboriginal Integrated Correctional Program Model, many program officers feel that the effectiveness of these programs has been compromised – and offenders are NOT getting what they need to address the reasons that led them to commit a federal crime in the first place.

3) The mental and physical health of the CSC employees that we represent is declining- which directly affects the quality of the interaction between offenders and staff. Stress leave is pervasive among our members, due to the fact that caseloads are too high, and the resources to manage complex offenders with multiple needs, ARE NOT there. 

4) Finally, I would say that there is a culture of fear within CSC.CSC employees that USJE represent see a management style throughout the country that is more interested in numbers, than it is hearing and acting on information from the front line experiences of the employees who are directly or indirectly supporting the rehabilitation of offenders. 

Whether the issue is harassment between and among employees, or harassment between employees and offenders, harassment has exploded and CSC is still struggling to find external supports to turn the tide. 

While we applaud the appointment of a new Commissioner, someone we believe brings a notably different style and approach, the fear among CSC employees of pushing back against CSC management is so deeply entrenched, be it the warden, regional HQ, or national HQ, it is difficult to know how to over come it. 

We see these as some of the main issues as dominating the conditions under which we take our work, which in turn directly affects the quality of the work we do with offenders, and look forward to your questions.

Thank you.

Stan Stapleton
National President
Union of Safety and Justice Employees