On Tuesday, May 24th, USJE National President David Neufeld & Regional Vice President Jeff Sandelli hosted House of Commons Public Safety Chair, Jim Carr, on a tour of Stony Mountain Institution and the Osborne Community Correctional Centre in Winnipeg.
Tour of Stony Mountain Institution
USJE Local President Wayne Robillard also accompanied special guests on the tour at Stony Mountain where Member of Parliament, the Hon. Jim Carr, and his staff were given a brief overview of the Structured Intervention Unit (SIU), the Food Services kitchen, the healing lodge as well as a medium security range. The disproportionately high number of indigenous offenders was a central focus of the tour. USJE highlighted how its members are actively involved in the assessment, care and rehabilitation of offenders from the moment an offender enters the institution, to their time engaged in correctional programs, until their ultimate release back into the community.
The overwhelming predominance of gangs was discussed given the fact that this reality adds considerable complexity to the priorities of risk management and offenders’ access to rehabilitative programs. The role of elders, Indigenous Liaison officers and other indigenous staff was emphasized owing to the invaluable impact that Indigenous focused programs have on many indigenous offenders. Mr. Robillard, who is an Indigenous Liaison Officer, spoke of the need to increase access to these Indigenous led initiatives so that more Indigenous offenders can avail of them given their over-representation in many federal penitentiaries.
The tragic incident involving the violent assault of a Food Services Officer by an offender, in August 2021, was also discussed. USJE highlighted its ongoing call for CSC to provide all required training to Food Service Officers, which includes safety training, prior to starting work in the kitchen. USJE identified the need for more Food Service Officers in the kitchen and an increased presence of Correctional Officers to support the security of employees and offenders in the kitchen. Unfortunately, none of these measures have been implemented despite several conversations with the Commissioner of Correctional Services of Canada, Anne Kelly.
Visit and Roundtable at Osborne Community Correctional Centre
After the visit to Stony Mountain, Mr. Carr and his staff accompanied USJE during a visit at the Osborne Community Correctional Centre (CCC). While there, USJE underscored the significant challenges faced by rehabilitative staff in managing the very high risk, high needs population of offenders who reside in CCCs throughout the country (largely due to special conditions placed on their conditional release).
The acute struggles experienced by federal Community Parole Officers (both at CCCs and at Community Parole Offices) were discussed. These struggles include the difficult balance that must be maintained between managing an offenders risk to public safety and supporting their successful integration back into the community.
Unfortunately, federal Parole Officer Supervisors, Case Management Assistants, Correctional and Social Program Officers, Indigenous Liaison Officers, among other correctional staff represented by USJE, are particularly vulnerable to occupational stress injuries owing to understaffing, burnout, constant exposure to traumatized individuals, traumatic materials (the details of the violent crimes committed), victim statements, the difficult family histories of many offenders.
Further, Parole Officers and Parole Officer Supervisors working in federal penitentiaries and in Community Parole Offices bear a heavy burden in continuously assessing offenders’ risk of re-offending once released back in the community. The release in April 2022 of USJE’s ground-breaking report on Federal Parole Officers’ vulnerability to Occupational Stress Injuries was frequently referenced with Mr. Carr and his staff.
The fact that many offenders lack key structural supports once released into the community was also identified as contributing to public safety risks and occupational stress injuries among some correctional employees. These include:
- limited to no access to qualified mental health experts who are able to treat complex trauma/major psychological and psychiatric conditions;
- a shortage of safe and stable housing (if offenders are not living in a CCC or a Community Residential Facility);
- lack of access by many offenders in the community to sustained and sophisticated support for substance abuse;
- limited to no access to enhanced employment services which support offenders in actively identifying appropriate job opportunities and their successful job retention;
- limited access to elders and Indigenous programs in the community (particularly for Indigenous offenders coming from rural and remote areas).
While some gains are being made by CSC in facilitating improved access to some core CSC community programs for a limited number of offenders, the absence of better structural supports in the community for offenders on release, beyond that provided by the federal rehabilitative staff including federal Parole Officers, correctional Programs Officers, Community Employment Coordinators, Indigenous Community Liaison Officers, among others, is an urgent issue requiring a multi-faceted approach.
Finally, the minimal amount of funds dedicated to federal Community Corrections (approximately six percent of the overall Correctional Service of Canada budget) underscores the challenges of ensuring offenders have the best chance of a positive re-integration outcome into the community. Without notable improvements, it is difficult to see how Canada’s highest risk offenders have the opportunity for true long term rehabilitation, and how the Correctional Service of Canada can become a compelling and rewarding place of employment for many staff.