On Monday, February 1, 2021, USJE National President Stan Stapleton and USJE National Vice-President David Neufeld appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The Committee was hearing testimony related to their study of the “Parole Board of Canada and the circumstances that led to a young woman’s death”.
Stan and David’s presentation and comments highlighted the systemic pressures Parole Officers have experienced for years, as reflected in USJE’s 2019 report, Protecting Public Safety: The challenges facing federal parole officers in Canada’s highly stressed criminal justice system.
You may watch their testimony on ParlVU from the 17:14:00 mark.
Please see below for the full text of their presentation.
Hello/ Bonjour – USJE represents all Parole Officers, Program Officers, Teachers, and other federal correctional employees who work in a non-active security function (such as correctional guards) in:
- Canada’s 43 federal prisons
- 92 Community parole offices and sub parole offices
- 14 Community Correctional Centres
- 4 healing lodges
Of course, the murder of Marylène Lévesque was a tragedy, a devastating event not just for the family of the victim but for those employees in the correctional system that work each and every day to rehabilitate offenders, and who oversee their reintegration into the community to keep Canadians safe.
Because of an ongoing disciplinary process, respectfully, USJE is not in a position to comment on any of the specifics of the case today, but we will speak to the role of Parole Officers in federal Corrections more generally.
We have 3 main points today:
- the process of preparing offenders for release
- the role of the Parole Board of Canada
- what Parole Officers need when it comes to advancing public safety.
At any one time, there are approximately 9,000 offenders under supervision in communities throughout the country who Parole Officers and Case Management Teams are mandated to supervise.
Many people mistakenly believe that Parole Officers only work in the community, like provincial probation officers.
But in fact, the process to safely reintegrate offenders back into the community begins at their assessment by an intake Parole Officer upon their arrival into a federal institution.
Once the federal inmate is assessed for criminal history, security risk and their potential for rehabilitation, the wheels are already set in motion for their release into the community.
Very few offenders enter a federal facility with no prospect of leaving it, and this is equally true of offenders with a history of violent offences.
It is not Parole Officers who make these rules, but the judges who sentence them.
Additionally, it is the Parole Board of Canada who, as you know, is mandated to carefully review an offender’s application for parole. It is the Parole Board who imposes the conditions under which offenders are supervised in the community.
There is no doubt that federal Parole Officers who work directly with the offenders while they are incarcerated play a crucial role in making recommendations about the conditions for the offender’s release.
Ultimately, however, these are just recommendations.
As an independent body somewhat removed from the day to day grind of Correctional Service work, it is the Parole Board of Canada who sets the conditions for the safe reintegration of federal offenders.
That being said, Parole Officers play a pivotal role in preparing offenders and advancing public safety.
Sadly, however, they are not always treated that way.
In the case of a violent offender, such as someone who has murdered his/her spouse, you might think that Parole Officers are given more time to carefully assess the background and circumstances of an offender with a history of committing a homicide.
This not the case. Caseloads are extremely heavy in federal Corrections and no distinctions are made based on the complexity or violent past of the offender.
You may also think that a Parole Officer would have clerical support to support the acquisition of crucial court documents that are often hundreds if not thousands of pages in length. This is not the case, either.
Many clerical positions were cut by the Correctional Service of Canada in 2016 and have not been reinstated.
In fact, Parole Officers sometimes wait months – if not years – for these documents. In certain cases, privacy considerations prevent the release of materials from police agencies, and other relevant bodies such as Victim Services, Children’s Aid, etc.
Consequently, many Parole Officers are left to navigate complex administrative processes to receive relevant information. The requests from Parole Officers do not receive special consideration. They must get in the queue like other players in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, they don’t always get what they need when they need it.
You might also assume that Parole Officers receive cutting edge training on an annual basis that equips them with the best assessment tools and provides a meaningful opportunity to talk with their peers about best practices.
This is also not true. In fact, due to cuts, all training has been virtual for a number of years and does not always align with what Parole Officers need. This is something that federal Parole Officers believe has been a significant detriment to their profession.
It is for these and so many other reasons that in 2019, USJE released a groundbreaking report, Protecting Public Safety: The challenges facing federal parole officers in Canada’s highly stressed criminal justice system.
For this study, USJE invited Parole Officers from across the country to share their perspectives on the status of the correctional system and their role in it.
Hundreds responded, most of whom had never been involved in our union.
Overwhelmingly, they said Canada’s correctional system is stressed and nearing a breaking point, with a majority of offenders asserting their working conditions often prevent them from properly assessing, supervising and preparing offenders for their safe return to society.
High offender caseloads, chronic understaffing, and significant changes to correctional programs and services are cited as presenting insurmountable challenges to managing offender risk.
More than two-thirds, 69%, of Parole Officers surveyed worried they were not able to sufficiently protect the public given their current workloads.
The vast majority, 92%, agreed that an increase in staffing would improve their capacity to keep Canadians safe.
A further 85% agreed that a decrease in the number of offenders assigned to them would improve public safety.
We submit this report as part of our testimony today, and ask that it be considered as you make your recommendation.
You would think that this report would have been the catalyst for an important dialogue with CSC on how to improve the system. Instead, it fell on deaf ears. USJE has had no formal response to the report since its release in June 2019.
In conclusion, it is appropriate for this Parliamentary Committee, and the JOINT Board of Investigation which has now released its report, to look at what got missed in the case management around the homicide of Marylène Lévesque.
But without a systems wide analysis of how to better equip and enable the Parole Officers and other correctional employees that are on the front lines doing the work of supporting the reintegration of offenders each and every day, USJE fears another tragedy is just around the corner.