Updated version – Issued on February 10, 2020
The Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) was extremely saddened to hear about the recent murder of a young woman, Marylène Levesque, at the hands of Eustachio Gallese, a federal offender serving a life sentence who was living under day parole conditions in the Québec City area.
Being that USJE represents more than 2000 parole and program officers working in federal prisons and communities across Canada, we are in a unique position to provide insight regarding larger systemic challenges in our federal correctional system. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality restrictions, USJE is not able to address all of the details of which we are aware.
However, USJE has reasonable grounds to believe that this is not a unique situation and that there have been previous instances, in the past number of years, in which visits to massage parlours by other offenders residing in the community have occurred. USJE remains concerned that the Correctional Service of Canada has not addressed their awareness of this practice.
USJE fully recognizes that the Parole Board of Canada demonstrated their disapproval in September 2019 regarding the practice of allowing Gallese to visit massage parlours. The Parole Officer and the private halfway house in Quebec City that were responsible for this supervision accepted this direction.
Parole officers in every part of Canada are professionals who take their responsibilities very seriously. They work tirelessly every day to provide crucial supervision of federal offenders and USJE believes that this case is no exception.
This case has evidently shed light on the federal Correctional system across Canada. To this end, USJE wishes to highlight other stresses within federal Corrections:
1. In 2014, Correctional Service of Canada eliminated the Community Corrections Liaison Officer program. This removed dedicated policing support to help community parole officers do their jobs safely and provide timely back up when offenders break their 2 conditions and/or pose a risk to the public. This program cost approximately $2 million for up to 15 police officers across the country.
2. In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on transitioning offenders quickly from federal prisons to the community. This is only appropriate if the community has sufficient resources to support the safe reintegration of offenders — which is frequently not the case. Parole officer caseloads are already very high in federal prisons and in the community which limits the opportunity for parole officers to directly interact with and understand the mindset and risk that some offenders may pose.
3. There have been major changes to the rehabilitative programs that offenders are required to take in order to lower their risk of re-offending. Many frontline employees who supervise offenders in prisons and in the community are frustrated because they believe that rehabilitative programs have lost some of their power and effectiveness because:
a) program officers no longer have sufficient access to experts in criminal justice who can provide support in the delivery of programs;
b) most of the rehabilitative programs no longer have the same degree of focus on the specific risk factors that led to the crime, and the offender’s potential to re-offend;
c) the programs are shorter than they used to be, providing offenders with fewer rehabilitative tools once these programs are over.
4. Over five years ago, Correctional Service of Canada reduced the required “Frequency of Contact” by half with high needs offenders residing at halfway houses or at Community Correctional Centres, owing to budget cuts. This reduction often heightens risk when it comes to adequately monitoring the behaviour and activities of offenders who require more regular oversight, including on evenings and weekends.
5. A high number of workers suffer from occupational stress injury or are on leave due to burn-out and PTSD. They receive no specialized psychological supports despite working with graphic materials, testimonies, and individuals who are suffering from abuse and have extremely violent pasts.
According to the Auditor General of Canada, in the 2017–18 fiscal year, CSC spent $160 million, or 6% of its overall spending, on the community supervision program nation-wide. The program provides housing, health services, and staff supervision to offenders to help them reintegrate safely into the community. Currently, 44 percent of offenders are now under supervision outside institutions. This means that 6% of the budget is allocated to addressing 44% of the offender population.
To lessen risk, USJE believes that Public Safety Canada needs to:
1. Reintroduce the Community Corrections Liaison Officer program that paired seasoned police officers with community parole offices to support more effective monitoring of offenders and quicker apprehension into custody if required.
2. Reduce the number of caseloads per parole officer, and allow far more time for community and institutional parole officers to undertake meaningful supervision and risk assessment.
3. Conduct an external analysis in partnership with USJE’s frontline staff to evaluate the quality and content of Correctional Service of Canada’s rehabilitation programs, and reinstate the specialized family violence stream.
4. Inject funds to restore community programs and support not for profit partners to facilitate a successful transition to the community.
5. Provide significant psychological supports to front line employees who are exposed daily to graphic testimony and stories from offenders who most often have extensive histories of violence. This will help to prevent the current situation of chronic sick leave and under staffing for which there is little to no backfilling by CSC to ensure appropriate staffing levels.