The Community Correctional Centre (CCC) in Chilliwack is a halfway house run by the Correctional Service of Canada and houses high-risk offenders reintegrating into the community. It is the only CCC in British Columbia. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Union for parole officers at B.C. halfway house says public safety at risk

Increase in parole officers’ workload dealing with highest-risk offenders raises concern

In the 1990s, Kevin Scott Miller raped a 14-year-old girl, violently choked a 21-year-old woman he met at a bar and strangled a prostitute with a drawstring from his own jacket.

His psychopathic score was measured by psychiatrist to be in the 86th percentile.

And in 2016, Kevin Scott Miller was living at a halfway house in Chilliwack, the Community Correctional Centre on Rowat Avenue.

Miller has not reoffended in a violent way, although he is back in custody, having violated his long-term supervision order by purchasing cannabis. But his very presence in the community at a centre from which he could walk away is shocking to some in the community.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack violent sex offender pleads guilty to breach of long-term supervisor

As for those who work at Community Correctional Centres (CCC), they are in a crisis in their ability to deal with offenders such as Miller, according to the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE).

The Chilliwack location is the only CCC in British Columbia and one of 14 across the country where parole officers supervise the highest-risk offenders as they are released back into the community.

More than two thirds of parole officers reported in an internal USJE survey that they were “very concerned about the fact that they did not feel they could protect the public,” according to USJE national vice-president David Neufeld.

“Speaking to our members at the Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre, the issue of workload is truly something that they are concerned about,” Neufeld told The Progress.

The problem facing parole officers in Canada isn’t new. Five years ago, under the Stephen Harper Conservatives’ so-called Deficit Reduction Action Plan, the ratio of parole officers to offenders went from one to eight up to one to 13.

“The parole officers are telling us that it’s difficult to manage with the time that they’ve got,” Neufeld said.

As an example, Neufeld said parole officers might deal with a gang member who has served time and is looking to get back into society and stay away from former associates. If the officer doesn’t have enough time to meet with the offender and discuss what they are going through, the risk to the offender and the public increases.

In addition to the workload caused by the government cutbacks, in 2017 under the Liberal government pressure was put on the Correctional Service of Canada to get Indigenous offenders back into the community. That means pressure to get offenders in front of parole boards after just one program is completed in jail.

“Just because a guy has completed a program, he may not be ready for release,” Neufeld said.

If that offender hasn’t dealt with his or her criminogenic risk factors, it puts more pressure on the PO to manage him or her in the community.

“I can tell you the CCCs play a critical role in the reintegration of the offenders who are particularly high risk because if they don’t have the supports they need when they come back into the community, that’s when they are at greater risk,” Neufeld said.

The USJE issued its “Crisis in Corrections” news release on Monday, just days before Members of Parliament head back to Ottawa. The timing is meant to urge the federal government to take immediate action to address the challenges of frontline workers dealing with high-risk offenders.

Asked about the CCC in Chilliwack and concerns of union members, Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl said the primary responsibility of government is to protect the health and safety of law-abiding citizens.

“I met with members of the staff at the local Community Correctional Centre earlier this year to listen to their concerns, which were very troubling,” he said in a statement. “I raised the issue with former Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, but didn’t receive a satisfactory response. I’m hopeful that the new minister [Bill Blair] will place a higher priority on this file.”

A spokesperson from Correctional Service Canada said Wednesday no one was yet available to comment on the union’s concerns.

• RELATED: Fighting hunger with Bowls of Hope earns community service award for Mike Csoka


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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