PUBLIC SAFETY TAKES A BACKSEAT – AGAIN

It?s long been a well-known fact that government employees enjoy much greater job protection than those toiling away in the private sector. Until recently it was common for public sector unions to receive a ?job for life guarantee? in their collective bargaining agreements which meant that a government employee could never be laid off ? even if his job became obsolete.

Thankfully, even the public sector has had to accept some realities in the last few years. And while they can still take comfort in having far superior job protection than anyone not employed by the government, even a government job no longer comes with a life long guarantee.

There does appear to be an exception though. I?m referring to the public relations and communications staff at Corrections Canada. If any position in the civil service looks like a sure thing it?s the people doing damage control for the prison system.

In recent memory they?ve had to defend hot tub parties, closed circuit pornography available in cells, lobster barbeques, pyjama parties, manicures for inmates and now the latest.

A just released report reveals that one third of those halfway house residents who are serving out their statutory release, routinely escape and commit new offences. This is fresh on the heels of the Eric Fish story out of Vernon where a halfway house resident went for a walk and killed an elderly gentleman who?s only mistake was not leaving town when the halfway house moved in.

The latest revelations are particularly problematic and it is no wonder Corrections Canada didn?t want them released to the public.

Halfway houses have always served a valuable need and despite much controversy, it would be foolhardy to eliminate them. Halfway houses have typically housed those inmates who have remained trouble free in the institution and actively participated in their treatment plan. The halfway house has always provided a sensible buffer for those who have earned the right to return to the community but require a supervised, gradual re-entry. They also provide an opportunity to evaluate and assess offenders who are on the road to reintegration.

Over the last several years though, inmates are no longer necessarily sent to halfway houses because they?ve earned the privilege. More and more, people are being packed off to halfway houses simply because the system doesn?t know what to do with them.

Almost all inmates must be released into the community after they?ve served two thirds of their sentence. Legislation authorizes Corrections Canada to deny this to those who pose a threat and are deemed most likely to re-offend. But increasingly, Corrections Canada is identifying inmates that are unfit to return to the community ? yet refuses to keep them incarcerated.

The answer? Send them to a halfway house. A full 25% of inmates on statutory release are now residing in halfway houses. These are the offenders who have been unable to qualify for parole or who couldn?t live within the conditions of their parole and were sent back to prison.

They?re believed to be too dangerous to live in the community, yet further custody is not considered necessary. They?re relocated to a halfway house with zero security and now, lo and behold, we find they keep walking away and committing new offences.

Communities that discover they have been selected for the site of a new halfway house are always, and understandably, concerned. But the system has always promised residents that only those posing no risk to the community will be moving into their neighbourhood. The system has always assured concerned citizens that halfway houses are part of the rehabilitation process and an inmate must earn the right to reside in one.

And now we find that?s nothing but a load of B.S. Halfway houses are being used as a dumping ground for high risk offenders who by all logic require prolonged confinement. But because the system is so hell bent on reducing the number of inmates; out they go.

Halfway houses were never intended, nor do they have the physical or human resources, to house high-risk offenders. It is high time that Corrections Canada?s corporate agenda of downsizing be damned, and community safety be acknowledged as priority number one.

Looks like the Corrections Canada damage control team is going to be busy.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at John.Martin@ucfv.ca