National Union of Public and General Employeeshttp://www.nupge.ca/corrections_probation.htm
Probation & Parole Working Session – March 2004
The National Union gatherd Probation Officers from most provinces across Canada in March 2004. They discussed common concerns which are very similar to issues here in British Columbia. BC was represented by PO Byron Howard, a Probation Officer with Nelson Community Corrections. Here are a few comments made. Read more on the NUPGE website http://www.nupge.ca/corrections_probation.htm
Discussion ensued on the fact that Probation (and Parole) Officers are a public representative and politicians don’t really know what they do. Governments espouse "tough on crime" – however resources are not there and "what is" tough on crime? The Courts don’t back up Probation Officers and police are taking more of a role in whether someone goes to jail, etc.
There are differences between Probation Officers and Parole Officers and clarification and identification is needed in this area as well. Youth Workers (under the new Youth Criminal Justice Act) are taking the ‘roles’ of Probation Officers – which leads to the question - what is a probation officer? Who are they; what do they do (cost effective; offender effective)? How can Probation Officers show the dollar value (insurance, administration), and the social value (spend more time with offenders than police do) of their role in society. It was noted that police and fire fighters are recognized for their value all the time – but Probation Officers aren’t. In fact, even on TV, the positions in the public eye tend to be social workers, police and parole officers.
Education of the public on the differences in the justice system as to who does what is important. "Everyone" in the justice system is seen as essential except for Probation Officers even though they work side by side with other members in the justice community. In fact Probation Officers influence court decisions. Failed probation gets public attention – but not the successes. Successes cannot be identified as this breaches the ethics of confidentiality; and recidivism rates are not well documented.
National President James Clancy summarized:
1. We need to ‘tell the story’ – outline the work (and value) of what Probation Officers do. This requires someone dedicated to do the task of researching and writing the ‘story’.
2. Who do you tell the story to? The story must be distributed to policy makers, Members of Parliament, the media, to human resources, etc.
3. We need to educate on the issue and not criticize government.
4. We need to create a website which is tailored and organized – by topic – for Probation Officers. This would be done via section within section. A ‘chat room (password secure) for participants – or a ‘guest book’ created with links to the issues – could be created.
5. The current ‘Criminal Justice / Correctional Officers’ sector on the NUPGE website could have a section pertaining to probation and parole.
6. Labour / management infrastructure is also a vehicle for education; need to advocate for ourselves.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Until 1984 Canada had the Juvenile Delinquents Act (more emphasis on the child and specific problems); from 1984 to 2003 the Young Offenders Act (more access to lawyers, plea bargains, and custody); and since April 1, 2003 the Youth Criminal Justice Act (more emphasis on diversion alternatives, community sentencing, and non-custody). With the new YCJA, there are less youth in remand and custody units across the country are being closed. The YOA saw inconsistency of sentencing, and the YCJA is seeing virtually no incarceration.
Probation Officers are losing their input into the decision-making process as to who goes to jail, gets charged, gets released, etc. Police now have a greater role in discretionary decisions as to whether to bring the youth to Court. It is unclear and vague as to how far the police can go in their discretionary action. The Crown also has more discretion as to whether to proceed with the case.
The term "youth worker" covers generic roles versus that associated with Probation Officer. The Act is being applied to ‘all’ youth, regardless of personal circumstances (social, drug abuse, culture, poverty, etc.). Restorative justice works in certain communities but in fact is reducing jobs because much of the work is being done on a voluntary basis or by other agencies. Probation Officers need to position themselves as to their role under YCJA.
P.O.s have become passive as they are glad to see some of the workload go and don’t want add-ons to their existing workload. This passivity has resulted from decades of overwork. NGOs do not have to deal with the youth who ‘fit’ into the custody system (sex offenders, gang members, violent offenders) – but P.O.s do have to deal with them. Agencies are making money, both federally and provincially.
There is no tracking system in place as to the benefits of Non-Government Organization’s or P.O. efforts. Sentencing is not consistent (from one community to another and from one province to another). Community services are also not coordinated or consistent. Youth crime/justice could become a button to push for the upcoming federal election. There is a need to reinsert the role of P.O.s back into the ‘hub’ of the model. P.O.s are professionals / specialists and are Officers of the Court. There is currently no center to coordinate the whole process.
The public needs to know what is happening in their communities. Youth with mental health, developmental, or behaviour difficulties – need specialized handling, not regular classrooms, and the parents need support as well.
There is a definite lack of supports or resources in the new YCJA. P.O.s are the option to coordinate and tie-in what is needed. We need to show the cost-effectiveness of utilizing a P.O. versus an agency. We need to provide solutions to changing or modifying the Act – with the inclusion of P.O.s. What is ‘real’ in the field needs to be identified.
Privatization / Devolution
It was reported that in Saskatchewan, Aboriginal Justice Committees are seeking more probation positions, with no accreditation, and under the control of Band Council. The John Howard Society has developed alternative programs (which is politically advantageous).
In Manitoba, the devolution of Probation Services to Aboriginal organizations was among the recommendations of the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission and one that the Department of Justice of the Province of Manitoba endorses and intends to implement. The Metis Justice Institute was created in July of 2003. There currently is an overrepresentation by Aboriginals in the probation system. Aboriginals need more say with regard to their community, however, Probation Officers have not been consulted in the process (30 to 40% of staff are Aboriginals). More restorative measures are wanted by the Aboriginal community, but were told they will stay under the Ministry of Justice.
There are many problems associated with devolution. Positions need to be unionized versus under the control of Band Council. There needs to be an enhancement of Aboriginal services, but there is a perception that not enough pilots or other initiatives that would attempt to deliver programs in a more aboriginal oriented manner - have been tried - or researched as to their effectiveness before any more major moves occur. There is also clear potential in the community justice forums in terms of alternative forms of justice that could be broadened and enhanced for the aboriginal community as opposed to the more radical sweeping broader changes that devolution speaks to.
In British Columbia, for several years some responsibilities have been passed over in varying degrees to First Nations. Recent attempt by Ministry of Children and Families to devolve services to regional authorities and First Nations has been a disaster and recently was postponed for 2-3 years.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government is floating 1000 layoffs which may impact Probation Officers. There is a chipping away of programs and the work of P.O.s.
In PEI re-employment of youth workers from the centres have impacted on the P.O.’s work responsibilities. Also, the new Youth Probation Officers have taken the Youth supervision away from the Adult P.O.s.
Peace Officer Status
Probation Officers in all provinces (at present meeting) have peace officer status except for the Ontario Adult system. A study was commissioned by the ADM of Community Corrections in Ontario to look into this matter.
More information available at http://www.nupge.ca/corrections_probation.htm
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