National Union supports provincial justice ministers call for funding

The proposed 'tough on crime' legislation would exacerbate an already critical situation in our provincial correctional facilities.

 

Ottawa (12 October 2006) - The National Union of Public and General Employees is supporting the demand from provincial justice ministers for the federal government to fund the changes to provincial justice systems that their legislation will bring.

"This is an issue that I have raised with the Prime Minister," said national president James Clancy.

"I wrote him in May expressing concern about how the proposed 'tough on crime' legislation would exacerbate an already critical situation in our provincial correctional facilities."

Provincial Justice Ministers speak out prior to meeting with Federal Ministers

A number of provincial justice ministers have spoken out on the issue before meeting in Newfoundland with their federal counterparts Vic Toews and Stockwell Day.

The federal Conservative government introduced several pieces of legislation in the spring intending to impose minimum mandatory jail terms for a variety of gun-related crimes and to severely restrict conditional sentences.

While Day has announced that Ottawa has set aside $245 million, over five years, to pay for more federal prison cells nothing has been said about funding for provincial facilities.

Many provinces, who run provincial jails for people serving sentences of under two years, are concerned about the costs they will incur from the changes in legislation.

''The costs will be borne almost entirely by the provinces and not just on the capital side, building new correctional facilities, but with legal aid and Crown prosecutors,'' Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell told the media.

''All through the system it's going to cost more money and it's a cheque being written on provincial taxpayers' account by the federal government.''

Crisis in provincial jails

National Union members report that correctional facilities in many provinces are in crisis. In his letter to the Prime Minister, Clancy points out that:

Provincial adult correctional facilities, across the country, are operating at overcapacity and are understaffed. Many of these facilities are aging and badly in need of repair or renovation. This contributes to the overcrowding problem as units and sections are closed and inmates are moved into already cramped quarters.

While delivery of provincial justice systems is the responsibility of the provinces, the National Union feels there is a considerable role the federal government can play in addressing our concerns. As stated in Clancy's letter:

First, targeted federal funding to provincial correctional and probation and parole services could make a significant difference in many jurisdictions. These could be, for example, infrastructure grants, education and training programs, staff recruitment and retention programs and specific program support. In addition, there is the need for a new long-term federal-provincial-territorial funding arrangement.

Second, the federal government could make interagency partnerships between federal agencies and their provincial counterparts a priority. While we appreciate that both the logistics and cultural changes required for this shift may take time, we believe the benefits will be considerable.

Third, we urge your government to hold public discussions on many of these issues confronting the criminal justice system. From possible amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to proposed changes to conditional sentencing, we believe the decisions made by our government will be strengthened by the input of the women and men who know the system best – its workers.

The National Union represents workers in every occupation of Canada's provincial justice system. NUPGE

Text of letter to Prime Minister

May 23, 2006

 

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I am writing to you on behalf of the 340,000 members of the National Union of Public and General Employees. We represent workers in both the public and private sectors, a significant majority of whom work for provincial governments.

An important component of our membership works in the provincial justice system – correctional officers, youth workers, probation and parole officers, sheriffs and a wide range of professionals. These workers are highly dedicated and deeply committed to building an effective and efficient justice system. Recently a national meeting of these workers was held and a number of issues were identified that I would like to raise with you.

The single most pressing concern of many of these professionals is the drastic under-funding of the system. Our members report that the administration of justice in this country is seriously compromised by the lack of resources being invested in the system. Public safety, victim support and offender rehabilitation are all suffering from decades of under-funding or cutbacks.

Provincial adult correctional facilities, across the country, are operating at overcapacity and are understaffed. Many of these facilities are aging and badly in need of repair or renovation. This contributes to the overcrowding problem as units and sections are closed and inmates are moved into already cramped quarters. Our members can attest that overcrowding presents a considerable safety hazard for both themselves and the inmates. It also diminishes any possible rehabilitative capacity of the system.

In the area of Youth Corrections, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) has made a deep impact on the delivery of services to young offenders. Recent research strongly confirms the observations of our members who work in the field:

  • significantly fewer young offenders are being placed into custody;
  • those young offenders who are incarcerated tend to have extensive criminal histories and present multiple behavioural and psychological problems; and
  • most communities lack the programs and services necessary to make the diversionary aims of the Act meaningful.

Some provinces, as a result of disagreements with the previous federal government, refused federal monies accompanying the initial implementation of the YCJA. Others have used the implementation of the Act to institute closing of facilities as a cost-cutting measure without any provision for transferring Youth Workers into community-based services.

Since the implementation of the YCJA a large number of young offenders have been released into the community to participate in either non-existent or overwhelmed programs. Meanwhile, highly skilled and trained professionals remain out of work in communities that could sorely use their expertise. Funding to support community-based programs for young offenders is needed to hire professional Youth Workers.

While it is thought that the goals of the YCJA are laudable we have also identified what we believe are some necessary reforms to the legislation. These are specifically with regards to the use of pre-trial detention for youth who are “spiraling out of control” and to allow more use of custody for youths who endanger the public or breach conditions of release.

Probation and parole officers are struggling to manage high and increasingly complex caseloads. Involved with a case from pre-trial to post-sentencing, these workers have a mandate to both protect the public and rehabilitate the offender. But a lack of resources has resulted in officers unable to dedicate as much time as required for low and medium risk offenders.

Under-funding has also seriously hampered the ability of the many sectors of the justice system from adequately cooperating with each other. Obviously a justice system that has a high level of inter-agency cooperation and support is best able to provide a complete range of assistance and services to victims and offenders. Unfortunately, lack of funding has meant that many agencies are understaffed and dealing with excessive workload issues. Also, many agencies tend to work as separate entities with little partnering with other players in the sector. This is a situation where both increased resources and a coherent policy direction are necessary to move forward.

Your government has made a considerable investment in the policing side of the system. When accompanied by your government’s proposed amendments to sentencing provisions, we foresee considerable changes coming to the criminal justice system. We are worried that the necessary resources required for the administration of justice are not there to adequately respond to these changes.

Estimates vary to what the impact of these changes will have on the provincial system. It only stands to reason that with a dramatic increase in the nation’s police force will come an increase in the number of individuals arrested and detained in some provincial facilities. Changes to conditional sentencing could see as many as 4,000 more inmates serving their sentences in already overcrowded provincial jails.

Worsening conditions in our provincial facilities could even result in reduced periods of incarceration for many offenders as time spent in remand in many provincial facilities is being heavily weighted as time already served in a sentence. For example, some judges in Ontario have ruled that every day served in remand in a specific provincial facility is considered three days off their final sentence.

And then there is the issue confronting probation and parole officers. With increased arrests expected, we believe the demand for pre-trial reports and post-sentencing follow-up is likely to similarly grow. In a situation where many less serious or moderately serious offenders receive little supervision, we worry that the expected growth in caseloads will even further strain the system. Many offenders may receive even less attention than the minimal they receive now.

While obviously the delivery of provincial justice systems is the responsibility of the provinces, the National Union feels there is a considerable role the federal government can play in addressing our concerns.

First, targeted federal funding to provincial correctional and probation and parole services could make a significant difference in many jurisdictions. These could be, for example, infrastructure grants, education and training programs, staff recruitment and retention programs and specific program support. In addition, there is the need for a new long-term federal-provincial-territorial funding arrangement.

Second, the federal government could make interagency partnerships between federal agencies and their provincial counterparts a priority. While we appreciate that both the logistics and cultural changes required for this shift may take time, we believe the benefits will be considerable.

Third, we urge your government to hold public discussions on many of these issues confronting the criminal justice system. From possible amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to proposed changes to conditional sentencing, we believe the decisions made by our government will be strengthened by the input of the women and men who know the system best – its workers.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you on these important issues. Representatives of the National Union would also welcome the opportunity to meet with members of your government to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely yours,

James Clancy

National President