Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
A window into the world of high-risk parole supervison
Believe it or not, trust is a central component involved when it comes to how the Correctional Service of Canada polices often gravely-risky offenders who are hard-core enough to earn a Long Term Supervision Order meant to keep them in check once they're released from prison back into public life.
Many names of those labouring under LTSO's should ring familiar to many Manitobans.
One needs only a quick review of their cases to realize there's a good reason why these offenders are placed on decade-long supervision orders.
But how well are they supervised and are we doing enough to support the community parole officers charged with this important public duty?
The jury is out on this as far as I'm concerned.
I base my opinion on testimony from a 30-year CSC parole officer called to court this week to testify at a dangerous offender hearing for a 49-year-old man accused of some of the most ghastly sex-related crimes I know I've ever encountered.
But setting aside the horrific facts of that case, the officer provided a window into a usually opaque world that is corrections and the work the CSC and the Parole Board of Canada does.
It may be best to start at the fundamental principle the CSC works under, as stated by a court expert on CSC process and procedure.
"Public safety is paramount and we believe that the absolute best is a gradual release to the community. So that an individual begins his sentence inside the institution and continues to serve his sentence, for instance, on day parole, at a halfway house in the community. We're there to assist the individuals and support the individuals to become law-abiding citizens," Jeannette Acheson told Justice Brenda Keyser.
Now, it's important also at the outset to remember that the CSC doesn't make decisions regarding the release of offenders. They develop case plans for them and forward on recommendations to members of the Parole Board of Canada, who are "the deciders" when it comes to releases and what conditions to impose, according to Acheson.
But let's say a person slapped with an LTSO is ordered by the parole board to be released or because their sentence has fully expired, and are freed with a special condition to reside at a community corrections centre. According to her testimony, Acheson said 63 per cent of LTSO offenders have a residency clause imposed on them by the parole board.
Why the clause is imposed, one must note, is because there's a perceived risk the LTSO offender may commit a "schedule 1" offence, namely: a violent offence that could result in serious harm (including serious psychological harm) or death, a sexual offence against a child or a serious drug offence.
Court heard much about Winnipeg's Osborne Community Correctional Centre on Main Street, which is a CSC-run facility of 40 beds, an in-house psychologist to which offenders have "liberal access" and surveillance cameras in all common areas.
The Osborne centre is different from halfway houses which are contracted by the CSC to provide services and are often located near parks or playgrounds, so they don't accept sex offenders and typically don't house violent offenders. The contracted facilities also take provincial inmates serving parole [because there is such a thing as provincial parole]. Often it's the high-risk sex offenders under LTSOs who are living there.
The following bullets are presented in no particular order.
- Judges can ask for certain conditions to be imposed on LTSO offenders, but they're not binding for either the CSC's recommendations or Parole Board decisions.
- The "general" offender can expect to report four times a month face-to-face with their parole officer; it can go up, depending on their "risk and needs."
- If the Parole Board imposes a "must reside at" or other special condition, the CSC is mandated, without exception, to write to the board every 180 days whether the condition should be removed. An LTSO offender who's not on parole [because the LTSO doesn't kick in until sentences run out completely] and who has a special condition imposed also are subject to this 180-day rule. That's a lot of paperwork.
- There are no "guards" per se at the Osborne centre. Commissionaires are posted at the door to note comings and goings. It's the commissionaires who also dispense medications and note whether an offender has taken them. The medications are kept in a safe in their office.
- From Monday to Friday, there are up to four Probation Officers and an area director on site from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or so. After that, it falls to a national monitoring centre in Ottawa to issue warrants of apprehension or suspension for an offender who breaches. There are no probation officers present on weekends.
- There is one probation officer to nine offenders at the centre. This means there's significant "practical limitations" when it comes to monitoring the offenders when they leave the centre. "We do our best to supervise, but a lot of times we have to trust what they're telling us," Acheson said. There is no 24-hour supervision. "It's not practical. It's not enforceable. It's not possible," she said. The parole officers depend on community collaterals to call to report any suspected breaches. Say, if for example, they see an offender on the provincial sex-offender's notification site and see that person lingering near a park. Trust is a major component. "We don't have 24-hour supervision available. So most times we rely on our relationship with them and being open and honest with them."
- Offenders can leave the centre at 7 a.m., after letting staff know where they're going. They must also generally check in between 4-6 p.m., but can leave again up until the final curfew. After curfew, they can get in, but have to sign out to leave.
- An offender first arriving at the centre can expect to have a 9 p.m. curfew for the first nine days; after that it's raised to 10 p.m. It can also be raised on the weekends, to midnight. It's up to the parole officer to set curfews.
- Searches of property are not done by random, but are conducted at regular intervals not disclosed to the offender.
- Some Osborne offenders can have computers in their rooms.
- The doors to the centre do not lock. Offenders know they have to just push on the doors to get them to open. It's a security thing. If an offender really wants to leave, you don't want to jeopardize the safety of staff by forcing them to stay. If an offender is, say, bound by a curfew, and leaves after that, police aren't immediately called. Instead, the above-mentioned national monitoring centre is called, and they're the ones who notify police etc. A report will be written up the next day.
- Offenders receive $10 a day to purchase all of their food, transportation and other items — assuming they're not working and have no other income.
- Corrections and parole officials cannot compel an offender to take a certain medication, like a sex offender to take a sex-drive reduction drug. Instead, the parole board can impose a condition telling the offender to "abide by a medication regime as prescribed by a clinician." This can get sticky because the parole officer has no authority to compel a doctor or an offender to discuss their medical treatment. They can request consent, but if they don't get it, the matter essentially ends there.
- Parole officers can issue a warrant to suspend parole or apprehend an offender on three specific grounds: to protect society, to prevent a breach, or because of a breach. The warrants have a maximum time limit of 90 days. So, if an offender is nabbed on one, the Crown must take action, or the parole board must recommend to the Crown they lay a charge in that timeframe. Otherwise, the clock's out — as is the offender.
- If an LTSO offender is charged with a breach of that order and detained for prosecution, their LTSO continues to run until the date they're sentenced (the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle). This fact drew an audible "hm" from Justice Keyser, for good reason. The supervisory order is meant for public supervision, not when an offender is safely locked in custody. That said, the overwhelming opinion was that offenders don't want to be detained, so the impact on the efficacy of the LTS orders may not be all that dramatic. Once the offender is sentenced to further time in custody, then the clock stops ticking. It won't click in again until the sentence fully expires, meaning offenders on LTSOs who are granted parole aren't technically subject to their LTSO conditions, unless the parole board imposes same as part of their parole conditions. Confusing much?
- Offenders declared dangerous offenders — the worst of the worst criminals, really — become eligible (it's an ask, not a right) for day parole at four years from the date of their arrest, and full parole at seven years from their arrest anniversary. They're then reviewed every two years after that point. The two-year review is mandatory.
Acheson had interesting things to say about the differences between dangerous offenders and LTSOs.
"The dangerous offender knows that he has to work for his release. He knows that if he gets suspended and that a warrant is issued for his arrest, he knows that he's going to have to make significant gains and progress prior to getting released back to the community.
"The LTSO, on the other hand... he gets released regardless of risk, regardless of whether his risk is manageable or not."
- Acheson said she and her boss discussed it and since 1997, all but one LTSO that's gone through Osborne centre has not breached conditions.
- Only four percent of all Canadian federal inmates (those handed sentences of more than two years), give or take, serve out their full sentences. The rest are granted parole or statutory release [mandatory for most offenders at the time they've served 2/3rds of their terms].
- That said, 55 per cent of offenders who are handed long-term supervision orders by the courts serve out their full prison terms.
Think about that, then re-read the above on their community supervision.
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About James Turner
James Turner rejoined the Free Press as a justice-beat reporter in August 2013 after a number of years away working at other media outlets, including the Winnipeg Sun and CBC Manitoba.
A reporter in Winnipeg since 2005, he got his first taste of the justice beat as a former Free Press intern, then as the newspaper's police reporter from 2008-09.
Among the topics he's eager to cover are youth crime, street gangs, child-welfare and how the mental health and justice systems intersect.
An avid blogger and early adopter of Twitter, James (@heyjturner) loves to write long, much to the frustration of his editors.
He despises animal cruelty. He loves 80s music and his tubby labrador retriever.
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