Bill 6: Correctional Services Transformation Act, 2018
Submission for Committee re: Correctional Services Transformation Act, 2018 Probation Officers Association of Ontario (POAO)
The Correctional Services Transformation Act is a bold attempt to bring a much needed change to Correctional Services in Ontario. The Bill directs the focus of correctional services towards reintegration, through the implementation of evidence-based programming, while recognising the rights and mental health needs of clients.
POAO acknowledges that the positive aspects of the legislation, which aim to overhaul a correctional system that has not seen any significant legislative changes in over two decades. However, legislation does not fully address the needs and concerns of front-line Probation and Parole Officers.
Members of POAO have expressed concern that the influence of Probation and Parole Officers, with respect to their roles in the Courts and with justice partners, has eroded over time. This legislation must maintain, and improve, the Probation and Parole Officer’s critical and key role in Community Justice.
POAO encourages its members to improve their knowledge and skills by engaging in continuous education, through seminars, workshops, and courses. POAO fully endorses that the minimum educational requirements of a Probation and Parole Officer, is a degree in the social sciences, from a recognised University. POAO asserts that the degree requirement is critical, for Probation and Parole Officers to effectively supervise clients, provide programming, and make enforcement decisions and it would be beneficial to see clarification of this requirement in the legislation.
POAO suggests that to comply with the requirements detailed in section 142(1)(a), the duties of a Probation and Parole Officer, more resources will be required. At present, Probation Officers are hampered from meeting their mandated responsibilities, due to outdated and ineffective technology. Probation Officers do not have access to technology that adequately reflects the reality of modern communication. This compromises not only their ability to manage the high administrative demands of their work, but needlessly puts their safety at risk.
POAO would like to bring to light the unique challenges of Probation and Parole Officers in the Northern regions. The lack of resources is a substantial problem for Officers in the North, who frequently work in satellite reporting centres, and whose work requires extensive travel, often in poor weather conditions. For a variety of reasons, training budgets in the North are quickly exhausted, preventing staff from accessing relevant training. High staff turnover creates additional work demands for active PPOs, who must take on additional cases created by unfilled vacancies.
Probation and Parole Officers are uniquely skilled at assessing the risk that clients pose to the community whether upon their release from custody or while in the community. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, under section 38 of the MCSA is required to make available to the Board all relevant information to appropriately consider parole suitability. The recent changes to Parole Board hearings cause concern as there have been several incidents reported where clients are being released into the community without information from the Probation and Parole Officer being considered. POAO would encourage that Bill 6, if passed include stronger language to require that the Parole Board consider information provided by Probation and Parole Officers prior to a decision being made to release a client on parole.
Finally, POAO supports that Probation Officers shall remain direct employees of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Further that the duties and responsibilities of a Probation and Parole Officer, as set out in section 142 of the Correctional Services Transformation Act, remain the responsibility of Probation and Parole Officers. Similarly to the operation of Correctional Institutions, POAO would like to see Bill 6, if passed, prohibit the ministry from entering into a contract or agreement to have a Probation and Parole Supervision operated by a private, for-profit entity.
Vice President, POAO
Bill C-375 – Proposed changes to the Criminal Code of Canada regarding Presentence Reports
April 26, 2018
Submission for Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights;
Criminal Code of Canada, Section 721, Bill C-375
Probation Officers Association of Ontario (POAO)
Section 721 (1) of the Criminal Code currently reads:
Subject to regulations made under subsection (2), where an accused, other than a corporation, pleads guilty to or is found guilty of an offence, a probation officer shall, if required to do so by a court, prepare and file with the court a report in writing relating to the accused for the purpose of assisting the court in imposing a sentence or in determining whether the accused should be discharged pursuant to section 730.
Section 721 (3) of the Criminal Code currently reads:
Unless otherwise specified by the court, the report must, wherever possible, contain information on the following matters:
(a) The offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends;
(b) Subject to subsection 119(2) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the history of previous dispositions under the Young Offenders Act, chapter Y-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985, the history of previous sentences under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and of previous findings of guilt under this Act and any other Act of Parliament;
(c) The history of any alternative measures used to deal with the offender, and the offender’s response to those measures; and
(d) Any matter required, by any regulation made under subsection (2), to be included in the report.
Proposed Bill C-375:
Subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code:
(a.1) any mental disorder from which the offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them;
Bill C-375 concerns the preparation of pre-sentence reports, which, are prepared by Probation and Parole Officers. The Bill proposes that pre-sentence reports are to include information about any mental disorder from which the offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them.
In recent years, mental health has been identified as a significant concern. It is estimated that 10% of the general population suffers from a mental health disorder. The rates of mental health disorders experienced by those within community corrections and institutions are significantly higher: 26% for males, and over 50% for females. POAO continues to advocate in many forums for increased mental health services for our offenders. POAO is pleased that improvements have been made in recent years to de-stigmatize mental illness, however recognise that there continue to be several improvements yet to be made, especially with the offender population. Bill C-375 requires, in federal legislation, that presentence reports provide, unless the court orders otherwise, information on any mental illness that offenders may suffer from and any mental health care programs available to the offenders. POAO agrees that the issue of mental health is of significant concern to the Criminal Justice System and should be taken into consideration when making sentencing decisions.
In Ontario, the role of a Probation and Parole Officer already includes a requirement to provide information related to an offender’s mental health in court reports. Feedback provided by members of POAO with respect to Bill C-375 concerns the process of gathering the required mental health information, physical and mental limitations of the clients, and a lack of available resources.
POAO wishes to highlight that Probation and Parole Officers in Ontario currently conduct skill based interviews with offenders for the purpose of gathering information to prepare comprehensive presentence reports. Investigative information is provided by the offender and collateral sources including but not limited to: family, employment, counselling resources, community agencies and health information including mental health for inclusion in the presentence report.
Through this investigative process, Probation and Parole Officers comment on general patterns of behaviour, psychiatric, psychological, physical and cognitive limitations and disorders that impact the offender’s pattern of criminal behaviour. In the event that the offender has a mental health diagnosis, Probation and Parole Officers will investigate and confirm through contact with mental health professionals where possible. In instances in
which there is no confirmed mental health diagnosis, but reports of related mental health concerns from the client or collateral sources, Probation and Parole Officers will comment on observed or reported behaviours.
Probation and Parole Officers recommend conditions in a presentence report that best suit the needs of an offender, with consideration to victim safety and the safety of the general public. One of the challenges faced by Probation and Parole Officers is that community agencies often provide services on a voluntary basis; they are not equipped or prepared to provide services to offenders who are resistant or unwilling to attend treatment. Although an offender may be directed to attend a particular service or agency, the agency is not compelled to provide services to an offender who is disinclined to seek treatment. In addition, offenders who are motivated to engage in mental health treatment or supports, may lose motivation due to lengthy waiting lists at community agencies.
In many instances, offenders will advise that they have been diagnosed with various mental health issues, but are unable to provide any details or confirm if they have been formally diagnosed. In such cases it is difficult to gather the appropriate information necessary to confirm and provide an accurate and thorough report. Bill C375, if passed, should consider legislation that would assist in facilitating the sharing of information between Corrections and the Health Care Systems. As gathering health care information can take a longer period of time, the court should consider granting Probation and Parole Officers additional time to investigate reported, but unconfirmed mental health issues.
Currently, Probation and Parole Officers experience difficulty when attempting to obtain information from medical professionals related to mental health diagnosis or otherwise. Probation and Parole Officers must consider, and are limited by the offender’s right to privacy and must have the offender’s consent to access health records. If this consent is received, obtaining health records can often take an extended period of time, which affects the amount of time needed to adequately prepare the presentence report for court. If Bill C-375 passes, perhaps the new legislation would encourage changes to the health care system to require medical professionals (where a release of information has been signed by the offender) to provide requested mental health information to Probation and Parole Services in a timely manner, at no cost and in language that is suitable for a lay person. POAO members have suggested that if mental health concerns are being identified at court and specified on a request for preparation of a presentence report, perhaps representatives at the court could facilitate offenders signing releases at a time when they are expressing a willingness to share information.
POAO members note that Probation and Parole Officers are limited to providing information relative to the offender’s willingness to cooperate and ability to make informed, appropriate decisions. We are restricted to being able to access only information and records to which the offender provides consent.
POAO expresses the need for more comprehensive and organized information regarding the availability of mental health resources throughout the province and in individual areas. Ontario is a vast province, and resources vary in availability from region to region. The spirit of the Bill, which is compassionate and noble, does not align with the reality of available services. Those involved in the Justice System are often unable to access psychiatric services, as psychiatrists and mental health professionals are overburdened by the ever increasing demands for services in the community. One suggestion is to hire psychiatrists to work exclusively out of correctional institutions and Probation and Parole Offices, which would allow clients direct access to services. At present, many offenders are compelled to seek services from their family doctor, who lack the knowledge and experience of a qualified psychiatrist.
POAO appreciates the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with this committee and speak on behalf of Probation and Parole Officers in Ontario. POAO would also like to than Mr. Jowhari for bringing the Bill forward. To paraphrase Mr. Jowhari, while the Bill is a small change to legislation, it may have a considerable impact on our work and on some portions of the Justice System. The Bill is a necessary first step towards addressing the lack of resources and gaps in services in the Justice System for clients with mental health needs. As an association, we are committed to ongoing communication and consultation regarding this Bill as the committee sees fit, in an effort to support this change to the Criminal Code of Canada. We are committed to supporting our membership and colleagues as one component of the criminal justice system in continuing to do the best work possible through professional development and advocacy.
Vice President, POAO