Auditor general criticizes Yukon’s corrections system

The Department of Justice did a good job planning the territory's jail, according to the auditor general. But when it comes to helping prepare people to leave the system, it leaves something to be desired.

The Department of Justice did a good job planning the territory’s jail, according to the auditor general.

But when it comes to helping prepare people to leave the system, it leaves something to be desired.

“We found that the department is not providing offenders with sufficient access to rehabilitation programs either inside the Whitehorse Correctional Centre or in the community,” assistant auditor general Ronnie Campbell said yesterday.

For example, auditors found that most offenders who didn’t get programming in jail were still not getting it when they were released into the community on probation.

“As a result, those offenders completed their sentences without getting access to all the rehabilitation programs identified for them,” Campbell said.

The department is not meeting its goal of safely reintegrating inmates into communities as law-abiding citizens, he said.

“Without adequate rehabilitation, offenders may pose a risk to the safety of the community.”

Auditors made six recommendations to the government. They related to paperwork and planning, programming, probation officer training, First Nation concerns and mental health.

The audit covers March 15, 2012 to Sept. 1, 2014.

For many of the statistics, it reviewed a random sample of 25 offenders sentenced to at least 90 days between April 2012 and March 2013, followed by supervision in the community.

 

Limited jail programming

Department policy requires a programming plan to be developed for inmates when they arrive in jail.

Core programs are the ones research shows are effective in reducing reoffending. That includes programs like relationship violence prevention, substance abuse management and relapse prevention.

Others – like life skills and job readiness programs – are referred to as non-core programs.

Twenty-one of 24 offenders at the jail had case plans developed with both core and non-core programs.

However, 13 of these 21 offenders were not offered all the core programs that had been identified for them, the report says.

The least likely program to be offered was the Respectful Relationships program.

It teaches offenders skills to reduce their potential for violence in relationships.

Of the nine offenders who needed the program, only three were offered it.

 

Little community supervision

The gaps for inmates at the jail only get bigger when they leave.

For example, 88 per cent of offenders in the correctional centre had case plans, but only 38 per cent of offenders did when they went into community supervision, the report said.

When someone is convicted of sexual assault or domestic violence and released into community supervision, probation officers are supposed to conduct additional risk assessments.

“These risk assessments are important because they are intended to help determine interventions the offenders might require to reduce the risk of further sexual assault or domestic violence offences,” the report says.

Four of the 25 offenders had been convicted of sexual assault. Only one of the required assessments was done.

Nine of the 25 offenders were convicted of crimes that included domestic violence. Only three risk assessments had been completed.

Auditors looked at whether the 13 offenders who were not offered all the core programs while in jail were offered the remaining programs after they went to community supervision. Only one person was.

For the other 12, the most common reason their probation officers didn’t have them take the programs was because it wasn’t available in the community where they lived.

 

Probation officers struggle

Outside Whitehorse probation officers struggle to even find a place to meet with clients.

“We spoke with senior management in the department who confirmed that reliable physical space for some probation officers was a problem,” the report says. This affects “not only the physical security of the probation officers, but also the confidentiality of offenders.”

At the time of the report, there were 11 probation officers working in the territory. The auditor general surveyed nine of them.

“Seven probation officers told us that they did not feel they had received the training they thought they needed to carry out their job.”

Some said they had not received enough training on how to write the reports judges use to make decisions.

The department told auditors it is updating its online training for probation officers and will require all officers to complete that training in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Only two of the probation officers surveyed received training about Yukon First Nations culture.

That training was first made available in 2014, the department said. The goal is to have everyone trained by the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

 

First Nation heritage obligations not met

Auditors also say “the department is not yet meeting its obligations to incorporate the cultural heritage and needs of Yukon First Nations into its programs and services.” That’s required under the Yukon’s Corrections Act.

As well, none of those core programs have been assessed to see if they meet the needs of Yukon First Nations offenders. The audit recommends the government take steps to work on that.

The Department of Justice refused an interview request for this story. In a written statement, it says that’s a difficult process.

The core programs are all from outside jurisdictions.

The programs have been evaluated as being effective with First Nations populations, but not Yukon ones, the department says.

“These programs are the intellectual property of other jurisdictions and are copyrighted; they cannot be changed without permission,” according to the statement.

“Furthermore, if changes to the programs were permitted, the programs would have to be completely re-evaluated with respect to their effectiveness in addressing re-offending.”

The department doesn’t have the expertise to re-evaluate programs or create their own Yukon-specific ones, the department says.

“The department remains committed to finding ways to accomplish this but it will take several years.”

 

Move to new jail faulted for gaps

The audit recommends the department comply with its own rules when it comes to developing plans for offenders. That means ensuring core rehabilitation programs are available to inmates in the jail and outside, both in Whitehorse and the communities.

The department agrees with the recommendations. In both cases, it cites the opening of the new jail in 2012 as a reason for the gaps.

“In 2012 and 2013, the majority of resources in the corrections branch were focused on transition to the new correctional centre and stabilization of operations,” the department writes in the report.

“Following this transition period, providing programming to offenders became a priority, with yearly program delivery planning and monitoring.”

Justice provided some statistics to the News that appear to show more case management plans are being completed.

They also provided a list of programs offered at the jail between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2014. It includes the number of inmates who took the program and the number who completed it.

For example, the Respectful Relationships program was offered once during that time. Four inmates took and completed the program. The department does not say how many inmates had that program in their case plan.

Violence prevention was offered 14 times and substance abuse counselling 17 times.

Of the 33 inmates who completed their sentences during this time, every one of them received one or more programs, the statement says.

“One of the challenges associated with delivering programming at WCC is the short sentences that offenders receive. The average length of sentence for male offenders is about 87 days which, with earned remission, may mean a stay of less than 60 days,” the department says.

“The average length of sentence for women is 30 days, which with earned remission, may mean a stay of less than 20 days.

“It would be impossible for the correctional centre to address all of the offenders’ needs within the short periods of time that they are sentenced to Whitehorse Correctional Centre.”

However, all inmates considered in the audit were sentenced to at least 90 days.

The department’s answers about offenders outside the jail are even more vague.

“Through internal quality assurance processes, Corrections recognized the need to do more programming with clients under community supervision.

“There is a strategy in place to ensure that happens. The strategy includes providing staff with additional training to do this work. This will be completed this fiscal year with programming a high priority in the coming fiscal year.”

There is no word on what the plan actually looks like.

The department says it is examining “ways that we can deliver more programming in the remote communities. We will be finalizing plans around that in the next couple of months.”

The statement says it “also had a project underway for some time now to remedy the issues regarding office space that our probation officers face when travelling to the communities.”

No details have been provided.

 

More mental health services planned

It is worth noting that all 25 of the inmates in the audit sample lived in the regular living units.

The audit did not touch on segregation or the secure living unit where inmates are kept apart from the general population, often because of mental health concerns.

The audit says the jail population has three times the mental health issues as people outside of jail.

Mental health issues were identified for six people in the auditor’s sample. All six had been offered access to mental health services in jail.

For people under community supervision, the Justice Department says it is working on a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health and Social Services “to define the collaborative work needed in the ongoing case management of common clients who have diagnosed mental health issues.”

Auditors recommend the department continues that work.

The plan is to have the agreement reached by the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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