Dept. of Justice responds to auditor general’s report

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre plans to soon offer more rehabilitation programs to offenders who have been released from jail into the community, says Yukon's heads of corrections.

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre plans to soon offer more rehabilitation programs to offenders who have been released from jail into the community, says Yukon’s heads of corrections.

Tricia Ratel said it’s too early to discuss details, as the plan hasn’t yet received all the final approvals and she hasn’t spoken to staff about it.

The new plan comes in response to a report by Canada’s auditor general on the jail’s operations. Auditors concluded that the WCC was not providing offenders with sufficient access to rehabilitation programs either inside the jail or in the community. As a result, the report concluded that the justice system is not adequately preparing offenders to successfully integrate back into the community.

The jail offers inmates seven core programs that have been shown to help reduce reoffending. Yet when auditors reviewed a random sample of 25 inmates, they found few received all the core programs identified for them.

Thirteen of the 21 offenders who had case plans were offered all their core programs.

Auditors also looked at whether the 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.

Ratel admitted that right now, she can’t confidently say that offenders will have access to the programs recommended for them, no matter where they live. “That’s why we’re developing a strategy to address it,” she said.

Right now there are 296 active probation files in the territory and 24 active conditional sentences.

There are 11 probation officers in the territory and two vacant jobs.

Most of those officers live in Whitehorse. Dawson City and Watson Lake are the only communities with their own probation officer.

“Delivering services in the communities presents its own challenges. The programs are between 10 and 25 sessions, depending on the program,” said Ratel.

“To deliver them in the community means that a probation officer would have to stay there for a considerable period of time. They’d have to travel back and forth and back and forth.”

In some of the smaller communities there might only be one or two people who need the program.

Staff try different ways to get things done, she said. For example, in Watson Lake, a program is co-facilitated with one person over Skype.

Every year staff sit down and schedule when core programs will be offered in the communities.

The Department of Justice did not release the complete schedule, claiming privacy concerns. Instead they provided a “snap shot” from Watson Lake in the last year or so.

There, Respectful Relationships for Males was offered in May, July, September and November of 2014. Emotional Management for Women was offered November 2013, April 2014, July 2014 and August 2014. Substance Abuse Management for men was offered in February and March 2015.

It’s not clear how many people took those programs.

Inside the jail, time constraints are also an issue. Most people don’t stay at the WCC very long.

According to the most recent statistics, 56 per cent of inmates were there for less than 30 days.

Case plans developed for offenders are extensive, Ratel said. Most offenders struggle with complicated problems.

The jail is working to prioritize programming, she said. “When the audit team came in, because we didn’t prioritize, they said, ‘OK you said you identified 10 things this person needed and they only got two things.’ So we fail,” she said.

“We need to change our practice so we are identifying what is the number one priority for this person, and then if there is more time available to deal with him, what is the second priority?”

Doing the comprehensive plan still has value, said Ratel. “We have to keep working on getting them the help that they need. We just have to do a better job internally or prioritizing what we can do in the time we have with them.”

Getting numbers to back up what the jail is saying is a challenge.

Ratel has statistics that show more reports and case plans are being completed. She also knows how many programs are run in the jail and how many people take them.

But there’s no way right now to easily look up how many offenders have gotten all of the programs recommended for them. That’s because the filing system is a little archaic.

“We have absolutely no data system. So every piece of data we produce, we have to go into hard copy files, and we have to pull it out manually and collate it.”

A new computer system is being worked on that Ratel hopes will solve those problems, but that’s about 18 months away,

she said.

One of the other major recommendations out of the report involves First Nations culture and heritage at the jail. The Yukon’s own Corrections Act requires that cultural needs be integrated into programs and services.

The audit found the department had not met its obligations to do that.

Ratel says that’s a complex issue. She said it is something the department is up to, but it is going to take time.

One major problem is that the core programs used at the jail are the property of other jurisdictions, which makes changing them difficult.

So why make that a requirement in the Yukon’s legislation?

“I think that our legislation is really aspirational. The legislation was written with some of our highest goals in mind. It’s kind of like, if we wanted to be the best correctional system in Canada, what would we do?

“Do I still think that there’s work that needs to be done? Absolutely. And from my perspective, corrections is always about looking to improve what we’re doing,” she said.

“We’re an evidence-based organization. We look for best practices, we try and change with best practices. I would never say that our aspirations are done.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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