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B.C. auditor general raises fears over sentences served on outside

Dec 08 2011

B.C.’s watchdog has raised public safety concerns about the government’s corrections program for adult offenders who serve their sentences in the community instead of jail.

Almost 24,000 adult offenders — 90 per cent of B.C.’s corrections population — served sentences in the community rather than jail in 2010/11. Of those, 74 per cent were considered medium to high-risk to offend, and 40 per cent had committed crimes against people.

In his report, the Effectiveness of B.C. Community Corrections, released Thursday, B.C. auditor general John Doyle tried to determine the success of the division, under the ministry of public safety and solicitor general, in reducing rates of re-offending. However, Doyle said he was unable to do that, citing a lack of information.

“B.C. has a strong model for managing offenders, but its success relies on the individual discretion and professional judgment of probation officers, well-trained probation officers, a strong quality assurance program and thorough documentation,” said Doyle. “Our audit found that these practices are not at the level they should be.”

Although community sentences and the rehabilitation of criminals have many benefits, and cost savings, there are also significant risks to public safety and potential long-term costs, says the report. Mitigating those risks and maximizing the benefits are important, Doyle said.

The community corrections branch, with a budget of $47 million, is responsible for all adult offenders on a community sentence, those on bail and those in alternative programs. Of its 670 staff, 450 are probation officers.

Kathy Corrigan, NDP critic for public safety and the solicitor general ministry, said she is concerned about the safety concerns raised by the auditor general. “The important thing is to fix that which is broken,” Corrigan said. “If this is going to be a form of corrections, the general public needs to feel comforted that they are going to be safe with people who have offended in the community.”

The community corrections program’s own data reviewed by the auditor general shows a slight two per cent drop in re-offender rates in 2010/11. Its data on specific programs demonstrates large reductions re-offending rates related to domestic abuse. For example, re-offending related to spousal assault down is 50 per cent under the Relationship Violence Prevention Program. “The early signs are very good,” Doyle said.

Doyle said why equally good records on recidivism rates are not kept in other program areas is a question for the government.

The report cites problems in several key areas:

• Staff have experienced an “all-time high” in caseloads, a 28 per cent increase since 2005/06 that has not been matched by increased resources.

• Probation officers sometimes begin supervising offenders in the community without having finished the appropriate training, the report says.

• Deficits in record keeping and the quality assurance program concerning the supervision of the offenders and ensuring they are on track.

• Only 35 per cent of interventions designed to reduce re-offending are ever completed.

The government said it will analyze its resources, recognizing staff is its most valuable resource. It has undertaken an internal review of the training for probation officers and is taking steps to strengthen its quality assurance model. The government has also pledged to better support probation officers in the documentation of its case management plans, interventions and decision- making regarding breach of probation actions.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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