The federal government says it’s still in talks with the city to relocate a controversial halfway house in downtown Hamilton.
Corrections Services Canada is “actively engaged in dialogue” with the city, police and other “criminal justice partners” to move the halfway house at 94 York Blvd., spokesperson Sara Parkes said in an email Wednesday.
“All parties (are) committed to finding the best possible solution for the community,” she said.
The Hamilton Community Corrections Centre has been an issue lately, with Corrections Services Canada poised to pull the three corrections officers working there and reassign them to other locations.
The facility is home to former convicts with long-term sentences, many with mental health issues. It made headlines in 2004 when one of its residents walked out of the facility and stabbed a shopkeeper, nearly to death. The federal government committed then to moving it out of the downtown.
The city’s general issues committee discussed the halfway house on Wednesday, citing frustration with the removal of the corrections officers.
“This is a safety risk,” said Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 in Stoney Creek.
“This is one of those situations where we have to get radical politically, and we may have to ramp up our response accordingly.”
With the corrections officers gone, the facility will be staffed by commissionaires, parole officers and a police officer. Councillors will invite federal corrections officials to a future general issues committee to answer questions about the change. Hamilton police will also give a report.
The corrections officer complement was beefed up after the 2004 stabbing. The officers will be gone as of April 2014. At one point, as many as six officers worked there.
The decision to pull them stems from an April 2012 announcement, said Jason Godin, national vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. He sent Mayor Bob Bratina an email about it then, but for whatever reason, Bratina’s office didn’t get it.
Replaced with part-time reintegration workers
Officers at the Hamilton facility escort high-risk offenders around the community, and perform other tasks such as searching, drug testing and enforcing curfews, Godin said.
“We continue to argue that they perform a vital function,” he said.
“We are a significant part of the resocialization of these offenders safely into the community,” he said. “We believe this decision is not conducive to the government’s agenda of safer streets and safer communities.”
Corrections Services Canada will add part-time reintegration workers to community corrections centres across the country, including Hamilton, Parkes told CBC Hamilton in an email Wednesday.
In seven provinces, commissionaires provide security at the centres. Now they'll provide it in every province, including Ontario.
Larry Di Ianni was mayor of Hamilton in 2004, when he and then-police chief Brian Mullan asked the government to move the halfway house out of Hamilton. The government agreed to look at another location then, he said. But so far, that hasn't materialized, Di Ianni said.
“I’m alarmed,” he said of the move to pull the officers.
In 2004, he said, the government was “bending over backwards” to address the city’s concerns. But it’s not anymore.
“What is more important than public safety? Not much,” he said.
“These are bad dudes there. They’re not nice people. They’re high offenders with a habit of reoffending. They need scrutiny and they need to be watched over.
“To give them decreased supervision just makes the downtown more dangerous, and Hamilton doesn’t need that.”