B.C. criminals not completing rehab programs

Public safety in British Columbia may be at risk because over-worked probation officers aren't doing the job needed to stop criminals from reoffending, says the provincial auditor general.

Public safety in British Columbia may be at risk because over-worked probation officers aren't doing the job needed to stop criminals from reoffending, says the provincial auditor general.

The audit of B.C. Community Corrections has concluded just 35 per cent of offenders have done the programs necessary to stop them from reoffending. The corrections branch covers about 24,000 offenders who serve their time in the community.

"The lack of completion means potential increased risk to public safety and costs to taxpayers and victims should offenders reoffend," Auditor General John Doyle said in the report, which was released Wednesday.

"Most importantly, by not completing their rehabilitation program, offenders are not provided with the opportunity to change."

Doyle also concluded that the Community Corrections and Corporate Programs, or CCCP, wasn't sure if it was meeting its goal of reducing the rate of reoffending and didn't know if it had enough staff to do the job, now and in the future.

"What you've got is a world-class model that's being deployed, but like all models you need to make sure that all the ingredients are there and the people involved are set up to succeed," Doyle said in an interview.

New Democrat public safety critic Kathy Corrigan said the poor oversight, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should set off alarm bells over protection for the public.

"I think, perhaps, this report will goad government into action in making sure that things improve in this department. It looks like it's been very sloppy."

In a statement, Solicitor General Shirley Bond said the government has accepted all the recommendations and has already begun implementing some of the changes.

While the auditor said CCCP didn't have a "full understanding" of its performance rate around re-offenders, Bond said 75 per cent of the program's clients have not come back under community supervision for a new offence within a two-year time frame.

About 90 per cent of the province's total correctional population serves a jail sentence in the community either on bail or through probation or recognizance orders.

Seventy-four per cent of those offenders are assessed as medium or high risk to reoffend and more than half have been diagnosed with substance abuse or mental health issues.

While the offenders are in the community, they're expected to take programs to mitigate the chance of them reoffending such as relationship violence prevention or the integrated offender management program, both of which have proven to reduce recidivism, the report said.

Reports not completed

The audit found that probation officers don't consistently complete the appropriate training before supervising offenders; that their case management work isn't regularly reviewed by managers; that they don't consistently identify strategies to address the offenders' risks and needs; and that there are insufficient documents in the offenders' file to assess the offenders' needs and risks.

Doyle's report said the program recognizes that its staff are its most valuable resource and is committed to investing in the development of its employees, but there aren't enough of them.

"The auditor found that 28 per cent growth in caseload over the last six years has not been matched with resourcing," the report stated.

"The complex offender profile, combined with an unprecedented provincial caseload of 24,000 clients presents a tremendous challenge for probation officers in their work."

Doyle said his recommendations are designed to make the risks acceptable and to offer corrections insight on whether its efforts to stop convicts from reoffending are working.

"The CCCP is quite often the last point of possible intervention," Doyle noted in his opening comments.

Among the auditor's eight recommendations are that offenders receive and complete their intervention plans, that probation officers document those plans and that the corrections program report on its performance in reducing the rate of reoffending.

Doyle said he's had feedback from the ministry staff that they won't be "dragging their knuckles" on the recommendations. I think if they're not being done within 12 months, then really, that impacts on the inherent risk that exists in this whole program. The whole idea is to reduce risk to the community, while maximizing the benefits to this particular approach to rehabilitation."

The auditor has promised a follow-up report in the spring of 2013.

Corrigan said she's pleased to see that the recommendations have been adopted, but said there's a general lack of funding in the justice system and if money is put up for more probation officers, it will likely mean cuts will have to be made elsewhere within the ministry.