MONTREAL, March 28, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - Federal correctional officers expressed support yesterday for Bill C-483, which would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to transfer authority for temporary absences for inmates convicted of first- and second-degree murder from penitentiary wardens to the Parole Board of Canada.
In testimony to the House of Commons committee on public safety, Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) national president Kevin Grabowsky said too much power lies with individual wardens to rule on temporary absences.
"Wardens often face great pressure to grant temporary absences, which can accelerate parole and save money for the Correctional Service, but sometimes with tragic results," Mr. Grabowsky said. "We support the use of temporary absences as a tool to reintegrate offenders into society, but not at the expense of public or officer safety."
However, Mr. Grabowsky added two important caveats to the union's support.
First, the Parole Board must have the necessary resources to do the job of evaluating an inmate's risk of reoffending while in public. Large backlogs at the Parole Board suggest it does not currently have the needed funding.
Secondly, in one crucial aspect, the bill does not go far enough. "Bill C-483 still allows a warden to designate anyone to escort a convicted murderer in public during a temporary absence," noted Mr. Grabowsky. "The union strongly feels that escorts of these inmates should always be conducted by correctional officers."
As well, recent high-profile hostage takings in Alberta during temporary absences demonstrate the need for two correctional officers to be present, and for the inmate to be transported in a secure vehicle.
"In these two cases involving inmates from Drumheller Institution in 2011, the inmates were able to overpower their unarmed escorts while they were driving," said the union president. "This is a glaring weakness – and a huge danger for the public – in the way we conduct this program."
Mr. Grabowsky urged committee members to propose an amendment to the legislation to correct this oversight.
"Correctional officers are often the first victims when an escort goes wrong," he said. "We need the tools and the resources to do our job of protecting Canadians."
For further information: Lyle Stewart, CSN communications service, 514 796-2066.