By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians are demanding answers from federal Correctional Services Canada officials after they discovered the remaining correctional officers will be taken out of the Hamilton Community Correctional Centre onYork Boulevard by next April.
Mayor Bob Bratina, Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, and councillors were caught off guard after they found out from the media the CSC will be relocating the three remaining correctional guards at HCCC to other locations, and replacing them with commissionaires, part-time Re-integration Workers, and a police officer.
“I see it as a cost savings,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “We have to get political (and) ramp up our response (to the federal government).”
Clark and Bratina held a meeting with Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Tory MP David Sweet recently to try and get to the bottom of the issue. But Clark said they failed to get suitable answers.
“What is the real impact (on the community)?” said Clark. “I’m very much concerned.”
Correctional Services Canada spokesperson Melissa Hart stated in an email the ministry is “streamlining community corrections to gain savings through more effective delivery of front-line services.”
Councillors agreed at their Oct. 2 government issues committee meeting, to request representatives of the Correctional Services Canada to appear before council and answer some questions.
Hart said commissionaires, from a private firm which has been providing security services in such other provinces as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, will be doing the same thing in community correctional centres in Ontario and Quebec. The decision was made in the federal government’s Economic Action Plan in April 2012.
The re-integrated workers, or parole officers, will “contribute to the safety and security of staff and offenders in CCCs … stated Hart.
They will operate as a “case management team in the CCC to manage offenders living at a CCC by working closely with the offender and the community.”
While the commissionaires have worked in seven other provinces, Clark says it doesn’t mean Ontario should adopt them.
“No disrespect to our commissionaires, (but) do they have the kind of training that Corrections Services Canada have?” he said.
Jason Godin, national vice-president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said the decision by the federal government is part of its plan to cut the deficit. Godin did inform Bratina about the cutbacks, but unfortunately, the mayor didn’t receive the information in a timely manner.
“Correctional officers play a vital role in security and monitoring (at the HCCC),” said Godin. “This is not conducive to the government’s safer streets program.”
Godin said the federal government has slashed nearly $900 million from the correctional services budget over the last three years.
He said the officers assist about 25 male offenders in the facility to re-socialize into the community. They escort and monitor the people on day parole, as well as take urine tests.
He said up to 90 per cent of the people in these centres have some sort of substance problems.
“We don’t want to alarm the community,” said Godin. “It comes down to safety.”
In 2004 former mayor Larry Di Ianni, city council, and former Police Chief Brian Mullan called on the federal government to relocate theYork Boulevardfacility out ofHamilton.
Their call came on the heels after an offender the centre on day parole attacked a female shopkeeper inJackson Square.
The government has yet to act on the request.
Hart stated that the federal government is “actively engaged in dialogue with the City of Hamilton, police, criminal justice partners regarding the relocation of the HCCC with all parties being committed to finding the best possible solution.”
City politicians have been adamant they want the facility gone fromHamiltonafter the city agreed to host the centre on a “temporary” basis. But after 20 years, said Mountain councillor Tom Jackson, that is enough.
“Does anybody here want it in their area?”Jackson asked his colleagues. No hands shot up in response.