Offender programs fall short, auditor says

The B.C. government is struggling to deal with a record caseload of nearly 24,000 convicted offenders who aren't in jail.

Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre and other B.C. jails are overcrowded

VICTORIA – The B.C. government is struggling to deal with a record caseload of nearly 24,000 convicted offenders who are in the community, and it needs to do a better job of delivering programs to prevent them from reoffending.

Those are key conclusions of B.C. Auditor General John Doyle’s latest report on the provincial corrections system.

In addition to overcrowding in B.C. jails, nearly nine out of 10 convicted offenders in B.C. are not in custody, but are serving conditional sentences on house arrest or probation with court-imposed conditions.

The auditor found that additional staff have not kept up with the caseload, which increased 28 per cent in the past six years. And only 35 per cent of interventions that are designed to reduce re-offending are ever completed.

B.C. has four core programs. They focus on male offenders of spousal assault, other violent offenders, sex offenders and substance abusers.

Doyle made eight recommendations, related to improved reporting on rates of re-offence and better record-keeping. He recommended a review of staffing levels but didn’t prescribe what if any increase there should be to the current staff of 450 probation officers.

The B.C. public safety ministry accepted all eight recommendations. In its response to the report, the community corrections division noted that probation officers deal with adult offenders, “many of whom are violent and high risk.

“They deliver evidence-based programming such as the Relationship Violence Prevention Program, which has been shown to reduce re-offending by up to 50 per cent.”

NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan said it’s encouraging that a domestic violence program can have that much success, since domestic violence is the second-largest source of of offences in B.C. after impaired driving.

But Corrigan noted that Doyle found fewer than half of B.C.’s probation officers have completed the ministry’s domestic violence course.

Doyle surveyed a sample of 58 domestic violence case files, and found three quarters of them contained at least one alleged breach of court-imposed conditions. He said few of the cases were documented well enough to determine if breaches of probation were dealt with in court, but there were several cases where they were not.

The report identified three cases where “the unreported breaches involved victim contact from offenders convicted of domestic violence – and in all three cases, the offender had been assessed as being at either a medium or high risk to re-offend.”