The following is an abridged version of the presentation National President Pierre Mallette made to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on February 15.
Hello, my name is Pierre Mallette. I am the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. Our union represents over 7,000 members across the country.
The union’s role is well known, being primarily focused on safety, training and the working conditions of its members. We thank you for the opportunity to present our point of view on the impact that spending freezes have on correctional officers and on the penitentiary system in general.
From the outset, we must tell you that we have concerns and doubts. Can we afford a spending freeze at this time and has the government provided enough resources to meet the challenges we face? A spending freeze in the budget means the CSC has to make do with money it already has, must provide a pay increase with money it already has. A maximum 1.5% pay increase is expected in 2010-2011 to be found from the same money meant to ensure employee training and safety, the same money to address the renewal of the collective agreement, which expired May 31, 2010.
Bill C-2 and Bill C-25 create new challenges, one being an increase of 4,478 inmates by 2014 and an increase of 4,419 mostly CO positions over the next three years. In short, it’s a challenge of recruitment, training and inmate program management and, consequently, an increase in risks.
What are the risks? First, we should try to put it into the context of the prison milieu. In this environment, we deal with events on a daily basis that are difficult to predict. We are front and centre if inmates decide that they have had enough and want to smash everything in sight. New legislation adopted by the government, such as Bill C-2 and Bill C-25, will result in an increase in the prison population. These inmates will be sent to institutions that must find room for them which means the double-bunking rate could rise to 30 per cent.
Double bunking means two things: higher risks, and a need to have better inmate population control, a better risk assessment of the population. We must find a way to make several types of inmates co-exist. We have inmates involved in organized crime, street gangs, biker gangs, Asian gangs, Russian gangs. Therefore, the more you increase the population, the better you need to equip yourselves to conduct simple population management. Above all, we must avoid doing so at the expense of inmates, which means being able to offer them programs that will allow them to be rehabilitated.
We must never forget that CSC has two roles. Its primary role is to ensure public safety by restricting access and preventing high-risk offenders from escaping from prison. The first role is to manage this population but there is also a second mandate: we have to ensure that when we return offenders to the community they no longer pose a threat to the public.
New announcements have been made in respect to Bill C-25. However, this does not mean we will be getting more money for programs to control the prison population, to cope with everyday situations that are beyond our control. We know that Mr. Head made a presentation where he proposed three ways to manage the spending freeze.
The first solution proposed by Mr. Head is the following: he thinks that better control of working hours and a new deployment standard will help the budget allotted for overtime. Yes, that’s true. We do believe that these will help to better control the financial aspect of overtime.
It is true that one part of the overtime budget can be managed through scheduling and deployment. We can get a better handle on the situation in this regard, but the level of risk is always difficult to calculate.
The director of an institution receives an overtime budget that he has to spread out over 12 months, in order to ensure that overtime stays under control and mandates are fulfilled. There are no resources set aside if, for example, an inmate decides to stab a fellow inmate and one of them is hospitalized. This makes us go over budget. If an inmate decides to attack correctional officers, three correctional officers could be on medical leave as a result of a workplace incident.
There are also riots and major incidents. If inmates decide to stay outside three hours longer on a beautiful summer evening. This kind of event is difficult to control and harder to predict. It is difficult to say that we are able to completely control the overtime budget.
There is another thing I want to talk about. As you know, we hear a lot about being “tough on crime.” In our view, it is important to realize that there are two versions of being tough on crime. We must be able to manage and laws must be tightened. However, it is not enough to simply catch a criminal, incarcerate him, shut the door and leave him there for four or five years without giving him a chance to follow appropriate programs. This worries us.
Bill C-10, adopted in 2009, deals with the pay increase freeze; 1.5% was given in 2009-2010. What’s more, during negotiations, the government decided not to give the Treasury Board money to conduct the negotiations. The department will have to cover the increases itself.
The union and correctional officers have to sit down with the employer and explain that it is time to negotiate pay increases. Money must be found in the budget to compensate for pay increases. I never want to find myself in a position where I have to negotiate for a working condition versus a pay increase. This is unacceptable.
We appreciate the opportunity to share our concerns with you today about how to control and manage our workplace.