While often disregarded by mainstream media, seemingly nonexistent to political players and often unrecognized by the communities we serve, Probation and Parole Officers play a vital role in the Criminal Justice System. There are approximately 1100 Probation/Parole Officers (PPOs) and Probation Officers (POs) in Ontario. In the adult system, 840 PPOs work tirelessly with offenders, supervising over 50,000 cases on any given day in Ontario. While the government and unions alike have failed to adequately market the value of PPOs to the public, it is imperative that our communities are educated about the importance of our work given a pending strike and the resulting undue risks posed to the community. While certain functions of a PPO may prove obvious, such as the overall supervision of offenders to ensure compliance with Court ordered conditions and parole certificates, the vast majority of a PPO’s work is centered around offender rehabilitation to ensure reduced recidivism and public safety.
PPOs possess educational backgrounds in disciplines such as criminology, psychology and social work. We are trained to identify and target factors that research has demonstrated to result in criminality. Whether it be mental health concerns, substance use, procriminal peers (such as gang associations) or negative thought patterns requiring cognitive behavioural interventions, PPOs offer support, intervention and referrals to programming in an effort to facilitate offender rehabilitation. In recent years, PPOs have been tasked with engaging in the functions of clinicians, utilizing specialized risk assessment tools to determine the level of risk posed to domestic violence victims, in addition to performing psychometric testing on sex offenders for the purpose of identifying risk and managing deviant sexual behaviours. The work of a PO/PPO is a craft that very few people in Ontario have mastered. There are only 1100 of us tasked with managing the highest caseloads in the nation, despite the complexities involved.
In addition to monitoring compliance with court ordered conditions and facilitating offender rehabilitation, PPOs play an integral role in the Court and Parole process. Judges and the Ontario Parole Board are reliant on the assessment and recommendations of PPOs when imposing a sentence or determining suitability for early release from jail. It is the responsibility of PPOs to inform the Court and Parole Board about the extent to which an offender’s risk to the community can be managed. Without our investigations and recommendations, offenders who pose an undue risk to the community may go undetected. The work involved in formulating comprehensive recommendations for the Court and Parole Board can be cumbersome. It requires conversations with family members, employers, doctors, treatment providers, local law enforcement and victims, among others. As PPOs’ caseloads continue to reflect higher risk offenders with increasing potential for violence, the hours of work away from our regular cases to complete these reports proves difficult.
While attempting to manage the highest caseloads in Canada, struggling to produce ongoing comprehensive recommendations to the Court and Parole Board, PPOs find themselves as a primary source of support for victims. With an increasing reliance on community supervision to address domestic violence offending, PPOs are in routine contact with victims, offering support, safety planning and various other services. We often receive disclosures of abuse from victims with whom we have developed a rapport. We are often the sole source of support for vulnerable women and their children and it is not uncommon to receive phone calls or urgent office visits in times of crisis. The same can be said for victims of sexual abuse or desperate family members in search of support for a loved one who is struggling with significant mental health concerns. Probation/Parole Officers are many things, to many people.
The Probation and Parole profession has evolved considerably in recent years. Our job duties are endless, our workload has become increasingly unmanageable, and we continue to be tasked with doing more with less. Gone are the days of the first time offender, convicted of mischief. Gone are the routine Probation Orders with young kids ordered to complete community service. Arrived are the days of offenders with significant histories and potential for violence, complex needs, multiple victims, endless risk assessment tools, invasive interviewing techniques, increasingly complicated reports, growing exposure to weapons in our workplaces and growing dangers in the homes we visit. We lack resources, adequate compensation and respect/appreciation from this government. We are “helping professionals” whose good will has been exploited. We are 15 days away from a strike. The Ontario government has decided that the work of Probation/Parole Officers is not essential. The Ontario government has decided that the services we provide are not required. They have determined that they would much rather see PPOs on a strike line versus supervising offenders, facilitating sentencing, investigating parole applications and supporting victims. Considering the roles and responsibilities of PPOs, the potential consequences of a strike are foreseeable. Even at the best of times, overworked Probation/Parole Officers struggle to prevent horrific acts committed by offenders under community supervision. What will become of the safety of this province when these offenders are afforded NO support, NO accountability and NO supervision? The responsibility for an exacerbated “crisis in Corrections” will ultimately rest solely with the Liberal government.
–Danielle Du Sablon