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Salvation Army to act as electronic jail guards

Toronto Star
Richard Brennan
Queen's Park Bureau
Feb. 4, 2003

To monitor inmates serving weekend sentences at home Ontario government gave contract to B.C. company to cut costs.

The Salvation Army is keeping track of Ontario inmates under a controversial new contract signed by the Conservative government designed to allow hundreds more inmates to serve their sentences at home and not in jail.

The Salvation Army, which is a subcontractor, will be responsible for setting up inmates many of them doing weekend sentences for offences like drug dealing, assault and drunk driving with electronic monitoring and checking up on them when they stray.

The contract is part of the Tories' move to cut costs and alleviate overcrowding by having hundreds of inmates stay in their homes rather than showing up at correctional centres on the weekend.

Critics say it is an abdication of the government's role to protect the public, but the government emphasizes that sex offenders, spousal abusers and pedophiles will not be among those allowed out of jail.

Jamie Wallace, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bob Runciman, said yesterday that weekenders or those serving intermittent sentences "create enormous problems for the corrections system."

Jemtec Inc., a security firm based in Vancouver, is being paid $2.4 million a year for the next five years to electronically monitor inmates, and it in turn has subcontracted to the Salvation Army. The new contract began Jan. 15.

Andrew Murie, executive director of MADD Canada, was taken aback to hear that drunk drivers are about to be treated even more lightly.

"There is no deterrent. It all started when they were allowed to serve on weekends ...but this takes it one step further. I'm sure a victim's family would tell you that having a person sitting in jail instead of the safety of their home watching the Maple Leafs on a Saturday night is much more of a deterrent," Murie said.

Liberal critic MPP Dave Levac (Brant) said the government has done an about-face on views of crime and punishment but hasn't told the public.

"This doesn't live up to the Tories' `tough on crime' and `lock 'em up and throw away the key' image that they would have the public believe," Levac said.

While critics praise the Salvation Army for being an advocate for inmates and people who abuse alcohol, they say it is hardly the kind of agency most people would want to ride herd on inmates.

"The plan is to let them all out," said Barry Scanlon, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service Employees (OPSEU), referring to those serving intermittent sentences, 40 per cent of whom, he said, are repeat drunk drivers.

"The whole thing is a farce. I can see a guy will go out, the alarm will go off and they will phone and the guy will offer some excuse ... and the Sally Ann guy will say, `no problem, just make sure you don't do it again.' Remember, the Salvation is the first line of defence."

Hugh Osler, executive director of the Salvation Army's correctional program in the Toronto area, defended its role, saying it has experience operating open custody residences for young offenders and dealing with federal offenders "so this is just an extension of things the Salvation Army has been doing for a long time." Osler said the Salvation Army has been involved in electronic monitoring in Florida for 10 years.

Jemtec president Eric Caton said the Salvation Army seemed to be a natural fit since "the individuals on the program in many cases are already their clients, so in looking at it we felt there was some synergy there." Caton would not say how much the Salvation Army is being paid.

The goal of the contract, according to confidential documents obtained by the Star, is to have 700 inmates wearing electronic bracelets during the first year. "The whole ankle bracelet, electronic monitoring policy is an abdication on the part of this government of its responsibility to run a properly staffed, professional correctional services system," NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre) said.



Editorial: When Ernie met Sally

Toronto Star
Feb. 5, 2003

Most of us associate the Salvation Army with brass bands and soup kitchens rather than radio-frequency ankle bands and electronic surveillance of inmates.

But the venerable Christian social service agency is at the forefront of a controversial change in the justice system. It's ensnared in the sticky issue of privatization and prison cutbacks.

Ontario Public Safety Minister Bob Runciman announced last fall that a Vancouver-based security firm, Jemtec Inc., won a five-year contract to monitor offenders electronically.

Jemtec, in turn, enlisted the Salvation Army as a subcontractor to keep tabs on parolees and offenders who have curfew, house arrest and reporting conditions as part of their probation or sentences.

Company officials say the Salvation Army is a natural fit for the job of supervising.

In 1901, the Salvation Army recommended a prisoner probation system to Ottawa, leading to Canada's first parole program. Since then, it has been deeply involved with correctional services, providing chaplains, facilities for adult and young offenders, and post-sentence supervision in the community.

Critics of the new plan complain the province is abdicating its duty to protect the public. They say more inmates will be allowed to serve their time at home, not in jail. MADD Canada argues such a sentence is not as much of a deterrent as jail.

Premier Ernie Eves' Conservative government has made no secret of its intent to seek partnerships in the private and public sector to slash costs and provide what it calls alternative services delivery. The new privately run superjail in Penetanguishene is a prominent example.

The expanded electronic surveillance program is another.

Still, the way that responsibility for this monitoring has bounced from one organization to another . and then another . raises questions.

When it signed the deal with Jemtec, did the government know services would be further contracted out?

Would it have been more efficient to do business directly with the Salvation Army rather than pay a middleman to do it? Is it confident it is doing the right thing by handing such duties to a church group?

The government has committed more than $450 million so far to overhaul the correctional infrastructure, vowing to develop a "tough, efficient and accountable" system.

It needs to give much more debate and thought to this measure. It is troubling that the public has had little, if any, say in this latest cost-saving trend.



Salvation Army's jailer role decried

Toronto Star
Richard Brennan
Queen's Park Bureau
Feb. 5, 2003

Public service union `enraged' Fifty to 100 jobs said to be at stake

The provincial government employees union is threatening to boycott the Salvation Army after learning it has moved into the adult corrections business.

Paul Bilodeau, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said yesterday OPSEU is prepared to call on its 100,000 members to stop donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

He was reacting to news the Salvation Army has a contract to keep track of inmates being monitored electronically in their homes.

"We are pretty well enraged that the government would be so callous as to turn over this kind of a public service function" to a charitable agency, Bilodeau said. The Salvation Army should stick to the business of saving souls, he said.

"Up to now they have been involved in things such as group homes, residence programs, transitional employment programs ... and what they are traditionally known for which is rehabilitation services, not adult corrections. That is not their mandate."

Hugh Osler, executive director of the Salvation Army's correctional program in the Toronto area, had little to say about the possible boycott.

"Obviously we wouldn't be pleased to hear that there would be an organized group that makes a point of not contributing to the Salvation Army, but they have to do what they have to do," Osler said.

Bilodeau said OPSEU's next scheduled executive board meeting is not until March, but expects there will be one called sooner than that to deal with the threatened boycott.

OPSEU, which represents jail guards as well as probation and parole officers, is in a bitter dispute with the province over closing jails and turning to such agencies as the Salvation Army to check up on inmates.

"We are probably losing 50 to 100 jobs as a result of this contract," said Barry Scanlon, a spokesperson for OPSEU corrections members.

The Conservative government is moving headlong into electronic monitoring cutting costs by having hundreds of inmates stay in their homes rather than pour into jail on weekends.



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