3-year pilot project to utilize services for potential reoffenders in Calgary

Provincial government officials announced a new approach to the corrections system in hopes of breaking the crime cycle at the McDougall Centre on Feb. 24.

A three-year pilot project in Calgary will deliver centralized services, aiming to address the root causes of criminal behaviour for individuals deemed to be a risk to our communities.

The new Integrated Justice Services Project serves those sentenced to community supervision and identified by probation officers as at a high risk to reoffend, said a provincial government statement.

Alberta Justice Minister Verlyn Olson said that existing services would be utilized into one central location providing “a holistic approach.”

The $3-million project — funded from the Safe Communities Innovation Fund — aligns a variety of existing services, such as health, social, community and justice, in one single location. Probation supervision already provided at the Safe Communities Resource Centre – located at the Dominion Centre downtown – will also include addiction-treatment services, group counselling and employment and skills development.

“Their lives are difficult,” he said. “It’s a big challenge for them to deal with the system and we need to make the system more user-friendly.”

It is anticipated by the province that 150 to 200 individuals under community supervision will meet the criteria.Left to right, Justice Minister Verlyn Olson, Solicitor General Jonathan Denis, Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne, Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson and Premier Alison Redford. Redford announced a new pilot project delivering centralized services for individuals deemed a high risk to reoffend on Feb. 24 at the McDougall Centre.
Photo by: Shane Flug

“What we’re trying to do is to set this person up for success within the probation system,” said Premier Alison Redford.

“So that when that person is connecting to a probation officer, the probation officer isn’t saying, ‘OK, now these are the five agencies you need to go to. Go get a bus ticket and start hopping around offices.’ We want to have everyone working together in the same place.”

The Solicitor General and Public Security department will reallocate four positions for the pilot project.

Offenders in Calgary who are on probation and serving their sentence in the community are chosen for the project by interviews with probation officers to determine eligibility.

Those deemed high risk to reoffend are also assessed by looking at criteria such as criminal history, substance use, social skills and mental health issues.

However, nothing would be different for those not chosen and they still would be required to comply with what’s required of them under their supervision orders.

Targeting root causes of crime

Olson said an integrated-services approach is “new and innovative.”

He added that it’s a “hard step to take,” as there’s always a need for more law enforcement but a transition to including early intervention in the justice system won’t lead to results overnight.

“You’re not going to make that kind of a transition and then next week, next month, all of sudden see huge payback,” he said.

Olson also said he would like to see a drop in the amount of offenders who end up in and out of the system — starting at the emergency room, then back on the street, then getting arrested and then going to court, for example.

Police Chief Rick Hanson said if the Integrated Justice Services Project can be used to “take them off the street, away from the drugs, detox, treat and then release them into a residential system…. we’re going to be preventing crime.

“Over time, you’ll see a tremendous reduction because you’re targeting the root cause, not just investigating and locking [people] up,” he said.

sflug@cjournal.ca