Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Parole - The Meeting

The Parole Office meeting was last night at the Bronson Centre.

Meeting Format
Correctional Services tried to have a series of little workgroups, but was talked out of it. Work groups are find when a large percentage of the attendees share a certain knowledge level, but when facts are scarce this format serves to create little silos of (mis)information and keep people unaware. The question and answer format instead allowed people to get some additional information and judge the agendas/merits of others and their opinions. The wiki format wins hands down in this case.

The Pros
The moderator was excellent. I found myself thoughout the meeting amazed at her calmness, flexibility, unobtrusiveness, and patience. Kudos to CSC for hiring her.

The representatives from CSC were calm and articulate. They didn't try to bore the audience to death. Their difficulty in providing some facts seemed to genuinely stem from the complexity of the situation. Nonetheless their credibility continually took a beating as the meeting went on and contradictions became apparent. Make no doubt they were selling 1010 Somerset as a site; their protests that no decision was made, it was a genuine consultation, etc didn't convince me.

The audience was an interesting mix. There were cheerleaders for the parole office, people seeking more info and expressing their suspicions, and a vocal NO WAY portion.
Everyone was polite, listened to others, and learned. It was not a "no" rally as I had feared.

The Cons
Fuzzy factoids: too much time was spent chasing down basic facts that CSC should have provided beforehand if they genuinely wanted discussion. And when CSC gave the facts, they too often proved elusive. Here's some examples:
1) less than 3% of offenders re-offend violently - but over what time frame? Is this in their lifetime or while on parole? how does one reconcile this to...
2) 36.6% of ex-criminals are sent back to jail
3) 20% (40 persons) are lifers, ie murderers. Are these the same ones that re-offend violently?
4) the parole office operates during normal business office hours. It won't attract parolees to the area at night. Oops, except for the occasional night it might be open. Which is maybe 3 times a week. This sort of slow extraction of information from CSC damages their credibility. The ordinary citizen has to wonder what else they are hiding/not acknowledging.
5) Only 8 to 10 offenders visit the office per day for meetings. Later this became 6 -8 per day. Then six. This is about 2000 visits per year. These are for interviews, programs, and other nice things. Oops, except for those invited back to the office so they can be rearrested. [My source working in the parole office estimates it's 16 people per day, if you include those who come in for urinalysis tests, and this number may increase as half-way houses exit the sampling market.]
6)they already live here. 75 parolees live within 1km of the site; 12 more if the boundary goes to 1200m; totalling 100 in "wider centretown", which later turns out might include Vanier. But a ten square mile area is not the same as one site on Somerset St.
7) the main advantage of the site is bus access. Few parolees ever need to visit the office.
8) another advantage of 1010 Somerset is it is PWC owned. So why not look at other PWC buildings, in the downtown, Tunney's, or elsewhere. This smells too much like CSC won't put them in a civil service office building but will put them in our community. What's wrong with 240 Sparks, where the Holt Renfrew crowd could brush shoulders with fellow citizens?
9)Fed offenders commit only 1% of crimes, so don't worry, its other people who are dangerous. This ignores the nature of the crimes (small property crimes vs crimes against the person, including murder) and skips over what percent of the population the offenders are. If they are .5% of the population, then their likelihood of committing crimes - and community risk - is twice as high. Fuzzy factoids >> distrust.
10) will the crime rate go up because of the parole office? (ie, risk). No, CSC says, because parolees won't hang around the office with its 30 peace officers. But their clients are the ones that got caught, ie are the stupid ones, the impulsive. And it won't cause any problems to treat pedophiles close to schools and daycares (except for the ones that can't come in because they can't be trusted to be close to schools...) or have alcholics walk past bars to get to the office.

Alienating Allies
I was glad to see a contingent of pro-parole office people at the meeting. It takes guts to go out for a unpopular cause. Unfortunately, they did not win over anyone because of their intemperate tactics. It doesn't help to call those questioning CSC "bigots", " buncha hicks", "moral panic", "NIMBY". I didn't hear anyone question the utility of the parole system let alone attack it. The focus was admirably direct: where should it be, should it be here, what are the risks. Yes, there were a contingent who were opposed; they were not a howling mob, and could have been won over. I understand why it makes some sense to locate it near the cons, I want to know what the risks are too; this is not intolerance: it's intelligence.

Bad Odor
If it hadn't been for all the fuss about the Elgin/Cooper (current) location, I probably would not have had much interest in the CSC office. But CSC is not proposing to put it in Rockcliffe, New Edinburgh, or the Glebe, where high concentrations of senior bureaucrats can run endless battles. They are proposing to put it in the lowest income neighborhood of the city, between its main public school and main park & rec facility, where all traffic is funnelled onto the one street that runs in front of 1010 Somerset. I just gotta ask myself: if the affluent and well-connected don't want it, if the civil servants don't want to share their office buildings with it, why should I want it? Recall in my previous post I asked a CSC parole office worker about locating it near their house: "NO! I think not."

Missing in Action
Devonshire School, the Plant Pool Rec.Assoc. and Hintonburg and Dalhousie associations, amongst others, were active in this issue. It was good to see local business owners out too: I recognized Luciano Gervasi and Silvano Musca. Councilor Holmes was there and made an admirably direct and platitude-free brief statement. Our MP and MPP had office assistants at the meeting, expressing "concern" but I did not hear the same firm degree of opposition to this site as they had expressed against the Elgin site. No mention was made of St Francois d'Assise school and the 280 kids there, have they been consulted? (Disclosure: one of my kids went to St Marys and the other to St Francois - both walked the Somerset route every day for years).

Also missing was any indication that CSC might engage in further community consultation. The short-notice consultation process seems to be done.


  1. http://meganbutcher.com/blog/Public_Consultation_Town_Hall#comment-1392

    I'm sorry for calling some of the people there a "bunch of hicks". It was an unwarranted slur against rural folks in an urban setting, many of whom probably aren't anywhere near as bigoted (remember the guy concerned about "crackhouses" and "bathhouses"?) and I apologize. I stand by describing this as "moral panic" and people describing this as NIMBY because that's exactly what it is. I know that the truth isn't always popular, but I'm not running for political office.

  2. Hey, there _are_ bathhouses and crackhouses in Hintonburg. I live around the corner from a massage parlour. I live near the Hell's Angels. I think this neighborhood has enough problems as it is...

  3. And a parole office creates more problems? The fact is that a sizeable chunk of parolees already live in the area. It's very telling that you consider a parole office to being a problem (which has a staffing complement of 8 peace officers, something I'd think that everyone who believes that more policing is better than less would support). The risk is more the criminal you don't know is a criminal than the one you do know. My friend Sam was spot-on last night when she observed that statistically it was more likely that in terms of a next offence, there was more likely a sex offender in the community meeting than among the parole office using population. Not a popular observation, but nevertheless accurate, as people who work in the field will tell you.

  4. One of the Ottawa's oldest bath houses is in residence, albeit discretely, on Wellington Street.

    re St. Francois d'Assise - I don't think that there is much outreach to this school in general (though I can't understand why there hasn't been any representation by them. Perhaps I have to get involved on their board to raise the profile of community issues ...)

  5. PS Thanks for a good accounting of the event. We were triple booked on this end and had no chance to make it to this meeting.

  6. Just because one holds an unpopular view does not make one more enlightened. Dressing up another insult in a bogus apology doesn't make one clever either. Resorting to name-calling because someone holds a different view is childish. There was nothing to be gained for the community and its residents voiced their opinions. The fact that the site is off the table is an example of democracy at work. They did a poor job of consulting the public. There are many reasons besides fear and NIMBY to oppose this. The people spoke and were heard.

  7. We were at the meeting on Monday. Truthfully, we were sitting on the fence when we walked in. We were looking for information, specifically on what the recidivism rate was for sexual/violent offenders... Instead, we were barraged by the cons, and the pros...(truthfully, being labelled a 'Hick' for not blindly approving this is unacceptable and made us want to dig our heels in) We ended up leaving early after realizing the NPB did not have the info we were looking for, feeling borderline abused by both sides. We are not 'Hicks' for wanting information; we own a tiny duplex and live in one unit and rent out the other to someone whom many of the people at the meeting would not approve of...but who deserved a second chance, and has turned out to be a great tenant! Like many, we love Hintonburg and love the cultural diversity found here. Living on Somerset, we meet new people everyday. People are always stopping by, when I am out gardening, and offering to help, or offering advice. We do not like fear mongering ..."pro or con"... and that was primarily what we saw on Monday night. I hope we all learn from this. Thanks for listening...

  8. Excellent summary. Thanks for this. I live a little outside the consultation area, but my kids go to Plant Bath, so I followed the debate with some interest.

    I think you went a little too easy on the people supporting the parole office. To borrow a little from their rhetorical style: only a kook or a moron would actually want a PAROLE OFFICE in their neighbourhood. That's why Corrections wouldn't even think of trying to locate it in the Glebe or Westboro, and had to give in when the people in the Golden Triangle wanted it out. Instead, they tried to slide it into one of the poorest residential neighbourhoods in the core, on the assumption that people would just roll over and accept that their children's safety ranks less than that of people in more affluent areas.

    So good for you, people of Centretown West and Hintonburg East - you stood up and fought back, and you won! This could be a turning point for the community and the whole area.