Domestic violence pilot project ending
A provincial grant program that is paying for Red Deer’s three-year pilot project using GPS devices to monitor domestic violence offenders is coming to an end as a result of last week’s budget.
The pilot project will only continue to be funded to the end of its term.
Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter received $450,000 from the provincial government’s Safe Communities Innovation Fund for the Global Positioning System electronic monitoring project that ends in 2014.
Michelle Davio, spokesperson for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, said on Monday funding for the pilot will continue until the end of the three years.
“SCIF is winding down, but everyone with funds committed to them will get those funds. There will be no new grants coming out of SCIF,” Davio said.
Red Deer has 10 ankle monitors for domestic violence offenders who are found guilty and have probation orders.
Members of the project’s management committee — made up of RCMP, Community Corrections, the provincial Crown, shelter staff and others involved in addressing domestic violence in the community — will be meeting with a provincial official on Tuesday to find out more about the impact to funding.
Ian Wheeliker, executive director of Red Deer’s shelter, said he hopes the final year will continue to be funded.
“We haven’t yet received any official notification,” Wheeliker said.
Anders Quist, Red Deer’s chief Crown prosecutor, said the program was working well.
“It was looking like it was helping to keep offenders out of trouble and that of course leads to improved safety for the victims,” Quist said.
Ankle monitors, equipped with a built-in cellphone and radio frequency, are tracked constantly.
They alert police if offenders goes near or into an area they are not allowed to go, like a victim’s house or workplace, disobeys court-ordered curfews, and if monitors are damaged in an effort to take them off.
Quist said the devices tended to reduce the number of times offenders tried to contact the victims because they knew the likelihood of getting caught was much greater.
A couple of weeks ago, an offender was convicted of breach of probation for trying to remove the device which self-reports if anyone tampers with it, he said.
Quist said it was always known that the program might not be renewed. Since it initially ran under budget, it could possibly be extended for several more months.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents correctional peace officers, says the province has cut $5.07 million from correctional services programs.
Another service that was eliminated was intermittent sentencing for offenders to allow them to serve their sentences on weekends.
“I think you might find judges erring on the side of caution and putting more folks into correctional sentences, which will increase the pressure on overcrowding,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.
“Even with the opening of the new remand centre in Edmonton, that’s not going to relieve the pressure that much.”
Correctional officers are also concerned about budget cuts that will eliminate electronic monitoring across the province, he said.
“Their number one mission is to make sure Albertans are safe and secure. They know that this program was working well, offenders in the community were being monitored closely.”
Red Deer Remand Centre, where offenders can serve on weekends, has the equivalent of 61 full-time employees and capacity for 146 inmates. Average daily population in 2011-12 was 137 inmates.
“On any given weekend in Alberta, there are an average of 207 inmates serving intermittent sentences in provincial correctional facilities,” Davio said.
Anyone who is currently sentenced to intermittent custody will be able to continue serving their sentence on weekends. But after the budget is passed that option will no longer be available, she said.
She said eliminating intermittent custody will reduce costs to the justice system by $942,000 annually. Those offenders have to be kept separate from other inmates to avoid smuggling.