Transition houses in remote areas are a hair’s breadth away from being staffed to cover all their shifts. In Gaspésie, the labor shortage recently got the better of the only institution on the peninsula.
Both for the social reintegration of ex-inmates and for public safety, this is not good news, warn several directors of halfway houses in an interview with La Presse.
On March 31, the L’Arc-en-Soi halfway house in Maria, in Gaspésie, closed down after a year of intensive research to fill key positions. The Gaspé Peninsula thus lost the only service of its kind in its territory.
Halfway houses – also known as Community Residential Centers (CRCs) – are places that offer accommodation, support and supervision to offenders in the process of gradual release. A process that promotes their social reintegration and helps prevent recurrences, according to the Association of Social Rehabilitation Services of Quebec (ASRSQ).
In Quebec, these organizations follow in the community a little more than 5000 people on release, indicates David Henry, criminologist and director general of the ASRSQ.
The Ministry of Public Security (MSP) learned with “tremendous regret” of the closure of L’Arc-en-Soi, said Louise Quintin, public relations officer for the MSP, by email.
The closest halfway house is now in Rivière-du-Loup, in Bas-Saint-Laurent. To access it, former Gaspé prisoners will have to move away from their families and wait before finding a job or housing in their community, deplores Lorraine Michaud, director general of L’Arc-en-Soi.
“Someone who comes to a halfway house, who works on him, who finds a job, housing, when he goes back to his environment, to the community, it’s a lot safer than someone who goes out directly from detention and which has had no buffer zone,” she said.
“What saddens me the most about this is that fewer people are going to have the opportunity [like me] to go and improve like nobody else, in Maria, and get their heads above water,” said André Ouellet, a resident of Amqui who went through the services of L’Arc-en-Soi when it closed.
L’Arc-en-Soi is not the only organization to have labor-related glitches. “Last year, I was ready to say: there, we close, we consolidate, we hire, we train, and after that we will reopen,” says Chantal Lessard, general manager of the CRC d’Amos, in Abitibi- Temiscamingue. “I called Correctional Services to say that if I didn’t hire, I was a month away from a break in service. »
The organization has managed to avoid the closure, but is struggling to keep its head above water.
To complicate their task, halfway houses must operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to ensure the safety of inmates and the public.
“At midnight, if your worker can’t come in, and you don’t have a backup, it’s difficult,” adds André Bonneau, of the CRC in Roberval, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean.
This halfway house has no one left on its recall list. “Tomorrow morning, someone falls ill, gets injured, it’s not going well, adds Mr. Bonneau. I haven’t seen this often in 36 years. »
In the past, halfway houses attracted new graduates from CEGEP or university who could then migrate to correctional services, explain the directors.
Now, the correctional services themselves are struggling to hire. The result: about 50% turnover in halfway house staff, says David Henry.
“We end up with half of the workers in halfway houses who have little experience working with residents,” he warns.
At the same time, the experiences of ex-convicts are increasingly complex, Henry adds. “Residents are coming out of detention with more acute issues than before – substance abuse, mental health, sexual delinquency, etc. Is there less support than before? Do the substances you use lead to more problems? I have no response. »
In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, this combination worries. “I can’t afford to put a [less experienced employee] alone on the floor with 15 guys, so I have to double up, illustrates Ms. Lessard. The community sector has a reputation for always adapting, but at some point, we will reach the end of our rope. »