On a sunny afternoon in downtown Victoria, seniors, tourists and residents casually stroll along Wharf Street near the Johnson Street Bridge.
The colourful area along the harbour draws people from all walks of life, including the 47 men living at the Salvation Army CRF (community residential facility) — the largest halfway house in Canada.
Those staying at the facility, located on the corner of Johnson and Wharf streets, have served in some of the toughest prisons across the country and many are considered high risk.
But the facility is one of three halfway houses operating in Victoria, which has posed some challenges for the city’s police department tasked with keeping an eye on those deemed as high risk.
Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak won’t release exactly how many high-risk offenders are currently living in the city, but noted the number is significant — and there’s only one officer assigned to manage them.
“VicPD spends a significant amount of time overseeing, managing and making sure that we’re looking after people reintegrating back to the community and many of those are high-risk offenders,” said Manak, noting the percentage of offenders that commit crimes is low.
“Most of the offenders that are coming into our communities are committed to becoming law abiding…but we have to manage a lot of them.”
Police are notified whenever an offender is released on parole and transitioning from prison to a halfway house in Victoria. The officer sits down with parole to determine what level of monitoring is required from police, but it’s not one size fits all.
Sometimes it depends on the severity of the crime, the offender’s attitude, whether they participated in counseling, what they were like in prison and their likelihood to reoffend.
Some offenders have to be monitored with ankle bracelets while others are required to check in daily or weekly with police, and follow release conditions that typically include a curfew, no drugs and alcohol, and residing at a certain location.
But not every offender being reintegrated into the community needs to be monitored by the police, added Manak, noting some are deemed a low or no risk to reoffend.
“There are people who do all the right things and then they fall off because they make a bad decision,” said Manak, noting a lot of thought goes into the initial assessment of offenders. “We don’t want to put them back in jail, they’ve already done their sentence. We want to set them up for success, however, we also want to hold them accountable.”
Victoria has one of the highest percentages of halfway houses in the country, which Manak believes has affected the city’s crime rate, which rose 10.5 per cent in 2014 and 8.8 per cent in 2015.
Operated by the John Howard Society, the Manchester (halfway) House in the Burnside neighbourhood can accommodate up to 15 offenders and the Bill Mudge (halfway) House, operated by the Lauren Society, on Dallas Road can house up to 11 men.
More than 50 per cent of offenders who come to the Salvation Army CRF have some sort of issue that needs to be addressed, such as substance abuse, mental health or a lack of job skills. Finding the appropriate care for mental health needs, particularly addiction, and stable affordable housing is an ongoing challenge once they leave.
As for why the city has such a high concentration of halfway houses, Manak believes it could be attributed to the fact Victoria is a major core city with a number of social services and supports for those reintegrating into the community.
In order to better manage offenders, Manak would like to see a regional approach with police agencies in the area and form an integrated unit to pool resources.