By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, April 16, 2012
Convicted murderers are among the ranks of federal workers losing their jobs through budget cuts.
The Globe and Mail has learned that one of the many federal programs that will be cut in its entirety is LifeLine, a program aimed at helping people with life sentences – or “lifers” – successfully re-integrate into society once they’ve been paroled.
At a starting salary of about $38,000, the program hires and trains successfully-paroled lifers to mentor other lifers who are still incarcerated or who have been recently released on parole.
“It’s too bad about the LifeLine. It helped me out a lot. It kept me out of prison,” said Peter Wozney, 44, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder when he was 16 and has been successfully paroled since August of 2009.
Mr. Wozney said he failed several times at parole – usually because of substance abuse issues – but he attributes the success of his last parole to using the LifeLine program in Windsor, Ont.
He said people who have been locked away for such long periods need guidance and advice on how to return to society.
“It’s going to hurt a lot of lifers inside, because I’ve seen a lot of lifers mess up in other places that are not LifeLine,” said Mr. Wozney, who speaks to school classes about his life. “We need someone to tell us what to do.”
Part of the job of LifeLine workers is to appear at parole board hearings to offer their perspective on the readiness of an inmate to leave incarceration.
The program was created after Canada officially removed capital punishment from the Criminal Code in 1976 and has been praised by those involved. But its supporters knew it was unlikely to survive the Conservative budget cuts.
“I have to tell you that I saw this coming because of the nature of the employees of LifeLine. It’s a pretty easy target politically,” said one lifer in the program, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The man, who was convicted and served a sentence for murder, says he was helped by the program while in prison and now helps others. He learned last week that he will lose his job as a LifeLine counsellor.
He says history shows the program works.
“It’s almost unheard of that lifers violently reoffend,” he said. “So as far as the public safety goes, I think [the program] works. It’s very cost-efficient. LifeLine’s been operating for 20 years, virtually without an incident.”
BY THE NUMBERS
26: number of paroled life-sentence offenders receiving salaries to support other lifers.
2,280: number of lifers who received support under the LifeLine program in 2010-11.
What's next? A restoration of capital punishment?
There are substantial arguments that point to this federal budget as one that will change Canada forever.
And, with this one-line erasing from the budget, the "tough-on-criminals-tone-deaf-on-rehabilitation" government will be able to point to how "reprehensible" are convicted criminals, when they return to the street, without LifeLine's integrating training, coaching, mentoring and transitioning back into life on the street.
And, of course, the government's talking points direct the reader-listener to supporting "research" without ever mentioning the source, reliability or veracity of that research. And none of us believe that line, anymore than we believe that this program is worthy of the cemetery, in Canadian cultural and historical terms.