Government of Canada

Government of Canada

October 08, 2014 16:08 ET

Correctional Investigator Reports on Overcoming Barriers to Community Reintegration

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Oct. 8, 2014) - The 41st Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament today. The report contains a special focus on safe and timely community reintegration of federally sentenced offenders.

In his report, the Correctional Investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers notes that most inmates will be released from prison and that it is up to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to ensure they are properly prepared for their return. "Time spent in prison should be about constructively addressing needs, risks and behaviours that lead to crime," said Sapers. "Prison programs that upgrade the educational, employability and vocational skills of inmates significantly enhance the prospects of living crime-free when returned to the community."

The report details a number of factors that run contrary to safe and timely reintegration. For example, more offenders are staying longer in higher security penitentiaries where access to programs is most restricted. The majority of offenders are now returned to the community by way of statutory release at two-thirds point of the sentence versus conditional release (parole). Use of force interventions, inmate assaults, segregation placements, involuntary transfers and self-injurious incidents are trending upward leading to conditions of detention that are less conducive to safe reintegration. "Returning offenders to the community who are embittered by their incarceration experience instead of provided opportunities for positive change is not in anyone's interest. We know that timely interventions followed by graduated and structured release is less costly and more successful than releasing an offender directly from prison with limited or no period of supervision," stated Sapers.

An investigation of federal community correctional centres (CCCs), which are community-based residential facilities operated exclusively by CSC, was released at the same time as the Annual Report. These facilities accommodate high need, high risk federal offenders released to the community with a residency condition imposed by the Parole Board of Canada. While the investigation found some concerns with respect to consistency and access to pre-release services, healthcare and program delivery, including employment assistance, community correctional facilities were found to deliver significant impact in terms of value for money and contribution to public safety. Mr. Sapers noted, "Community corrections operations continue to be the poor cousin of institutional corrections. Less than 5% of CSC's total budget is allocated to correctional reintegration programs." To begin to address the imbalance, the Correctional Investigator called upon the Correctional Service to conduct an audit of resources allocated to community supervision.

Other sections of the 2013-14 Annual Report address ongoing priorities of the Office - mental health care, prevention of deaths in custody, conditions of confinement, and issues affecting Aboriginal and women offenders.

As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns. The report cited in this release is available at: www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

BACKGROUNDER

41st Annual Report to Parliament

Overcoming Barriers to Safe and Timely Reintegration

Overview

  • Safe and successful reintegration is challenging and complex work that begins at point of admission. Time spent in prison should be about constructively addressing needs, risks and behaviours that lead to crime.

  • The needs of the federal offender population are varied, complex and extensive:

    • Mental health issues are two to three times more prevalent in prisons than the general community. 13% of male and 29% of women inmates have mental health needs at intake.

    • Four-in-five male offenders have a substance abuse problem; nearly two-thirds were under the influence of an intoxicant when committing their offence.

    • In 2012, 18.5% of inmates were infected with Hepatitis C and 1.2% with HIV.

    • One in five inmates is over the age of 50.

    • Approximately 60% of offenders have employment needs identified at intake; nearly 40% of new admissions in 2012-13 had Grade 8 education or less.

    • 24% of the inmate population is Aboriginal.

  • A criminal record or time spent in prison remains a substantial marker of social stigma. More than three million Canadians have been convicted of an offence resulting in a criminal record. Recent changes to the pardon process (now called a "criminal record suspension") including a doubling of the waiting period for most offences from 5 to 10 years, new ineligibility restrictions and increased application costs impede community resettlement efforts (i.e. employment, travel, social supports and housing).

  • Employment status, age and level of formal education are the most important predictors of re-offending regardless of offence type; prison programs that upgrade educational, employability and vocational skills significantly enhance the prospects of offenders returning and remaining in the community.

Issues of Concern

  • Fewer offenders are accessing the community through gradual, timely and structured conditional release:

    • Over the last ten years, day parole has decreased by 15% and full parole by 40%.

    • More offenders are serving more of their sentence behind bars before first release.

    • More than 70% of all releases from federal penitentiaries are by statutory release (two-thirds point of the sentence).

    • The use of work releases is declining (only 389 inmates involved in 2012-13).

  • The quality of case management has contributed, at least in part, to the very high number of waived or postponed parole hearings, inmates not cascading to lower security levels, and long wait lists for correctional programs. Most federal offenders are now returned to the community from medium rather than minimum security institutions.

  • Safe custody indicators (e.g. use of force, segregation placements, inmate assaults, involuntary transfers, self-injury, double bunking) are trending upward. Challenging prison conditions stretch the system's capacity to meet reintegration goals.

  • Community correctional operations appear underfunded, understaffed and underserviced; less than 5% of the Correctional Service of Canada's budget is allocated to correctional reintegration programs.

Investigation of Federal Community Correctional Centres

  • As part of its focus on safe and timely reintegration, the Office conducted an investigation examining the role and function of Community Correctional Centres (CCCs). Summary findings are reported in the Office's 2013-14 Annual Report.

  • CCC's are community-based residential facilities operated by CSC that accommodate offenders conditionally released to the community. They provide a very structured and secure living environment as well as programs and treatment resources.

  • The Correctional Service operates 16 CCCs with a total capacity of 474 beds and an annual budget of $30M (1.1% of CSC's overall budget of $2.7B).

Findings

  • Over half (55%) of offenders residing in CCCs are on statutory release with a residency condition imposed by the Parole Board of Canada.

  • This is a high needs and high risk population:

    • 77% were incarcerated for a Schedule I (violent) offence.

    • Three-quarters are considered high risk to reoffend.

    • 70% have ongoing needs requiring intervention (e.g. employment, education, substance abuse).

    • Nearly three-quarters were released to a CCC directly from either a maximum or medium security institution.

  • The Office found a lack of adequate pre-release services for offenders transferring to CCCs. Many did not have important personal identification (e.g. birth certificate, social insurance card, health card) making it difficult for them to obtain stable employment, access health care, obtain or renew a driver's license.

  • Inconsistent services across CCCs left many offenders without regular access to health care professionals, employment assistance or cultural guidance in the case of Aboriginal offenders.

  • The investigation found very few CCCs engaged in community outreach or maintained meaningful community partnerships. Such partnerships are helpful in reducing stigma, accessing transitional housing and employment assistance, as well as providing outpatient care, treatment and addiction services.

  • Despite delivering significant impact terms of value for money, efficacy and contribution to public safety, CCCs receive very modest funding.

Recommendations

Key recommendations include:

  1. CCCs should have the necessary resources, including nurses, social workers and psychologists, to ensure access to appropriate services and care.

  2. CSC should develop a national partnership strategy for CCCs which includes creating an inventory of services and partners that are available, identifying gaps in partnerships, a communication plan that educates and inform community members, and a timetable for monitoring and reporting on these activities.

  3. CSC should conduct an operational audit of resources allocated to community corrections and CCCs specifically. The outcome of this audit should help inform the development of renewed monitoring and reporting strategy for CCCs.

The Annual Report contains other recommendations (e.g. dedicated programming for younger offenders between 18-25 years of age, need for an integrated model to treat offenders with concurrent substance abuse and mental health disorders) that also address overcoming barriers to safe and timely reintegration.

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