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Chapter 4 - Engaging the Community

Public Participation

Reaching out to your neighbours and fellow citizens is a great way for CAC members to help raise awareness about criminal justice issues, increase confidence and encourage community involvement in the correctional process.

Opportunities to Increase Public Participation

Opportunities to raise awareness in your community may include:

  • Hosting an open house at your institution or parole office.
  • Forming a speakers' bureau to address local citizen, school, church or civic groups in your community.
  • Hosting a Community Forum on criminal justice or correctional issues that are important to people in your neighbourhood.

By sponsoring one public awareness event annually, your CAC could raise your profile and meet your objective of raising public awareness.

More about Community Forums

A community forum is intended to give interested citizens from your community an opportunity to voice their views on correctional issues and to learn about and respond to current and proposed policy and programs related to the correctional process.

Hosting a Community Forum doesn't have to be an intimidating prospect. Many CACs have hosted successful public events. For interested committees, resources such as a "Speaker's Binder" and the video "A Test of Justice" are available. Both these resources can be acquired by any CAC by contacting the CSC.

Hosting a Community Forum

If you want to consider hosting a community forum you should:

  • Discuss the possibility at a CAC meeting.
  • Work out the necessary details (location, topic, audience, cost, etc.).
  • Discuss your proposal with your local CSC liaison.
  • Submit your proposal to the Head of Operational Unit for support and presentation to appropriate regional personnel, as required.

It shouldn't take more than 2-3 pages to outline your proposal. CAC forums have ranged from very ambitious 3-day events with multiple workshops to a breakfast event including special presentations or an evening event with a single panel.

Funding for Community Forums

CSC can contribute funds towards such events. It is to each committee to work out these arrangements with the help of the CAC Regional Chairperson and the CSC Regional Coordinator.

Other Available Resources

The CSC produces several publications available for CACs to use at public events. It is important to ensure that factual statements are accurate. Getting the facts right is particularly important if committees are citing statistics or describing programs. For this reason, any facts-based information should be verified by CSC to ensure accuracy and consistency. Some of the available resources include:

  • Basic Facts about Federal Corrections,
  • Myths and Realities - How Federal Corrections Contributes to Public Safety,
  • The CSC Mission Document

These and other resources can be viewed and downloaded from the internet at www.csc-scc.gc.ca. Staff in many CSC branches can provide advice or practical assistance in gathering materials of the organization of your forum. They will be delighted to help.

 

Preparing an Annual Report to the Community

CACs have chosen a variety of ways for sharing their ideas and observations with the community. Open houses, discussion forums and public meetings of all kinds have been used for this purpose. Some committees have chosen to formalize the process by preparing annual reports that chronicle their work, describe their observations regarding strengths and challenges in the system, list their recommendations and summarize the facility's response to past recommendations. This report is presented at their annual regional meeting and also circulated to local town and city councils, to the media and to interested organizations such as the John Howard Society.

Those committees that choose to produce annual reports for wide circulation have found that there are a number of steps that should be taken if problems are to be avoided. The following are those steps that have been shown to be most useful.

Media Training

Presenting a report to the media can be a challenging exercise. Reporters will often come in with preconceived ideas about the correctional system and may be quite selective about what they hear and interpret your words in ways you did not intend. To make the experience with the press as positive as possible, it is always advisable for the Chair of the committee to have received media training before a report is released. This training is available through CSC.

Preparing the Report

Reports can vary considerably in their format but it is recommended that they contain the following sections to better orient the reader.

These are:

  • A "who we are" section that describes who CACs are and what they do. This section, once worked out, can be used again and again in subsequent reports.
  • A "what we have done" section where the committee lists the number of meetings they have had and any other activities they have organized or participated in.
  • A "good practices" section where the successes of the CSC are described. This is the committee's opportunity to encourage practices that it sees as particularly effective in promoting rehabilitation and good management. Committees have found that choosing three to four good practices is enough to interest the reader without overloading them.
  • A "challenges to overcome" section in which the committees highlights the issues that the committee feels still need to be worked on. Here again, committees have often limited the section to the three or four issues that they feel are the most crucial.

It is good practice to keep reports down to 2 to 4 pages. Lengthy reports are often not read and the longer the report, the more chances something will be misinterpreted.

Getting Things Right

Prior to releasing the report, committees have found it helpful to present their report to the Head of their operational unit and to the regional deputy commissioner to make sure that factual statements are accurate and for comments on its content. Getting the facts right is particularly important if committees are citing statistics or describing programs. Getting numbers and details wrong can make committee members feel quite bad if these mistakes are quoted in the local press.

Managers should also be invited to make comments on the report content but committees should understand that these comments are intended to encourage discussion and reflection. All decisions on the final content of the report are taken by committee members themselves.

Circulating the Report

Once prepared, the report should be circulated broadly. Usually, the clerical staff of the facility that the committee is attached to will look after collecting addresses and doing the mailing. Accompanying letters usually need to be prepared ahead of time (see chapter 7 for examples).

Presenting the Report in Person to Organizations, Civic Councils and the Press

As important as written material is, it is never as effective as a live presentation. For that reason, Committees have found that their message is better understood and their profile in the community is enhanced when they find opportunities to present the report during a public event. The forum most often used to deliver annual reports are civic council meetings where civic leaders, interested citizens and members of the press can be reached at the same time. Press conferences can also be called but they are a bit more difficult to organize and turnout is never assured.

 

Results Expected

Every organization should have a clear idea of what the indicators of success are. For the CAC system, these indicators are fairly clear. They are the following:

  • Contribution to the ultimate protection of society and contribution to the safe and successful reintegration of offenders into society through the promotion of sound correctional practices.
  • Good and credible relations between Correctional Service of Canada administrators, staff, offenders/parolees and the CAC.
  • An informed citizenry, aware of the issues, problems and challenges facing the Correctional Service.
  • Greater accountability and openness, on the part of the Correctional Service of Canada and Citizen Advisory Committeess, to public opinions, attitudes and recommendations concerning the correctional process.

To the extent that we advance these goals, we will have made an important contribution to Canadian society.

 

Accomplishments


If Citizen Advisory Committeess had done nothing but respond to the CSC's request to establish an honest, open dialogue among all parties, we would have largely justified our existence and proved our effectiveness. We have, however, done much more:

  • We have given a clearer perception and better resolution of community concerns.
  • We have encouraged the community to make available educational, cultural and employment resources.
  • We have proposed and helped implement improved programs.
  • We have demonstrated the significance and effectiveness of many institutional programs.
  • We have played and essential role in analyzing the correctional system and helping to find satisfactory solutions by applying our skill and expertise.

The existence of the Citizen Advisory Committees movement is evidence of the openness and accountability of the Correctional Service of Canada and a continuing commitment to citizen participation.