Helping the Offender - Module

Helping the Offender

The goal of the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) mandate is to safely reintegrate offenders into the community. Although changes in the attitudes and behaviours of the offender are, of course, the basis of successful implementation of this mandate, the road to reintegration must also have regard to the specific needs of the offender’s family, and the community. CSC has therefore developed various approaches to support all those affected both by the crime as such and by the reintegration process.

Learning objectives

As part of their law and/or sociology coursework, this module will allow students to :

Law

  • Gain the knowledge required to better understand the causes of injustice;
  • Apply critical and ethical reasoning to various problems of social justice;
  • Understand the meaning of the expression “acting in a socially just way”;
  • Distinguish traditional conflict resolution methods from alternative methods, and appreciate progress made in the area of conflict resolution options.

Sociology

  • Evaluate one’s personal opinions or judgments so as to gain broader appreciation of a subject or problem;
  • Understand the functions of the family and of society, their dynamics and their diversity;
  • Identify effective communication skills allowing healthy relationships to be established within the family and within society as a whole.

Classroom time required

Two hours (or more, depending on the time spent on proposed discussion activities).

1. Restorative justice

Restorative justice is an approach that views crime as harm done to people and relationships. Therefore, the focus is to address the harm affecting the victim, the offender and the community. Programs based on the principles and values of restorative justice involve voluntary participation by the victim, the offender and community members in an honest, safe and respectful dialogue. The goal of the process is determined by the needs identified by the participants. These may include: addressing unanswered questions, providing participants with a voice, addressing wrongs and preventing the offender from re-offending. In a restorative justice process, the offenders must recognize the harm they have done, accept responsibility for their actions and participate actively in addressing the situation. There are a number of different restorative processes but all are respectful of the values and principles of restorative justice including an opportunity for healing and voluntary participation. Restorative justice programs may use a variety of processes:

  • victim-offender mediation;
  • family group conferencing;
  • sentencing circles; and/or
  • surrogate victim-offender mediation.

Through the restorative justice process, victims can express the harms they have suffered, ask questions directly to the offender and express what needs to be done to address the situation. This approach can help victims to address their needs and reduce their fears.

Restorative justice programs can take time in order to ensure that all participants are well prepared for the process and to ensure safety so that no greater harm is caused.  It is also a process that is far from being “soft” on crime. It can be very difficult emotionally for all participants.

Most offenders who have participated in a restorative justice process say that they found it much more difficult to acknowledge their crime and face their victim and members of the community, than to serve a sentence of imprisonment. Victims say that they are more satisfied with the results than with the traditional justice system. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) therefore supports many restorative justice initiatives across Canada.

2. Maximum support

Although an offender who commits a crime harms the victim and those close to the victim, the behaviour also affects the offender’s own family and members of their community. To ensure healthy and safe rehabilitation, it is therefore essential to support the offender, their family and their community members, so as to restore a climate of trust and balanced relationships.

Families of offenders

CSC has made available on-line the families of offenders support Portal, a major resource providing information on the services available to them. This is a way to break their isolation and provide these families with information about various initiatives that can help them through this experience, as well as existing support groups.

Private family visiting is a vital tool to maintain family links. Under this program, private family visits are allowed once every two months for periods of up to 72 hours per inmate. The actual frequency and duration of visits, however, are determined by the number of inmates participating in the program and the facilities available at the institution.

Visits take place in special family visiting units located within the institutional reserve in an area that provides as much privacy as reasonably possible. The fully furnished units have at least two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom.

All offenders are eligible for the program except those who are: assessed as being at risk of becoming involved in family violence; in receipt of unescorted temporary absences for family contact purposes; or in a Special Handling Unit or awaiting a decision or have been approved for transfer to a Special Handling Unit.

Eligible family members are spouses, common-law partners, children, parents, foster parents, siblings, grandparents, and persons with whom, in the opinion of the institutional head, the inmate has a close familial bond.

International transfers

Imprisonment of a family member is already a trying experience; the additional problems this involves if the offender has committed a crime in a foreign country can be imagined. The offenders then face, in addition to their sentence of imprisonment, culture shock, isolation, the language barrier and inability to communicate with friends and family; inadequate food and medical care are also common problems.

To enable offenders to serve their sentences close to their families and support groups, Canada has signed bilateral treaties for transfer of offenders with a large number of countries. This means that Canadian offenders sentenced to imprisonment in a foreign country can, if they wish and subject to obtaining approval from the sentencing country and Canada, serve their sentence here. Naturally, these treaties work in both directions, enabling foreign offenders to serve sentences in their countries of origin.

Giving back to the community

Last, many offenders need to find a meaning for their experience. They often achieve this by giving something back to the community supporting them. Across the country, community associations, charitable institutions and non-profit organizations benefit from work done by inmates who grow vegetables for soup kitchens, or rejuvenate bikes for children in need.

Other offenders become involved in the community by meeting young people to talk to them about their experience and help them make good choices. Last, offenders who have successfully reintegrated into the community for a number of years help others who have just been released, becoming mentors and models for those starting again from square one, who want to reintegrate into the community.

This is often a way to rectify the harm caused to the community and show that safe and healthy reintegration is possible.