Correctional Service Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Human Rights In Community Corrections

Warning This Web page has been archived on the Web.

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

The Working Group was established by the Commissioner in November 1998 with a mandate to complete its analysis of CSC's compliance with international and domestic human rights obligations by extending its review to the area of community corrections.

The full text of the Working Group's Terms of Reference appears at Annex A. Specifically it was asked:

· to develop a strategic model to enhance the ability of CSC and other correctional systems to assess the degree to which they meet their human rights obligations in the community corrections context;

· to review existing policies, operational practices and monitoring procedures which affect the human rights of offenders while under community supervision;

· to assess the extent to which community correctional interventions (e.g., announced home visits, surprise visits, voice tracking, electronic monitoring, etc.) adequately respect offenders' rights;

· to conduct a review of community corrections elsewhere by comparing the Canadian conditional release system to its counterparts in the United States, Europe and Australia;

· to provide guidance on how to reinforce and enhance the rights and entitlements of individuals (offenders, friends, victims, family, staff) in the community correctional environment;

· to make recommendations for ensuring a community corrections workplace free of practices which may adversely affect employees' rights; and

· to make recommendations with respect to enhancing CSC's ability to communicate more effectively the rationale for and the practices involved in community corrections.

To carry out this mandate, the Group reviewed pertinent legal, policy and procedural documents from the standpoint of the Service's role in community corrections; it requested related information from the correctional authorities of eight comparable countries; and it conducted interviews and on-site visits with CSC staff, offenders and agency and community representatives, both at National Headquarters and in the Pacific, Prairie, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Regions. The Group also met with the Chairman of the National Parole Board, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the National Council on Community Corrections, the National Citizens' Advisory Committee, the Union of Solicitor General Employees, the National Association of People with Disabilities, representatives of the Elizabeth Fry and John Howard Societies, and of victims groups. A list of the documents, persons and organizations consulted will be found in Annex B.

Defining the Area

Since it was clear from the outset that, in most respects, the same human rights principles and obligations apply both to community corrections and to the institutional situation, we have tried to focus on those rights issues that are, if not peculiar to, at least more typical of, the community context.

The domain designated by the term `community corrections' is less clear-cut than the management of offenders in federal institutions. Not only are the conditions under which CSC carries out its role not entirely of its own making, but community corrections is, by definition, a phenomenon which touches ordinary Canadians as well as community representatives in a particularly direct fashion. While it is obviously important that all the Service's activities be as open as possible to the general public, its ability to explain and justify its work in community corrections directly affects its ability to fulfil its mandate in this area.

It is in this context that the Group has examined CSC's human rights obligations and commitments, the means by which it seeks to implement and monitor them, and how those mechanisms might be better attuned to the declared purposes of community corrections. These issues take on an additional complexity because the underlying theory of community corrections - that offenders of virtually all criminal risk categories can, through a process of supervision and support, become more responsible and law-abiding citizens - is a relatively recent development in Canada's correctional philosophy. It is also far from unchallenged, even at the level of theory, and remains to be fully worked out in practical terms.

Balancing Rights

The protection of society is the Service's paramount obligation. The task of achieving an appropriate and dynamic balance between assistance and control is at the heart of that imperative. Nowhere is that task more difficult - or more publicly exposed - than in community corrections. For some, the long-term management of offenders in the community is a zero-sum game in which any attention to ensuring respect for their human rights necessarily detracts from the safety of victims and the general public. There is thus no question that the task assigned to CSC by law is intrinsically problematic, and nothing in the following report should be construed as either underestimating the difficulties involved or the professionalism and commitment of those concerned.

There are many arguments in favour of greater use of the community corrections concept. Among them,

  1. that it is intrinsically more consistent with the human rights principle of treating all human beings with as much dignity and respect as possible;
  2. that it affords offenders the greatest opportunity to begin to make responsible contributions to the general welfare;
  3. that community-based treatment services yield more positive results than do equivalent services in institutional settings; and
  4. that it offers a practical and less expensive alternative to the inefficient and potentially damaging process of incarceration.

At the same time, it would be unrealistic to regard community corrections as a panacea for all the ills implicit in our system of criminal justice. The Group has therefore been at pains to keep in mind - and to point out to our various interviewees - that no right can exist absolutely or in a social vacuum. Idealistic as our human rights laws may sometimes seem, they also encompass the provisos of reasonableness and fairness; the liberties which an individual may rightfully claim must also be compatible with the rights and liberties of others. It is in that light that we have considered whether CSC's community correctional model and practices are indeed the least restrictive options available, given the standards of reasonableness and proportionality as they are understood in Canadian and international law.

Acknowledgements

We wish to acknowledge the many people who found time to meet with us. And a special word of thanks must go to the support team from Offender Affairs and Inmate Affairs: Lynn Lamirande and Debbie Cordick. Pam Rudiger-Prybylski also rendered invaluable assistance and made it possible to produce this report in a timely way.