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Human Rights In Community Corrections

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CHAPTER 7: COMMUNICATIONS

The Working Group will make recommendations with respect to enhancing CSC's ability to communicate the social rationale behind community corrections more effectively.

The communications tasks facing CSC have widely differing human rights implications, for offenders, staff, victims and for the public at large. As a matter of law and policy, it is of paramount importance that both offenders and staff have a clear and common understanding of the rules under which the correctional regime operates. For neither group would appropriate communication be satisfied simply by distributing or otherwise making accessible the legal and policy texts concerned.

Information for Offenders

The Service accepts a responsibility to make every effort to ensure that offenders are fully informed of their rights situation at all points of the process. It might nevertheless be worthwhile to audit from time to time precisely how well informed they really are. From our observation, while some individuals are well aware of their rights and the recourses available for safeguarding them, the degree of awareness among offenders generally is of a rather hit-or-miss kind and does not seem to reflect a concerted and consistent communications program to that end.

Staff Training

Similarly, the knowledge employees have of their own and others' rights within the correctional system depends on a process of continuing self-education and training. The extent to which that aspect of CSC's duty to communicate is being fulfilled continues to be problematic and could also benefit from more systematic evaluation. As noted in our earlier report, new CSC personnel receive concentrated induction training in various aspects of their work for a period of several weeks. At most two days of that training could be said to deal with some aspect of human rights, and then chiefly in conjunction with related issues and as they affect staff activities in institutions. As far as we can determine, working level staff, including parole officers, thereafter generally receive no more than five days of continuing training in any given year, as well as access to self-education modules. Since the available training options are very numerous and the number that relate to rights issues very few, it is unlikely that any but a handful of CSC employees receive rights-related training - except perhaps tangentially - as part of their refresher or upgrading programs.

A quick survey of existing training modules that appear to have rights implications for offenders, staff, victims or others confirms that, insofar as they deal with community corrections, they lean much more towards techniques of risk management and relapse prevention than towards the protection of offenders' remaining rights or involvement of the community in safe and humane reintegration. The voluminous training material on the Assessment, Treatment and Supervision of Sex Offenders (November 1998) is a case in point. The behavioural typology, treatment and management of sex offenders is exhaustively presented, but the offender is typically portrayed as a deviant psychological subject, and community involvement as a "trained collateral network" of supervisory "watchdogs". So far as we could determine, in roughly 500 pages of training material there is no reference to Circles of Support or similar community support initiatives. By contrast, a module on Harassment Awareness (November 1997), although still omitting the possibility of harassment of staff by offenders, is extremely well-focussed and practical from the rights-protection standpoint.

According to many of the parole officers with whom we met, the chief focus of Service-mandated training at this juncture is on the policy and procedural implications of Operation By-Pass. Meanwhile, the Personnel and Training Branch is carrying out a comprehensive revamping of all CSC training and endeavoring to ensure that rights-related material receives appropriate priority and professional support. The Working Group fully endorses this project. We also recommend that, in the interim, the Service examine ways whereby current and new staff can be rapidly familiarized with the essential human rights issues in community corrections, what law and policy require of them in that regard, and how they should respond on a day-to-day basis.

Public Information

Of particular interest to community corrections is the much broader and more complex task of attracting understanding and support from the Canadian public and, if possible, getting it more involved in the declared goals of community corrections. The substance of the most recent survey on these issues (A National Survey on Organized Crime and Corrections in Canada, December 1998) appears to confirm a number of things that are directly relevant to community corrections:

  1. that "there is strong support for parole in Canada, by a margin of three to one";
  2. that Canadians tend to over-estimate by significant margins both the proportion of federal offenders who receive parole and the proportion of paroled offenders who commit a new offence while in the community;
  3. that better than four of every five respondents support "effective corrections", i.e. "the federal policy of making decisions about time served in a penitentiary on the basis of risk"; and
  4. that, in general, Canadians are not factually well-informed about either the administrative processes or the statistical results of community corrections.

While this latest survey may improve CSC's awareness of the complex interrelation between what people actually know about community corrections and what they perceive or believe about its aims, suitability and effectiveness, its findings will come as no surprise. The tasks of establishing a rational public link between facts and beliefs while at the same time countering the detrimental impact of sensational media reports have long been a familiar backdrop to CSC's efforts to conduct an open and effective communications program.

In this regard, our review of human rights in community corrections essentially confirms the self-evident fact that Canadians have a more immediate and emotional interest in community corrections than they do in incarceration. While we are pleased to note several recent initiatives such as the documentary film on the work of parole officers entitled A Test of Justice, it seems fair to say that CSC's work to project persuasive public messages related to community corrections are still not what they might and ought to be, especially given the program's obvious reliance on community understanding and support.

The Medium and The Message

Without labouring the point, we suggest that the essence of a more active communications program lies not in a proliferation of printed material, whether it be statistical data, popularizations of the law or broad assertions to the effect that gradual and supervised reintegration of offenders provides greater public security than uncontrolled release of untreated offenders on completion of a flat sentence. The accuracy or truth of such facts or contentions is not, in itself, the heart of the communications challenge for CSC. That consists rather in:

  1. identifying the most persistent public misconceptions with respect to the rationale and effectiveness of community corrections, especially those that are routinely exacerbated by sensation-seeking media reports;
  2. devising for each particular misconception, or set of related misconceptions, a detailed and continuing strategy for presenting all the positive information and messages needed to correct or counter them;
  3. assigning specific communications tasks to CSC managers, from the highest on down, so that each has an ongoing (and well-supported) role to play when dealing directly with the media or public groups; and
  4. taking more initiative in dealing in a timely way with media or public groups, to overcome the perception that CSC is reactive and defensive, and to preempt irresponsible or ill-informed reporting by actively taking CSC messages to the public.

Community Involvement

The Tokyo Rules stress the intent of "non-custodial measures" (i.e. community corrections) "to promote greater community involvement in the management of criminal justice". CSC and others are to be commended on the increasing use of Circles of Support15 as a means of allaying public suspicions of released offenders and actively enabling them to find a constructive and healthy place in society. The educational value of such initiatives is itself considerable and gives well-disposed members of the community an idea of how they can help themselves by assisting rather than rejecting offenders. Such initiatives are at present relatively rare, however, and this aspect of risk-management through community involvement is less used than one might be led to suppose.

Some Citizens Advisory Committees and Victims Groups appear to recognize that, with support from the Service, they too have a valuable role to play in defusing or mitigating some of the negative attitudes that confront offenders and undermine their reintegration. But the use of CACs by CSC for public education purposes is anything but systematic, which may in turn reflect the fact that CACs themselves are not always well-disposed towards offenders. Although their mission requires them to play a useful communications role in educating the local community and "building support for the correctional process", our interviews suggest that this is not generally the case. In this regard, it appears questionable whether these Committees are in practice being established with a clear mandate, or that they currently understand or accept that they have a role to play in encouraging greater public involvement in safe reintegration. It also does not appear that CSC at present monitors their use in this regard. We therefore recommend that the role, mandate, and composition of Citizens Advisory Committees be reviewed to ensure that these better reflect and reinforce the public information aspect of their work, and that they be provided with suitable guidance on what they can do to foster community involvement. We also recommend that the public impact of CACs be evaluated from time to time.

In short, if the Canadian model of community corrections hopes to live up to its declared goals for successfully reintegrating offenders, more needs to be done on the community side of that equation. As things stand, the case for positive (as distinct from defensive) public engagement in this process appears to be made chiefly by NGOs such as the Elizabeth Fry, John Howard and St. Leonard's Societies. These clearly do much important public communications work as well as providing practical support to former inmates, and in that work they are no doubt encouraged by CSC. The question remains, however, whether this whole aspect of community corrections - both public education and community support - should not occupy a more central place in CSC strategy, and in consequence be more firmly endorsed and more generously resourced by the Service than it is at present.

15 Circles of Support is a community reintegration project that seeks to reduce the risk of re-offending by sex offenders who are re-entering the community without supervision at their warrant expiry date. Based in the religious community, the Circle aims to enhance public safety by working in cooperation with the police, neighbourhood groups, victims and treatment professionals. Since 1995, over 40 Circles have been formed.