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Human Rights In Community Corrections

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Community corrections are a critical component in the process of safely returning offenders to mainstream society. From a human rights perspective, supervising offenders in the community rather than in highly structured institutional settings is intrinsically appealing. Offenders have access to treatment programs, support and services in the community which are either restricted, unavailable or less effective in the custodial situation. Maintaining non-violent, low risk offenders in the community is also one of the most cost-effective ways of alleviating prison population pressures and reducing Canada's comparatively high rate of incarceration. There is, moreover, considerable public support for the principle of conditional release in Canada -- provided that offender reintegration does not increase the risk to public safety. Thus, continued support for reintegration of offenders depends upon the correctional authority's ability to provide credible, safe and effective non-custodial alternatives to incarceration.

Although the social and economic benefits of community corrections are well documented, and while the number of offenders safely reintegrated into the community is a significant indicator of how well the Correctional Service of Canada is achieving its mission, the main focus of federal corrections remains the task of maintaining custodial control. As the Task Force on Reintegration (1997) observed, the work of community corrections is not well understood or defined within CSC's organizational structure. While the Task Force on Reintegration could be seen as a call for CSC to take community corrections more seriously, the failure to adopt a system-wide approach to the correctional process is not unique to the Service. Independent reports commissioned by CSC frequently fail to consider the complexities of keeping offenders in the community. Even comparatively thorough studies such as the recent report of the Working Group on Human Rights (Human Rights and Corrections: A Strategic Model) have, because of the nature of its mandate, scarcely examined the human rights dimensions of community corrections.

The fact that community corrections have not been as carefully assessed as the institutional element of corrections is not to suggest that there are no systemic problems or human rights concerns in the federal community corrections system. Members of the Working Group on Human Rights heard, from both staff and inmates, testimony that would belie any belief that human rights are universally respected outside the prison gate. The Group heard several accounts of parole allegedly being suspended for what appeared to be technical - as opposed to substantive - breaches of conditions. Inmates further alleged that excessively stringent parole conditions reflected the subjective moral standards of CSC staff.

There are other critical areas where CSC's decision-making processes and operational practices, including the entire ambit of supervision, assessment, validation and prevention procedures, have a fundamental impact on offenders' rights during their passage through the community correctional regime. The determination of "special" parole conditions and written instructions, limitations on contacts, electronic surveillance technologies, residency requirements, "surprise" visits, programming needs, as well as release and risk assessments, all have important rights-related dimensions affecting not just offenders' rights, but also the dignity and privacy concerns of "collateral" contacts (e.g. friends, family, victims and staff). Maintaining offenders in the community as law-abiding citizens is clearly a complex endeavor. It involves striking a precarious balance between "least restrictive" principles and public safety concerns. It is equally clear, however, that if the Service is to achieve its goal of safely reintegrating more offenders into the community, then a more concentrated examination of the human rights dimensions of community corrections at all levels of CSC's operations will be required.


The Working Group will:

· 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

· review existing decision-making processes, operational practices and monitoring procedures which affect the human rights of offenders while under community supervision

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

· conduct a review of the "best practices" in community corrections by comparing the Canadian conditional release system to its counterparts in the US, Europe and Australia/New Zealand

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

· make recommendations for ensuring a community correctional workplace free of practices which undermine employees' sense of dignity

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


In carrying out its mandate, the Working Group will:

· develop a strategic model for respecting human rights in community corrections

· examine the conditions of residency and the treatment of offenders in community-based correctional facilities

· review the nature and scope of CSC/community involvement in monitoring, assessing, supervising and sharing information about human rights concerns in the community correctional context

· review the internal and external human rights oversight mechanisms by which standard and special release conditions imposed by the releasing authority are monitored in the community

· review from a human rights perspective the criteria and processes by which parole can be suspended by CSC

· develop recommendations for improving CSC's definition, management and evaluation of the human rights dimension in community corrections, as well as the public communication of that task.

Working Group Members

The Working Group members will include:

Maxwell Yalden, Chair

Stuart Beaty

Janice Russell, Reintegration, CSC

Ivan Zinger and David Hooey, Human Rights Division, CSC

Additional law students may be hired on a casual basis to provide research support to the Working Group.


The Working Group will consult with CSC's staff and managers, as well as community partners and organizations that are stakeholders in the community correctional system.


The final report will be issued by June 30, 1999.

Projected Costs

The report, including all contract fees and travel, will not exceed $100,000.