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Human Rights In Community Corrections

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The Working Group on Human Rights was asked by the Commissioner to consider several broad questions.

  1. The applicability to community corrections of the human rights compliance model developed for the institutional setting.
  2. Whether Canada's legal and policy framework for carrying out community corrections is consistent with international and domestic human rights law.
  3. How the Canadian approach to community corrections compares with that of other countries.
  4. Whether there are specific human rights issues - of interest to employees, offenders, victims or other parties - that are or could be problematic in the community corrections context.
  5. Whether the Correctional Service of Canada has adequate guidelines and procedures for dealing with such issues, and how well it monitors and evaluates its compliance with them.
  6. How effectively the Service communicates its aims, its operational approach and its results in community corrections.

After reviewing the "Strategic Model for Monitoring Human Rights Compliance" proposed in our previous report, it is our view that its essential characteristics apply equally well to both the carceral and community situations. The framework for compliance also remains basically the same:

  1. clearly articulated legal and policy rules;
  2. active, explicit and readily intelligible communication of those rules to all parties; and
  3. well-targeted and regular monitoring and evaluation by both internal and external agencies.

To make the model fully applicable to community corrections, however, it has been modified and expanded in several ways: to underline the particular rights-related needs of released offenders; to reflect the different work goals and training requirements of employees; to take account of victims' concerns; and to reinforce the role of the community in fostering safe and effective reintegration. These and similar modifications are presented in Chapter 4 and summarized in Annex C.

With this in mind, it is useful to review the legal and operational models for community corrections in other countries with which Canada might stand comparison. While community corrections is manifestly more favourable than incarceration to the human rights of offenders, the degree of practical protection it affords still depends on how that philosophy is interpreted in policy and on the ground. On the assistance-control scale for instance, the eight countries that provided information displayed a wide range of positions, from the more regimented and limited parole options of the US Federal Bureau of Prisons to a more expansive and positive use of community corrections in some European countries. The main features of these various approaches to community corrections are discussed in Chapter 3.

The Group has further examined provisions of the CCRA and CCRR that have a particular bearing on community corrections, to determine whether their human rights safeguards are consistent with the relevant international instruments, the Canadian Charter and the Canadian Human Rights Act; and any other federal legislation (such as the Employment Equity Act or the Privacy Act) that seeks to protect or promote Canadians' human rights. It is our conclusion that the CCRA and CCRR basically reflect those provisions and concerns as they relate to community corrections, and that they also make reasonably clear that the human rights rules to which Canada and the CSC subscribe apply no less in the community than in the institutional situation.

At the same time, we note that the emphasis in the Act and Regulations on custodial control and supervision may appear to detract from the no less necessary tasks of encouraging and assisting offenders to play a more positive role in society. This apparent imbalance also carries over to CSC policies and procedures relating to community corrections, and to that extent may cast doubt on the Mission Statement's assertion that "the main thrust of our energy and creativity is on working with the offender to bring about his or her safe reintegration." CSC's guidelines for the conduct of community corrections are heavily influenced by those parts of the CCRA and CCRR that spell out the various types and conditions of release into the community.

To the extent that there are human rights problems in community corrections, they mainly stem from the different perspectives of staff, offenders and victims as to what is most humane, reasonable, fair and, ultimately, most conducive to successful reintegration. In the opinion of the Working Group, the policy and operational systems whereby CSC seeks to balance rights and security concerns are generally complete and consistent with Canada's international and domestic obligations. In addition to examining the overall balance of control and assistance activities in community corrections, Chapter 5 examines ways in which particular CSC policies and procedures (e.g. re: "special conditions", maintenance allowances, and disability issues) might be further clarified or modified to good effect. While the rights of employees, victims and offenders (as well as the special needs of women and aboriginal offenders) are handled separately in that Chapter, it has been a fundamental premise throughout our discussions that every right carries implications for the rights of others.

The practical application of CSC's policy and procedural rules across a wide variety of regional and local situations also poses potential human rights problems. Our review of practices across the country raises several questions of consistency of treatment, particularly for offenders. These include differences in living conditions, financial allowances, house rules, and supervisory practices and sanctions. While relatively minor, and perhaps justifiable on the whole, these variations deserve closer attention. Similar issues involved in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of rights-related rules are discussed in Chapter 6.

Finally, we were asked to consider ways in which the Service might enhance its ability to communicate the rationale and workings of community corrections more effectively. Given the risks and sensitivities involved in the gradual reintegration of offenders of many kinds, and given the approach adopted by the media and the fact that the public often has only a limited notion of what actually occurs in these situations, a successful communications program represents a difficult challenge. At the same time, it is a particularly important one, in that the level of success in community corrections directly depends on eliciting the greatest possible public understanding and support. CSC has, in our view, only partially taken the measure of that challenge and has still to put together the kind of comprehensive and multifaceted communications strategy that is needed. Chapter 7 highlights some of the shortcomings and proposes a more active approach to dealing with the public's misgivings and concerns.

The Correctional Service of Canada, like the other countries reviewed in this study, regards community corrections as intrinsically more humane and constructive than prolonged incarceration. However, as that comparative review bears out, it does not follow that because similar terms are used, the same regime is referred to, or that because a correctional program is carried on outside prison walls, it is automatically immune to human rights abuses. Although CSC undoubtedly has systems in place to prevent or correct such abuses, it was our general conclusion that:

  1. some of the more positive aspects of community corrections (notably ways in which offenders may be assisted to reintegrate and the active involvement of the community in that process) have still to be fully articulated, both in policy and practice;
  2. the monitoring and evaluation of human rights issues in community corrections, whether of offenders, staff, victims or others, tends to focus heavily on compliance with procedural requirements of a technical nature, and needs to be both more systematic and more directly related to substantive issues (such as the effectiveness of particular programming combinations in facilitating safe reintegration); and
  3. the social and human rights significance of community corrections as part of Canada's criminal justice system has yet to be fully communicated, either to the community at large or to CSC personnel.
  4. That said, we also note (on the basis of the draft Integrated Community Corrections Framework of October 1998) that CSC is proposing to improve the range, quality and continuity of the support and assistance programs offered, either directly or indirectly, in the community; to engage community and other resources more actively in that process; and to develop a more comprehensive communications strategy in this area. We strongly encourage these lines of action and recommend they receive the resources needed as soon as possible.