Volunteering in the Correctional Service of Canada
Volunteers and Correctional Service of Canada
The word “volunteer” comes from the Latin “voluntas”, which means “the will”. The French word for volunteer, “bénévole” adds the meaning that volunteers are acting out of good will. Volunteerism within Canada’s prison system began with churches that met the needs of prisoners almost exclusively. Annually, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has over 9,000 volunteers across the country working in the community and in institutions.
As a volunteer with CSC, you are in a position to learn and experience an area of great diversity and interest. You are able to benefit the community as a whole by helping the offender make a successful reintegration as a law-abiding, contributing citizen. CSC is able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise that you bring when you volunteer in the community or the institution.
Why CSC Engages Volunteers
CSC provides a supportive correctional environment that encourages offenders to become law-abiding, contributing citizens. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act provides direction to CSC and clearly states that, “the Service will facilitate the involvement of members of the public in matters relating to the operations of the Service.”
Why Volunteers are so Valuable to CSC
Recognizing the value that local citizens can contribute to the correctional process, CSC encourages greater volunteer involvement. Volunteers help bring a new perspective to the organization. They help CSC to keep in touch with the community and become aware of issues surrounding its facilities. The following are examples of what volunteer services can help achieve:
- Close the social gap between institutions and the community by bringing the community into prisons, which can lessen inmate isolation;
- Help offenders positively return to the community;
- Help to establish beneficial relationships between CSC and the community; and
- Contribute to reforms in the CSC and help start new programs.
The Taylor Award
The Taylor Award was established in November 2001 – the International Year of Volunteers. It is presented annually during, National Volunteer Week, by CSC and the National Volunteer Association during an official award ceremony to an outstanding CSC volunteer who has shown exceptional dedication to the Service.
The award is named after Dr. Charles Taylor and his wife, Charlotte, of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, for their lifetime dedication to faith-based counseling with offenders in correctional facilities and in the community, and for Dr. Taylor’s contribution to the development of prison ministry education.
CSC is deeply indebted to volunteers for their active contribution to public safety. As a token of its appreciation, CSC presents service pins to its volunteers to recognize their engagement and ongoing support. Pins are awarded for 5, 10 and 20 years and more of volunteering service.
The Co-ordinator of Volunteers
CSC’s volunteers are managed by co-ordinators. The co-ordinator of volunteers is responsible for the recruiting, screening, training and placing of volunteers in specific service areas. The co-ordinator is responsible for consulting with staff to identify and prioritize programs and projects that would benefit from the participation of volunteers. They must evaluate the skills and competencies required for the volunteer positions and forecast the number of volunteers needed to implement assignments.
Volunteer Co-ordinator’s Role
- Planning the recruitment process;
- Determining where volunteers can best be utilized;
- Writing job descriptions for each volunteer position;
- Planning and implementing orientation and training programs;
- Orientation of staff and identification of supervisors for volunteers;
- Interviewing, selecting, and placing volunteers in consultation with other staff;
- Keeping up-to-date records of volunteer service;
- Ongoing publicity of the volunteer program; and
- Continuing follow-up on volunteers and evaluation of the program.
Benefits of Volunteering with CSC
- Participating in worthwhile and interesting assignments;
- Receiving a specialized curriculum for volunteers;
- Recognized and acknowledged for the work you carry out and gain a sense of belonging to the CSC team;
- Gaining personal growth and professional development;
- Receiving clear expectations in your course of volunteer involvement;
- Being kept informed and trusted;
- Receiving feedback and confirmation that what you do matters to CSC and the community;
- Being given opportunities to improve your skills and learn new ones; and
- Having the satisfaction of knowing that you make a difference.
How Volunteers Contribute to Offender’s Reintegration
- Being a positive role model;
- Providing mentorship;
- Helping deliver a wider array of programs to more offenders;
- Helping make the links to offenders from diverse ethno-cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; and
- Providing community contacts and continued support to offenders in the community.
Profile of Volunteer Activities in CSC
Volunteers contribute to the correctional system in many ways. The following are some of the activities and assignments available to volunteers:
Tutoring, literacy training, computer skills, and creative writing and vocational skills.
Escorting offenders to meetings, appointments and support groups in the community. This is a vital contribution as these support groups help the offender successfully re-enter society.
Multicultural and Ethnic Programs
Providing advice on ethnic and cultural issues and often acting as translators and interpreters. Also, involvement in cultural activities for groups such as Black Brotherhood & Black Sisterhood, and Jewish, Muslim, Punjabi and others groups as well.
Involvement in sweatlodges, healing circles, feasts, and alcohol and substance abuse programs, which are programs directed towards the issues faced by Aboriginal peoples.
Assistance with HIV/Aids awareness, palliative care, and suicide prevention.
Directing, organizing, and participating in sports activities, theatre events, quilting groups, family social events and holiday projects.
Volunteers with special skills (ie. mental health professionals or teachers) may be assigned to an offender who requires assistance in the volunteer’s area of expertise, under the direction of a parole officer. Trained volunteers provide offender classification services, post-sentence reports and case management assistance to parole officers.
Providing fellowship, worship services, faith-based activities and interventions. These volunteers bring a continuity of care from community to institution and back to community. Community chaplains and volunteers are involved in this endeavour.
Citizen Advisory Committees
CSC has been legally mandated by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to involve members of the public in matters relating to its operations. Currently, Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC) are attached to most operational units in each of the regions. Members are appointed and CSC is responsible for their training. Local CAC members must be representative of the community and reflect its needs and demographics (e.g. ethnic composition, gender, age, language, etc.). There are close to 600 citizens involved in 106 CACs across Canada. Members represent various social, cultural, and demographic backgrounds and occupations, and usually reside in proximity to the operational unit for which the committee serves. Members are appointed for a period of two years by the Deputy Commissioner of the region, based on the recommendation of the designated CSC Warden or District Director of Parole Offices, and in consutation with the specific CAC involved. CACs provide a means for the community to represent and express itself in CSC’s work. Their role is to provide advice, act as impartial observers, and to act as liaison between offenders, CSC staff, and the public. The goals of CACs are to promote public knowledge and understanding of corrections through communication among offenders, CSC staff and the public; contribute to the overall development of correctional facilities and programs; foster public participation in the correctional process; and participate in developing community resources designed to support correctional programs.
The CAC Goals
Every individual CAC throughout Canada is responsible for planning the specifics of its own work but every committee across the country strives towards the same goals and objectives broadly described in our mission statement. These goals provide guidance for today, and a focus for meeting the challenges of tomorrow.
The six goals are:
- To contribute to the overall development of correctional facilities and programs by serving as impartial advisors to the facility’s management, staff and offenders;
- To promote public knowledge and understanding of corrections through communication among offenders, CSC staff and the public;
- To foster public participation in the correctional process;
- To participate in developing community resources designed to support correctional programs;
- To act as impartial observers, particularly during times of crisis; and
- To positively contribute in the development and implementation of new policies and programs through meaningful consultation.
National Volunteer Association
In November of 2001, the Minister of Public Safety announced the formation of the National Volunteer Association (NVA) in response to the Government’s pledge to build local solutions to problems we are facing in our communities. The purpose of this organization is to provide a voice for the volunteers across the country as well as acknowledge and assist those who volunteer within the federal correctional system. The NVA is comprised of all volunteers working within CSC. The Association represents volunteers active in all of CSC’s operational units (both in institutions and the community).
Their main objectives are to:
- Engage more citizens to volunteer;
- Enhance CSC’s ability to ensure volunteers are an integral part of the reintegration process;
- Develop and maintain open dialogue between the volunteers and community partners such as the John Howard Society, Salvation Army, etc.;
- Promote volunteers’ contributions and efforts in the institution and the community;
- Represent all CSC volunteers on a national level;
- Promote professional development, sharing of information, training and best practices with the volunteers; and
- Create a networking structure and a support system for volunteers.
Board of Directors
The NVA Board establishes the purpose, mission, values and policies for this association. Membership with the Board comprises of a representative crosssection of volunteers and consists of a minimum of two volunteers from each region, representing both institutions and community. All volunteers are members of the NVA and can contact the board at any time if they require guidance, assistance, information, etc.
CSC is represented by Regional Volunteer Coordinators and National Headquarters (NHQ) staff from the Community Relations Division. The Board is co-chaired by one volunteer member, elected from among themselves, and a representative from CSC.