Volunteering in the Correctional Service of Canada
Overview of the Management of Offenders
By complying with the principles of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that are mandated by law, CSC manages the offender population using the following methods:
Offender Intake Assessment
Upon entry into the federal system, each offender undergoes a review called the Offender Intake Assessment (OIA) – an approach that evaluates risk and correctional needs.
CSC then determines the offender’s security classification (maximum, medium, minimum) based on his/ her escape risk, public safety risk and institutional adjustment.
The transfer decision is then made. This decision determines the security level and institution the offender will be housed at. Again, the decision is based on how to best accommodate his/her needs and risks.
The Correctional Plan
Once the placement is made, a correctional plan is developed for each offender. This plan is based on the results of the OIA. The plan is based on addressing the specific factors that relate to the offender’s criminal behaviour. For example, if substance abuse is a problem, (as with many offenders) then the plan will focus on breaking the cycle of substance abuse. If violence is a problem, then the plan will focus on teaching offenders to understand the dynamics of their abuse and train them to replace these abusive behaviours with positive, non-abusive skills and conduct.
The correctional plan details all the programs, interventions and activities to be undertaken by the offender to address the reasons that led to their incarceration. The plan acts as a yardstick against which the offenders’ progress can be measured throughout the sentence.
Progress is continually monitored and is a significant consideration in all decisions relating to the offender, including transfers to a reduced security level or conditional releases. Public safety is always the paramount consideration in these decisions.
The security classification of an offender is reviewed annually or bi-annually, at a mininum. There must be a review when new information is provided that leads staff to recommend a change in the level of security. The custody rating scale and security re-classification scale are research-based tools used by staff to determine the most appropriate level of security throughout the sentence. It is important to understand that these scales provide a broad assessment of an offender’s performance while incarcerated. This includes behaviour, correctional program and work progress. It is important to understand that the term “cascading” does NOT mean that offenders are fast-tracked through the system with no regard for the risk they pose.
The transfer of an offender to a lower security level depends on their progress at the current level and upon the assessment of the risk for public safety, escape and institutional adjustment. As offenders progress through the correctional system to lower security levels and more freedom of movement, the programs and activities are tailored to more closely reflect the conditions the offender is likely to encounter once released into the community.
Offenders who are in prison or on parole are able to receive a variety of accredited programs that CSC offers. These programs address the attitudes and thinking that led to the offender committing the crime. The programs are also geared to help the offender develop social skills and advance their education.
The objective is always to ensure the offender’s safe return to the community and their chance for getting and holding a job. These programs are supported by current research and have definite criteria for selecting participants and a process for measuring progress throughout the program. CSC does a regular review of these programs to determine their effectiveness. Programs that teach behavioural skills are the most effective in reducing recidivism rates. Research has shown that teaching these skills lessens the likelihood of re-offending by 50 percent.
It has been shown that rehabilitation programs are much more effective when they are delivered in the community, as opposed to a correctional setting. Support in the community is therefore critical to the safe reintegration of offenders.
Correctional programs focus on several main areas:
- Aboriginal specific-programming
- Education and personal development
- Family violence
- Living Skills/Counter-Point/Alternatives, Attitudes and Associates
- Sex offender
- Substance abuse
- Violence prevention
- Programs for women offenders
Community Partners and Institutional Program Links
Programming in the community can be effective in reducing the risk of recidivism and is a basic component of the overall correctional strategy. Along with CSC’s volunteer program in the community and institution, CSC has established many varied links with agencies and individuals in several Canadian communities. CSC has contracts with non-profit voluntary agencies such as the John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Societies, St. Leonard’s Society and the Salvation Army along with working closely with Aboriginal and faith communities. Below are some examples of community partnerships and their role in helping to safely reintegrate offenders back to a successful life as law-abiding citizens.
Volunteers are the vital link between the institution and the community and CSC’s volunteer program is one way of assuring the involvement of citizens in correctional matters. One of the most important roles a volunteer offers is being a positive role model and showing the offender that someone from the community does care. Volunteers contribute to the general public’s awareness of issues facing corrections.
Citizen Advisory Committees
Citizen Advisory Committees are voluntary, independent, citizen-based committees that provide advice on the implementation and development of correctional facilities and programs. They act as impartial observers on daily operations and they are the link between CSC and the public, working to build understanding and support for the correctional process.
John Howard Society
The John Howard Society is part of an international movement dedicated to understanding and responding to problems of crime and the criminal justice system. They work with people who have come into conflict with the law and advocate for change in the criminal justice process. They are very active in educating the public on matters relating to criminal law and its application. They enthusiastically promote crime prevention through community and social activities.
Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
This association provides a variety of programs and services designed to meet the needs of women offenders. This support starts from the time a woman is arrested through to her discharge from prison and return to the community. Services include life skills; counselling (issues such as abuse, employment, and financial assistance); dispute resolution; accommodation; drop in centres; court assistance and emotional support. They also monitor impending changes in the law and in government policies that may have an affect on the status of women.
St. Leonard’s Society
St. Leonard’s is a national ecumenical, voluntary organization with the goal of preventing crime and promoting responsible community living and safer communities. They assist people who have come into conflict with the law and prevent recidivism by providing educational programs, workshops, community residential facilities and other programs.
All members of the Salvation Army are called soldiers and must uphold the Army’s beliefs and moral standards such as abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. Most members already have a job or profession and offer their services in prison ministry or community corrections as volunteers. They have a wide range of social, medical, educational and community services such as programs that help support and rehabilitate offenders. These include support during police court cases and help on discharge, visiting offenders, providing anti-suicide, drug and alcoholism counselling, accommodation for the homeless, food for the hungry and care for the elderly.
LifeLine is a social program designed for the men and women serving life sentences in federal penitentiaries or in the community. This program is delivered through a partnership between CSC, National Parole Board (NPB) and community-based sponsoring agencies. Through this program, paroled lifers who have been successfully living in the community for at least five years return to institutions to offer support to incarcerated lifers throughout their sentence. Lifeline’s mission is to help offenders make a successful, supervised, gradual reintegration into the community.
Many offender reintegration initiatives involve members of Canada’s Aboriginal communities. These volunteers teach native culture, traditions and spirituality along with advice to offenders, staff and members of the NPB. Aboriginal community members are also involved in visiting programs, social and recreational activities and many other programs and services to offenders.
The programs in prison ministry enlist the resources of many faith communities, partnering with CSC to promote spiritual healing and ensure the safe reintegration of offenders. This includes offenders in custody and on release, families of offenders, the community and victims of crime.
Community chaplains have a critical role in the institution and the community. They work with chaplains inside the institution to build relationships with offenders prior to their release and with the local parole office to participate in the strategy for supervision. Chaplains are heavily involved in community development work and public education, assisting offenders on parole to find resources and helping them to build a supportive climate of public opinion. They provide emotional and spiritual counselling, workshops, worship services, practical assistance and friendship to the offender.
Circles of Support and Accountability
Through community chaplaincy, there are approximately 75 Circles of Support and Accountability for high-profile sex offenders. These Circles, organized by faith groups, form a “covenant” with a released sex offender to accept the Circle’s help and advice in an effort to adhere to their treatment plan and to act responsibly in the community. There would be limited support for released sex offenders if these Circles did not exist.
Restorative justice provides opportunities that are not otherwise available in the criminal justice system. The philosophy is a holistic approach to promote accountability, understanding, reparation and healing for those affected by crime. This approach strengthens the capacity of local communities to resolve conflict and build local solutions to local challenges. It is a way to encourage greater involvement of citizens by breaking the cycles of violence and victimization among all people. CSC works with experts across the country to provide high quality victim offender mediation services to help respond to serious crime. CSC has also been applying these principles to help deal with conflict inside institutions. A strong network of volunteers working with CSC supports much of this work.
Gradual and Supervised Release into the Community 4
Public safety is paramount in all of CSC’s operations and decisions. CSC’s timely preparation of each offender for his/her release is the safest strategy to contribute to the protection of society.
CSC works to ensure that offenders have the opportunity to reintegrate into the community gradually and are given the support, assistance and structure that they need to maintain their institutional gains. Community support is a key factor in the successful reintegration of offenders.
Federal correctional legislation sets out a range of conditional releases that provides offenders with gradually increasing degrees of freedom that assist in making the transition to the community safe. Types of conditional release include: temporary absences, work release, day parole, full parole and statutory release.
Gradual reintegration does not mean the sentence has been completed. Conditional release means that offenders are subject to conditions and controls. Correctional partners, the police, community organizations, families of offenders and citizens who are involved in the reintegration process facilitate this release.
Gradual conditional release also allows CSC to identify offenders who are having difficulty making the transition and gives them the opportunity for early intervention.
If it is determined that the inmate will not present an undue risk to society, an escorted temporary absence may be granted at any time during the sentence. An unescorted temporary absence can only be granted after an offender has served one-sixth of their sentence or six months, whichever is greater. These are short absences granted for a number of reasons including: medical, humanitarian, community service, family contact or to access rehabilitation programs. Offenders classified as maximum security do not qualify for unescorted temporary absences.
It should be noted that, in some cases, the authority to grant temporary absences rests with the NPB.
If it is determined that an inmate does not pose an undue risk, CSC allows offenders from minimum and medium-security facilities to do paid or voluntary work in the community under supervision during regular working hours, returning to their facility at night. This gives them an opportunity to contribute to the community and contributes to their own reintegration. Eligibility for work release usually occurs at one sixth of the offender’s sentence.
In preparation for release on full parole or statutory release, offenders may be granted day parole to participate in community-based activities during regular working hours, returning nightly to their facility. In most cases, offenders become eligible for day parole six months before their full parole date – although there are a number of timeframes relating to specific types of cases.
Once offenders have served one third of their sentences (or seven years – whichever is less), they are eligible for full parole. This type of parole, once granted, allows the offender to live independently in the community. Full parole provides the offender with more access to community resources and support. It is also closely linked to an offender’s correctional plan.
Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) judges have the option at sentencing to increase the time that violent and serious drug offenders spend in a correctional facility by delaying their eligibility for full parole until they have completed one half of their sentence.
By law, offenders not considered dangerous, serving sentences of fixed length, who have not been granted parole and who do not meet the detention criteria must be granted statutory release after serving two thirds of their sentence.
It is important to note that there are a minority of offenders who, if CSC believes are likely to cause serious harm or death, can be detained until the end of their sentence.
Each day there are about 8,500 federal offenders living or working in communities across Canada under some form of conditional release. In the community, the first phase of intervention involves developing a strategy of how best to manage the offender once released. A supervision strategy is developed prior to any decision regarding an offender’s release. It actually forms part of the information required by decisionmakers when considering granting a release. The supervision strategy includes a balance of assistance, support, monitoring, interventions and programs and verification.
Public safety forms the basis for any conditional release decision that the NPB makes. The risk assessment process provides the Board with the information it needs to make informed decisions regarding release. CSC gives information to the Board on the offender’s history, risks, performance in prison, involvement in programming and the offenders’ release plan. Also, community agencies, police, victims and others provide input as to the offender’s ability to reintegrate successfully. All the information gathered assists the Board in its decision as to whether an offender should be released and under what conditions.
It is important to note that when an offender is released into the community, he or she must comply with a number of standard conditions related to the factors highlighted through the risk assessment process that would contribute to the offender’s chances of re-offending. This assessment includes the number of times an offender must report to the parole officer in the community as well as in the parole office. The goal of these contacts is to provide a forum for the offender and his or her parole officer to set and evaluate performance objectives related to the offender’s correctional plan.
The parole officer also ensures that offenders are linked to community services, volunteers and programs that can help them integrate successfully. The more ties the offender has to the community, the more likely they are to make a successful transition. This is another reason why volunteers are so critical to the success of CSC’s mandate.
Breaching a Condition
Should the offender breach or violate a condition of his or her release he or she could be returned to prison. Police, service providers, and the parole officer share information, to ensure continued monitoring of an offender’s progress as well as his or her compliance with the correctional plan and adherence to the conditions of release. Any deterioration in an offender’s behaviour that suggests an increase in risk could be met with strict control measures, including suspension of their parole.
Overview Summary of Post Sentencing
Offender is held in provincial custody
2. Preliminary Assessment
Conducted within 5 days following sentencing by a parole officer in the community who will:
- Assess immediate needs, such as mental, physical health, suicide risk, protective security concerns etc.
- Obtain offender’s version of offence
- Obtain emergency contacts
- Obtain community contacts for community assessment
3. Transfer to Federal Custody – Intake Assessment
Assessment involves parole officers, special assessment teams, psychologists, working with the offender, to:
- Orient offender
- Assess risks and need
- Conduct specialized assessments (e.g. for violent offenders, substance abuse, family violence, educational etc.)
- Prioritize program and treatment needs
- Establish security level and conduct placement in appropriate institution
- Collect background information on offender and past offences
- Complete offender criminal profile
4. Correctional Plan
Correctional plan is developed to address the specific factors that relate to the offender’s criminal behaviour.
- Details the programs and activities to be undertaken by the offender to address the reasons that led to their incarceration.
- Acts as a yardstick against which the offender’s progress can be measured throughout the sentence.
Progress related to the plan is continually monitored and is the primary consideration in all decisions relating to the offender. Public safety is always the paramount consideration in these decisions.
5. Community Assessments
Community information is used to provide decision-makers with information from sources within the community. Several types of community assessments are prepared for key institutional decisions at various intervals throughout the offender’s sentence as well as for review by the National Parole Board. Formal assessments are generally completed for:
- Post-sentence and correctional planning purposes
- Private family visits
- Intra and inter-regional transfers
- Marriages, work release, etc.
Community information can be obtained through spouse or common-law partner, other family members, friends and other identified sources of community-based support.
6. Transfer to Institution for Programs and Work and Transfer to Lower or Higher Security during Sentence
This involves parole officers in institutions, all institutional staff (e.g. work supervisors, program facilitators) and the offender
- Monitor correctional plan, including attendance/participation in programs and treatment
- Prepare offender for release by recommending, where appropriate, private family visits, work releases, unescorted temporary absences
7. Development of Community Strategy-Conditional Release Case Preparation
May involve Community Assessment Team (CAT), parole officers in the community and institution, community program officer, district psychologist, community development officer and offender
- Reassess risks and needs
- Develop community strategy: determine measures of control and assistance to effectively manage risk and needs
- Present case to CAT of the local release destination
- Least restrictive measure to manage offender in community and consistent with the protection of society
8. Preparation for Parole Board
Involves institutional and community parole officers and offender
- Assessment, analysis and recommendation of proposed release to be prepared and reviewed at the institutional level
- Based on pertinent offender file information including that provided by the community parole officers
- Preparation for parole hearing; including sharing of information with offender
9. Parole Board Hearing
Involves institutional parole officer, NPB, victims, offender assistants, lawyers and offender
- Assess risk to community based on information/assessments in offender’s file
- Grant, or deny the proposed conditional release under review
- Add, impose or approve special conditions recommended to manage risk
10. Community Conditional Release
(Halfway house for day parole and, on occasion, full parole and statutory release)
Includes parole officers in the community, district psychologist, community program officer, community development officer and offender who will:
- Monitor correctional plan
- Refer to programs, treatment and counselling
- Monitor progress with collateral contacts
- Monitor adherence to conditions
- Make recommendations for full parole, statutory release special conditions, suspension of conditional release, revocation of conditional release
- Conduct face to face contact with offender as per established frequency of contact schedule
11. Warrant Expiry Date (WED)
Upon reaching WED, offender completes sentence
4 While this section provides a general overview of conditional release eligibilities, please consult the CCRA for additional information on specific categories of offenders and/or offences.