For Andrea Moser, director of the Correctional Service of Canada's (CSC) Research Branch, a career in corrections was the furthest thing from her mind while entering the workforce out of graduate school.
"I had no intention and, to be perfectly honest, no desire to work in corrections," says Andrea, who has a PhD in clinical counselling and psychology from York University. "I wanted to work in a hospital as a psychologist because I had done a couple of placements in that setting during my PhD."
But when the timing of her graduate studies wrapping up also coincided with a recession and major layoffs in the provincial health system – along with a desire to join her husband in Ottawa – Andrea put in a general application with the Government of Canada. She got a call from Kingston, where they were hiring psychologists to work for CSC, and was eventually offered a job at the Regional Treatment Centre (RTC).
"My intent was really to give it a try," she says. "I didn't know anything about corrections, and I was just like a member of the public, who maybe has certain notions about offenders and working in a correctional system … I didn't see myself, when I first started in corrections, as it being a long-term thing. I thought it was more a means to get registration (as a psychologist) and get my career launched; something I thought I'd do for a couple years."
Twenty-three years later, Andrea is a CSC veteran and has parlayed her research expertise in the area of addictions, specifically treatment and relapse prevention, into a long-term career in corrections in a range of operational areas.
Did you know?
- In 2015-16 CSC Research published 21 research reports and 12 one-page research summaries.
- Research Branch staff have varied backgrounds in clinical psychology, forensic psychology, sociology and criminology.
- CSC has active research partnerships with the University of Nipissing, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health as part of the external research fund.
"Addictions is a controversial field, where people have ideas about it that are not necessarily supported by the research, and I find corrections is the same thing," she says. "There are all these ideas – about offenders, about punishment, about rehabilitation – that are not necessarily in line with what the evidence says … [and] you're making a difference. It's public safety, it's reintegration, it's about getting people who are in prisons reintegrated into society so they don't go out and commit crimes again. It's valuable work and I'm drawn to that too."
After spending time at RTC and Collins Bay Institution, Andrea moved to National Headquarters in 1997. For 12 years she worked in operational areas including substance abuse and violence prevention programs, CSC's anti-drug strategy, and mental health, before landing in the Research Branch in 2009.
"I felt that would be a good switch, while making use of other skills I have," she says. "It was great to get onto the research side again. It's an important contribution in another way – it's not operations, but it's what informs policy and operations because CSC's an evidence-based organization, so being able to contribute to that is something also very valuable."
Andrea's key areas of research interest include understanding substance use among offenders, looking at co-occurring issues such as mental health concerns and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), assessment practices, and examining CSC's drug interventions.
"There are trends that happen out in the community, and [we need to know] how they translate into what's happening in CSC," she says. "For example, abuse of prescription opioids and what are we seeing in CSC around them, and what are the implications that things like that have for us?"
She points to CSC's research in areas such as FASD, including their investigations into women offenders affected by the disorder, and a screening tool developed with the University of Manitoba as significant projects the branch has undertaken in addictions research. CSC's external research fund, which allows the Service to partner with outside universities and organizations on various research projects in addictions and mental health, is also advancing work in this area, including a women's mental health prevalence study and looking at use of psychotropic medications by offenders.
In 2013, Andrea took over as branch director – a challenge, she says, in part due to the increased demand for ad-hoc, quick-turnaround research projects to meet the realities of CSC's 24/7, operational environment.
"As someone who worked on the operations side for most of my career, I know how important it is to have timely, accurate evidence – you can't always wait two years for a research study [to make decisions in a correctional environment]," Andrea says. "We get a lot of these requests now, because I think we've shown that we can deliver information that people need at the right time."
Research at CSC "is really valuable. It contributes to how we do business in a very meaningful way," she adds. "It means that what we're doing with our offenders to manage them and reintegrate them back into society and to enhance public safety … it's backed up by solid research, the current state of knowledge that's always evolving, and we continue to be an organization that values that."
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