Canada's Correctional System: A Team Effort - Module

Canada's Correctional System: A Team Effort

The Canada’s Correctional System: A Team Effort module enhances students’ understanding of the interactions that take place between various Correctional Service of Canada partners by exploring their individual roles in the lives of inmates. From the police forces involved in arrests and investigations to the volunteers that provide emotional and practical support to inmates both inside and outside the institutions, this overview of the various interdependent components of the correctional system will show students how important teamwork is to making our society both safer and more just.

Learning objectives

As part of their law and/or sociology coursework, this module will allow students to:


  • Describe the legal branch involved in criminal proceedings and the procedures followed;
  • Gain the skills and concepts required to analyze criminal cases.


  • Describe how people have found ways to resolve their differences, draw conclusions and ensure that decisions are followed so that new behaviours are successfully adopted;
  • Understand that social organizations are necessary for maintaining order in society;
  • Understand the need for interdependence in relationships.

Classroom time required

Two hours (or more, depending on the time spent on proposed discussion activities).

1. Components of the criminal justice system: Four heads are better than one!

At one time or another, all of us have found ourselves confronted with a task or a problem that is too complex to resolve on our own. Consulting with others and team work are ways of ensuring that we can reach our goals, meet deadlines, fulfill other requirements and remember everything we should. The criminal justice system works the same way: one organization would not be able to do everything on its own. It takes cooperation with its partners for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to fulfill its mandate.

There are four separate, interdependent components in the criminal justice system that must constantly work together.

The police are on the front lines, empowered to arrest and lay charges against offenders under the Criminal Code. There are several levels of police forces in Canada: law enforcement at the federal level is the responsibility of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP); Ontario and Québec have their own provincial police forces (the Ontario Provincial Police and the Sûreté du Québec), while other provinces are served by the RCMP; at a municipal level, local police provide law enforcement. Police forces are responsible for informing apprehended offenders of their rights and affording them the opportunity to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

The courts get involved once charges have been laid, since all offenders are entitled to a fair trial, regardless of the type of offence. The Crown Attorney must decide what charges may be laid. If a case proceeds to trial, the judge or, in a small number of cases, the jury will decide whether the accused is guilty as charged. In cases where a jury renders a guilty verdict, the judge then decides what sentence should be imposed. In sentencing, judges must consider the maximum and minimum sentences set out in the Criminal Code. Imprisonment is reserved for the most serious offences and should not be used if an equally effective alternative is available.

Sentence administration, in cases of both imprisonment and probation, is the responsibility of correctional services. After a conviction, depending on the offence, offenders may be ordered to serve their sentence in a federal, provincial or territorial facility (the Correctional Process module provides details on the procedure followed by correctional services and the everyday life of inmates).

Once offenders have served a portion of their sentence in an institution, they may be granted conditional release to serve the rest of their sentence under supervision in the community. Decisions as to whether offenders should be released are made following a case review by a federal or provincial parole board, which also sets parole conditions such as abstaining from alcohol or drugs and reporting regularly to a parole officer. Offenders who violate their conditions may be reincarcerated to serve out the remainder of their sentence in custody (dealt with in greater detail in the Conditional Release module).

From the time an offence is committed until the offender is released into the community, the various components must work together: police forces making arrests must produce reports that will influence court sentences; sentences will have repercussions on the conditions of confinement managed by correctional services; and reports and assessments by corrections staff will have an impact on a parole board’s decision. But these are not the only actors involved in the correctional process.

2. Indispensable partners

As part of its mandate, CSC continuously works with three partners: the police, the courts and parole boards. But it must also maintain strong ties with the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of Justice, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and many other organizations. All of these organizations contribute to public safety while helping offenders become law-abiding citizens.

In addition to these government organizations, communities play a key role in the efficient operation of our correctional system. Communities were filling this role long before a true criminal justice system was ever established. Indeed, evidence of community groups spearheading change in this direction can be found throughout history—from the Quakers, who founded the first penitentiaries, to the Salvation Army, who have been working with offenders since 1882.

Today, thousands of volunteers continue to work for institutional programs in chaplaincy, arts and leisure events, classes, workshops and social activities. For example, some groups have offenders repair bicycles donated by local community centres. These bicycles are then given to underprivileged children. This is one way for offenders to play an active role in their communities.

Other volunteers are active in Citizen Advisory Committees, independent groups of local citizens looking to improve the quality of federal correctional services. Their mission consists in helping to protect society by establishing a dialogue between CSC staff, offenders and the community. They advise and make recommendations regarding services, programs and policies. There are more than a hundred Citizen Advisory Committees.

Safeguarding public safety, justice, fairness and the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all Canadians are core social values that must be defended in all of our government institutions. CSC and its many partners contribute to promoting these values.