CSC Response to the Correctional Investigator’s Report entitled Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries

Dear Mr. Zinger:

Re: Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries

On behalf of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), thank you for sharing your report, Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries. Understanding the characteristics, circumstances, risks and needs of the offender population, both in general and its many subpopulations such as young adults, is very important to us. In doing so, CSC can better support federal offenders while they are serving their sentence and prepare them for a safe return to the community.

You have offered a detailed overview of the profile of young adult offenders coming under the responsibility of CSC. I take note of the unfortunate trajectories into crime and incarceration you illustrate of these young Canadians, an untapped potential for our society, many of whom have experienced challenging life circumstances. These are preoccupations for the Service and we must constantly revisit our intervention methods to better assist offenders, including young adults in line with our mission. 

The report correctly notes that young adult offenders, aged 18 to 21 years old, are a small but important percentage of the Canadian federal offender population. While the report relies heavily on research and information that looks at juvenile offenders in juvenile-specific facilities, we will be examining the implications within federal adult institutions. CSC will continue to review the literature on effective correctional programming and conduct an analysis with the intent to ensure that correctional plans are individualized, take into account the risk, need and responsivity of each offender, and establish a solid path to rehabilitation and successful community reintegration.

You’ll find attached, a summary of the research CSC has undertaken on federal offenders whose age groups are 18 to 21 years (N=523), 22 to 25 years (N=1,700) and finally, 26 to 30 years (N=2,433). We have also included a detailed table on these data. Our analyses show that young adult offenders are for the most part similar to offenders aged 22 to 30. However, those 18 to 21 were slightly more likely to have needs related to education, employment, and criminal associations, but these needs are well-reflected in CSC’s correctional programs and interventions. Offenders with greater needs in specific areas, whether they are young adults or older, receive targeted support in those areas. CSC develops a case management strategy for each offender that is based on their individualized correctional plan and that reflects their specific needs and risks. Given that research shows young adult offenders are more likely to have needs in employment and education, their correctional plans can include details on how these issues can be addressed, such as through educational support to achieve a GED diploma and job skills training.

As the foundation of CSC’s case management and programming, the risk, need, responsivity framework has been shown to be appropriate for both youths and adults. Research also suggests that programs and interventions based on a cognitive-behavioural approach are effective for both youths and adults. Based on this framework, adaptable correctional plans that focus on an individual’s specific needs and risks are the case management strategy that works best for both young adult and older offenders. In addition, we continue to focus on making sure that Indigenous offenders receive culturally responsive programming. CSC fully acknowledges that this is especially needed in the case of young adult offenders, who are disproportionally Indigenous.

CSC’s staff are trained to work with offenders and their individually adapted correctional plans. Regardless of an offender’s age, parole officers are guided by the risk, need, responsivity framework and support each offender through their incarceration and eventual reintegration into the community. This includes addressing challenges that a younger adult offender may face while in an institution and reintegration needs such as employment, housing, mental health services and community support. CSC staff are trained to identify these types of issues and respond appropriately, by adjusting and adapting the offender’s correctional plan and correctional interventions as needed. All offenders, regardless of age, may require help adjusting to institutional environments and reintegrating back into the community and CSC staff are trained to provide this support.

Having said that, you are well aware of the expectations and standards we set for ourselves when assisting offenders, and I have noted the positive anecdotal stories you have presented when teachers and parole officers successfully reach out to the young adults and provide positive support to them. Can more be done? Can we learn from those who excel in this regard? Can we share the best practices to more of the Service’s staff?  Absolutely, and this will continue to be a collective priority. 

The question of quantity and quality of food in federal institution is a sensitive issue.  As you have noted in your report, if an inmate feels they require more nutrients than CSC’s National Menu based on Canada’s Food Guide provides, they can request a nutritional assessment by the dietician, who may or may not implement changes based on their assessment. On this matter, the Service will continue to rely on the guidance and advice from Health Canada and on specialized dieticians.

You have presented and recommended that the use of administrative segregation be prohibited for young adults under the age of 21. The question of administrative segregation continues to be the subject of much discussion in Canada. With the introduction of the Service’s Administrative Segregation Strategy, we have seen a significant decline in the use of this measure as well as of its duration. In fact, placements into administrative segregation for those under 21 have declined from 560 in 2014-15 to 393 in 2016-17. Nonetheless, and as it stands currently, administrative segregation does help maintain the safety and security of our institutions and of the people living and working in them. Again, as we find alternatives and diversions from segregation, I expect that this measure will also be reduced for younger adults.

Once again, I want to thank you for this report. Our mission to contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control is relevant and important in working with offenders of all ages, including young adult offenders.

CSC will continue to ensure that young adult offenders are supported in a meaningful and individualized way that recognizes their unique needs and risks, and that helps them work towards rehabilitation and a safe and successful return to the community. 


Don Head

Appendix: Examination of OMS Data (April 2014)

Variable Percentage
18 to 21 years
N = 523
22 to 25 years
N = 1,700
26 to 30 years
N = 2,433
Gender Male 95 95 96
Ethnicity Aboriginal 37 33 28
Sentence Length < 4 years 67 53 46
4 to <10 years 27 38 38
10 years or more 2 3 5
Indeterminate 4 6 11
Offence Homicide 13 15 19
Robbery 28 21 17
Assault 20 21 15
Sexual 7 7 8
Other Violent 9 8 9
Property 7 7 8
Drug 11 16 20
Other Non-Violent 5 4 5
Violent Offence Yes 77 72 67
Offender Security Level Maximum 22 22 19
Medium 69 65 66
Minimum 9 13 15
Custody Rating Scale Maximum 6 6 7
Medium 64 67 66
Minimum 30 27 27
Static Risk High 44 45 55
Medium 47 44 37
Low 9 11 8
Reintegration Potential High 13 13 13
Medium 44 49 45
Low 43 38 42
Accountability High 10 11 12
Medium 65 67 65
Low 25 22 23
Motivation High 14 16 16
Medium 63 66 66
Low 23 18 18
Responsivity Yes 28 24 21
Engagement Yes 70 74 73
Overall Dynamic Need Moderate/High 33 36 36
Marital/Family Moderate/High 25 30 34
Associates Moderate/High 82 80 76
Substance Abuse Moderate/High 67 65 63
Community Functioning Moderate/High 31 31 30
Personal/Emotional Moderate/High 81 77 78
Attitudes Moderate/High 79 78 77
Employment and Education Moderate/High 80 73 65
Employment and Education Domain Indicators
(only those with substantial relationships shown)
Has less than high school diploma 91 83 77
Employment history is absent 42 32 21
Unemployed at time of arrest 81 75 68
Marketable job skills obtained through experience are limited 87 75 63
Job skills obtained through training are limited 95 92 84
Co-operative work skills are limited 44 33 27

Please visit the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s website to view the Report entitled
Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries.

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