As the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) first research officer and former Director General of the Research Branch, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Larry Motiuk is likely the best person to ask about the Branch’s accomplishments and value within the Service.
“All of this is our story – it is a research story over time,” says the current Assistant Commissioner of Policy (ACP), reflecting on the evolution of research at CSC. “We are indeed very fortunate. CSC’s Research Branch is very unique – not all departments here in Canada or in other jurisdictions have such a large dedicated in-house research team. The senior administration here has always been supportive, providing not only the questions and challenges to be researched but also the necessary resources to work on them.”
CSC has also been fortunate to have such a dedicated and outstanding researcher as Larry for more than three decades now. After completing a PhD in Psychology at Carleton University, Larry focused his career on applied research in federal corrections. Since then, he has become widely published on the topics of offender assessment and effective correctional programming.
Though he has served as ACP since 2013, Larry has also worked as the Director General, Offender Programs and Reintegration, a Special Advisor for Transformation and Renewal, and the Associate Assistant Commissioner of Policy. Over the years, he has managed institutional and community reintegration operations as well as applied research projects on a national scale. These include such projects as National Standards for Conditional Release Supervision, Community Offender Management Strategy, Offender Intake Assessment and Correctional Planning and Infrastructure Renewal. Regardless of the role, Larry has always been a strong promoter of evidence-based correctional policies, programs and practices.
Larry’s and the Research Branch’s 30-year history at CSC both began in 1988, when then-director Frank Porporino received a mandate from then-Commissioner Ole Ingstrup to create a corporate research function within CSC. Larry was the Service’s first research officer who was hired from outside of the Service. He began his corrections career as a front-line employee in the psychology department of a maximum-security Ontario provincial institution. He notes that the very first Research Plan for 1989-90 was published in June 1989. Back then it tried to strike a balance research that was needed for immediate practical applications, in order to support operational program initiatives that were derived from our corporate objectives, and research that was needed for more strategic reasons, to develop a base of knowledge on which one could build future initiatives to realize our Mission. Larry is very proud to say the Research Plan 2019-20 has just been approved and work is well underway.
Over the years, Larry and the Branch’s hard work has made research a cornerstone of CSC. Today, the Research team employs over 20 staff. Together, these dedicated people undertake research projects that informs and supports decision-making while ensuring their research meets the highest academic standards.
Looking back over that history, Larry says one of the biggest challenges has been adapting assessment tools and programs to address the unique needs of vulnerable offender populations. This innovative work has covered areas from forecasting population growth, developing assessment technology, designing programs, delivering supervision strategies to measuring correctional results.
“We have had to adapt our assessment and programming efforts to best meet the unique needs of various offender populations,” he says. “The fact that we can influence and change offending behaviour is important. That is really the cornerstone of how we contribute to public safety in the long run.”
Numerous correctional programs that are directly focused on the needs of women, Indigenous people, substance misusers, violent and sex offenders were developed based on the Research team’s work.
CSC Research has often been at the forefront of correctional issues in Canada. In the early 1990s, CSC researchers conducted the first national survey of mental health in the federal correctional system to examine the prevalence, nature, and severity of mental health problems among inmates. This work was later replicated in 2017.
“Research really adds value to the work we are doing because it helps us to better allocate resources that are often limited,” Larry says. “This understanding is critical in order to respond to each offenders’ reintegration needs.”
Though picking the biggest success among these important accomplishments is a challenge, for Larry one highlight was the automated Offender Intake Assessment (OIA) process developed by CSC and implemented in 1994.
“It has been a gold mine of data for further research and investigations,” he says. “The OIA was based on the best research available at the time and operationally tested, and it has lasted for 25 years. We outshine many other jurisdictions in this regard.”
The opportunities to collaborate with international counterparts in Australia, United States, Namibia, New Zealand, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hong Kong and most recently Romania have also been high points.
“The ability to engage other countries on effective correctional practice really matters,” says Larry, who has served as an expert for the Council of Europe, the United Nations Asia Far East Institute and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “We learn from the varied experience of other countries and the often similar challenges they face.”
With an ever-growing demand for corrections-related information, Larry suggests that interesting times are still ahead for CSC’s team of researchers. “Eliminating segregation offers opportunities for new projects, including Structured Intervention Units and emerging research needs in the development of Indigenous-informed assessment tools for Case Management and Aboriginal Intervention Centres.”
“Research helps us to recognize what citizens and stakeholders value and respond with evidence-based programs and services,” he says. “Public safety matters to everyone – it’s the bottom line and research contributes to that.”
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