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Corrections and Conditional Release Act

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The enactment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) marks a significant milestone in human rights development in corrections. The Act came into force on November 1, 1992 and completely replaced the Penitentiary and Parole Acts that had previously governed the operations of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and the National Parole Board (NPB). The CCRA has accurately been described as a modern, comprehensive code reflecting years of legal jurisprudence, inquiry, study and consultation. The CCRA incorporates significant legal developments in administrative law, reflects the rights articulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and affirms the Rule of Law. Moreover, the CCRA reflects many of the principles, values and corporate objectives outlined in the Mission of the CSC, which was first adopted in 1989 and has since been endorsed by several Solicitors General. The CCRA is divided into three parts: Part I concerns matters pertaining to the custodial portion of the sentence; Part II deals with aspects of conditional release under the jurisdiction of the NPB; and Part III governs the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

The impetus for legislative change came from a broad-based government review process of the criminal justice system involving intensive study, consultation and planning. Many problems with the legislation governing corrections were identified and specific provisions were noted as imprecise, confusing, and often inadequately related to current realities. Some of these concerns stemmed from the obsolescence of the Penitentiary Act. The Act was first enacted in 1868 and was primarily devoted to organization and administrative matters. With the exception of the reforms in 1962, there was little substantive change to the Act since its inception leaving its original content and structure intact. The Penitentiary Act contained no statement of philosophy or principles of corrections and provided for minimal offender rights. The Parole Act of 1959 underwent a few piecemeal changes since its enactment but, like the Penitentiary Act, it also remained substantially unaltered and did not adequately reflect current realities.

One of the most significant aspects of the CCRA is an articulation, for the first time in legislation, of the purpose and principles of corrections and conditional release. As expressed in the Act, the primary purpose of the federal correctional system is to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society. Further, the first principle to guide CSC in achieving this goal states that the protection of society is the paramount consideration for all decisions relating to release and treatment of offenders. Other principles of particular relevance to offenders' human rights in Section 4 of the CCRA provide that the Service should use the least restrictive measures consistent with the protection of the public, staff members and offenders; that offenders retain the rights and privileges of all members of society, except those that are necessarily removed or restricted as a consequence of the sentence; that correctional decisions should be made in a forthright and fair manner; and that correctional policies, programs and practices respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences. The rights of staff members to be properly selected and trained, to be given appropriate career development opportunities, good working conditions, and opportunities to participate in the development of correctional policies and programs are also articulated in the CCRA as a guiding principle.

Substantively, the CCRA sets out a variety of rights and responsibilities in relation to, for example, the transfer of offenders, prison discipline, administrative segregation, search and seizure, programs, health care, religion, programming for Aboriginal offenders and programs designed to meet the needs of women offenders. Section 70 of the CCRA also directs that the Service shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the environment, living and working conditions of penitentiaries are safe, healthful and free of practices that undermine the staff or offenders' personal sense of dignity. Victims rights and concerns were also reflected in the Act, allowing for victims to be kept informed of an offender's prison and parole status; information from victims to be considered at parole reviews; and victims to attend parole hearings at the discretion of NPB rather than of the offender.

When enacted in 1992, the CCRA contained a provision that mandated the Ministry of the Solicitor General to conduct a comprehensive review of this groundbreaking Act. This review provides an opportunity, after five years of experience under the CCRA, to conduct research, to collaborate with partners in corrections and make necessary changes to help ensure that it continues to be effective, meaningful and pertinent legislation.