ARCHIVE - TRANSITION TO THE COMMUNITY
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In this section, we examine the critical components that must be put in place to assist an offender in making a successful transition from a penitentiary to the community. We focus on the accountability of the offender to earn parole and further explore what this means in terms of conditional release.
The Panel reviewed current policies related to CSC's Pre-release Decision-making and the Release Process in the context of (i) recommendations on adopting an 'earned parole' approach; (ii) establishing offender accountability; (iii) building effective links between penitentiary and community programming; (iv) building a stronger community link for employment; (v) enhancing community infrastructure; and (vi) addressing the needs of women and Aboriginal offenders, as well as offenders with mental health problems under conditional release in the community.
The combined impact of these and other recommendations will influence the approach taken by CSC to make pre-release decisions, prepare cases for consideration by the National Parole Board and work with a variety of service providers (community residential facilities, etc.) to plan the transition process for offenders.
The Panel believes that particular emphasis will have to be given to the following key transition factors to ensure a comprehensive release plan is put in place, ensuring the seamless blending of the offender's institutional and community correctional plans:
- clear statements of offender accountability with respect to expected behaviour in the community;
- focus on the need for the extension of correctional interventions that link penitentiary program results with the identification of behavioural, educational and employment programs in the community;
- a well-defined approach to the definition and implementation of transitional employment initiatives;
- identification of mental health interventions consistent with penitentiary assessments and available community service delivery infrastructure;
- clear linkages to the identification and responsibilities of community residential facilities targeted to provide specialized accommodation and program service delivery support in the community; and
- description of conditions recommended to the National Parole Board by CSC.
The Panel suggests that the comprehensive release plan be developed as an accountability contract between the offender and CSC with clearly defined expectations associated with well-developed milestones for the duration of the conditional release period.
This will require a longer period of time for the preparation of the plan and should be the result of a collaborative approach between institutional and community parole officers.
- The Panel recommends that community reintegration planning, for offenders serving a fixed sentence, start at admission to ensure that focus is placed on programming, education, employment, and mental health treatment.
A proposal that a number of stakeholders, including the Ministry of Public Safety, encouraged the Panel to consider the concept of earned parole.
The following chart summarizes the current eligibility milestones for presumptive release to the community for offenders with fixed or determinate sentences.
Parole is a form of conditional release that allows some offenders to serve part of their sentences in the community under certain conditions. Parole is a privilege and not a right, and is granted at the discretion of the National Parole Board (NPB).
The CCRA defines the purpose of conditional release as contributing to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by means of decisions on the timing and conditions of release that will best facilitate the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens.
Under current legislation, an offender is eligible for a parole hearing by the NPB after having served a certain portion of his/her sentence.
There are two forms of parole: Day Parole can be granted after an offender has served six months of a sentence, or six months before full parole, whichever is later, with conditions that require the offender to return daily to a penitentiary or a community-based residential facility; Full Parole can be granted after an offender has served one third of a sentence or seven years, whichever is less, allowing the offender to be at large prior to the completion of sentence. Statutory Release means release from imprisonment permitted by law subject to supervision after an offender has served two-thirds of the sentence. The conditions imposed by NPB may include residency in a community correctional centre.
Of all statutory release supervision periods in 2005–06, 6 in 10 were completed without revocation; however, statutory release cases accounted for 79% of violent reoffending in the community, while representing 35% of the conditionally released population.
According to CSC, the average profile of an offender who reoffends while on statutory release is an Aboriginal male under 35 years of age, with low educational attainment (no high school diploma), unemployed at arrest, with gang affiliation, serving a sentence of less than three years usually for robbery. In addition, the typical offender tends to have a history of substance abuse, a previous criminal history, a previous negative correctional history (escape, segregation, revocation of parole), low program completion rates and higher levels of imposed residency conditions at release.
A common frustration expressed to the Panel was the lack of motivation displayed by a significant percentage of younger offenders. There seems to be a growing tendency by some offenders to wait out the parole system until they reach their statutory release date at two-thirds of their sentence. Consequences seem to be relatively minor for adopting this attitude—living conditions are the same as those for offenders actively engaged in rehabilitation, and few are denied release at their statutory release date. Additionally, offenders not positively engaged while incarcerated pose threats to the safety of staff and other offenders, which in turn, hampers the positive efforts being made by other offenders.
Although CSC has made some attempts to motivate disengaged offenders, the Panel believes that more must be done in this area. The Panel believes that staff require important additional training on gangs, motivational techniques and understanding the impact of mental illness. But, as stated earlier, rehabilitation must be a shared accountability and the offender must work to address his/her risks and needs. To encourage the offender, different privileges should be afforded those offenders who are positively engaged than to those who are not. Life inside penitentiaries should mirror Canadian society, and the core concept should be the same: earn your own way.
Gradual release of offenders has been a cornerstone of Canadian corrections for many years and the Panel supports that concept. However, the Panel believes that statutory release and accelerated parole have both undermined discretionary release and generally have not proved as effective as discretionary release in mitigating violent reoffending. The Panel believes that an arbitrary release that is not based on rehabilitation is counterproductive, and when aggravated by shorter sentences, reduces public safety. This has been demonstrated by the fact that most violent reoffending by federal offenders is committed by those released on statutory release. To improve public safety and reorient the correctional system to a system that places true accountability on offenders, offenders would be required to earn their way back to their home communities and demonstrate to the NPB that they have changed and are capable of living as law-abiding citizens.
Since federal release policies impact the public, offenders, victims and a variety of stakeholders, the Panel engaged CSC staff and interest groups in discussions about the pluses and minuses of introducing earned parole and removing statutory release. By definition, earned parole would eliminate the presumptive release of offenders into the community at fixed dates in their sentences.
These discussions focused on increasing offender accountability to address the requirements identified in the correctional plan, the time to better prepare offenders for release, and the impact on public safety of releasing higher risk offenders into the community after serving two-thirds of their sentences.
The Panel heard from Heidi Illingworth, Executive Director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime:
It has been well documented by corrections research that the conditional releases with the highest success rates are those that rely on the judgements of professionals and are based on proper risk assessments that focus on public safety, where the lowest success rates are for those released by law, including statutory release and accelerated parole review ... We strongly believe that SR should be abolished, and it should be a release decided on by the National Parole Board (if and when it is earned by the offender). If the point of incarceration is to truly prepare and rehabilitate, then parole should be earned.42
The Panel also heard from the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, who said:
Earned parole opportunities come very early for many offenders starting as early as one sixth of a sentence. This is entirely appropriate, if done properly, but earned parole provisions should apply for the entirety of the sentence and not end with what has become an arbitrary date of release at two-thirds.43
The one resounding theme, heard from both within the walls of penitentiaries and in communities across Canada, was that statutory release is not working. The presumptive release of an offender after having served two-thirds of the sentence is not conducive to rehabilitation. For example, an offender serving a sentence of three years will be automatically released at 24 months, unless CSC can present acceptable reasons to the NPB to detain the offender because the offender is deemed likely to cause death or serious harm to another person or commit a sexual offence involving a child or a serious drug offence before the warrant expiry date. CSC's recommendation for detention must, according to subsection 129(3) of the CCRA, be based on "reasonable grounds" determined by the offender's behaviour and any additional information CSC has on the offender. The bar to detain offenders is set very high and few cases meet that bar.
Those offenders who wait out their sentences until they reach their statutory release dates are described as not following their correctional plans, lacking motivation to rehabilitate and causing disruption in the penitentiary, through either their gang affiliations or their involvement in the drug trade. Even with this pattern of behaviour, they currently have the same entitlements to privileges as offenders who are actively engaged in their correctional plans.
There was common agreement that if statutory release was eliminated, conditional release options would have to continue to support the benefits of gradual release to the community. Particular concern was expressed about the impact of releases directly from penitentiaries of offenders who had reached their warrant expiry dates, meaning they would not be under the supervision of CSC in the community.
This concern was shared by the John Howard Society of Canada:
Enhancing the prospect of successful reintegration cannot be achieved by doing nothing. Leaving people in prison until their term expires is tantamount to doing nothing. The sentence is a window of opportunity within which correctional systems can make positive changes. Doing something constructive means actively working to influence the choices that individual [offenders] make on release and influencing the environment into which they are released. Both are achieved through gradual release.44
As a consequence, the Panel believes that a review is required of how community-based interventions would be retooled to meet changing requirements for supervision and service delivery, while appropriate measures are taken to prepare the offender for the warrant expiry.
Proponents of earned parole agreed that it would enhance the accountability of both the offender and the correctional system in addressing the criminogenic and behavioural deficits that have contributed to the offender's crime cycle. Many parole officers expressed the view that "you can only take an offender's case as far as the offender wants to go; it's the offender who progresses the case."
There was significant support for introducing appropriate incentives for offenders to actively participate and make progress in their correctional plans. Some offenders have to be motivated to participate with incentives that reward achievement. There was support for establishing a direct relationship between motivation and action in following correctional plans and privileges, while recognizing the rights of offenders and the requirement to apply the least restrictive measures in their management while respecting the rule of law. This group was of the opinion that eliminating statutory release would create positive outcomes in the community, namely, reductions in rates of reoffending. Other proponents advanced the position that this approach of earned parole and motivating offenders with incentives that reward achievements in their correctional plan would mitigate the risks posed by these offenders until they could demonstrate that they were ready for safe reintegration.
The Panel notes that these observations are valid and strongly suggests that every effort be made to ensure that the implementation of the earned parole approach reflect current management processes that prepare offenders for gradual release to the community. The Panel believes that public safety is best served through a period of supervised and supported release for offenders prior to the end of the sentence. The focus should be on enhancing these processes to place the onus on the offender to demonstrate accountability, to demonstrate progress in a viable release plan, and to demonstrate readiness to remain a law-abiding citizen after release to the community.
(iii) Reasons for Supporting Earned Parole
The Panel is concerned about the statistics on statutory releases: approximately 40% of statutory releases are revoked, 30% for breach of conditions and 10% for new offences, and violent reoffending rates are three times higher for statutory releases than for discretionary releases. The risk posed by these offenders and the potential for even greater risk as a result of the changing profile of the federal population points to the need for change.
The chart above shows that over the long-term (10 to 15 years after sentence completion):
- offenders released at warrant expiry are between 2½ and 4 times more likely to be readmitted on a federal sentence than offenders that completed their sentences on full parole; and
- offenders that completed their sentences on statutory release are between 2 and 2½ times more likely to be re-admitted on a federal sentence than offenders that completed their sentences on full parole.
Poor program participation and completion rates indicate a growing problem with offender motivation to participate in correctional interventions. The Panel is of the opinion that presumptive release is a key disincentive to offender accountability. To improve conditional release outcomes, legislative change is needed, and related enhancements must be made to programs that engage and support offenders, particularly high-risk offenders, in making behavioural changes.
(iv) Key Impact Statements
In this section, we focus on the impact of introducing earned parole on the requirements to 'retool' institutional and community-based interventions to meet the changing requirements for parole review, comprehensive release planning in support of gradual release to the community, and conditional release in the community. The following chart summarizes the Panel's recommendations to address the impacts of eliminating statutory release and accelerated parole review, and introducing earned parole.
The introduction of earned parole will result in the following actions:
- presumptive releases (accelerated parole review and statutory release) would be eliminated;
- an offender's release prior to the warrant expiry date (WED) would only be possible through a parole decision by NPB;
- parole eligibility would be considered after assessing risk, assessing progress in addressing criminogenic, behavioural and skills deficits described in the offender's comprehensive correctional plan, and assessing the community reintegration requirements, including employment options when released as outlined in the community release plan;
- appearances before the NPB would occur annually, each year after parole eligibility dates have passed;
- CSC would notify local Crown Attorneys of offenders who have been denied parole and will be detained to WED for non-compliance with their correctional plan for the purpose of considering the need for making a Section 810 application at the time of WED;
- the same test would be used for all release decisions; it would continue to be consistent with the principles outlined in the CCRA guiding the NPB on achieving the purpose of conditional release:
- that the protection of society be the paramount consideration in the determination of any case [CCRA.S.101(a)];
- that the Parole Board make the restrictive determination consistent with the offender's correctional plan and individual risk/need assessment consistent with the protection of society [CCRA.S.101(c)];
- the offender will not, by reoffending, present an undue risk to society before the expiration according to law of the sentence the offender is serving [CCRA.S. 102(a)];
- the release of the offender will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender into society as a law-abiding citizen [CCRA.S.102(b)];
- any release plan submitted to the NPB should include CSC's consideration of either the placement of the offender directly into a job or with a high likelihood of a job placement;
- review for full parole would be by application with minimum waiting periods, e.g., six months;
- review for day parole would also be by application, with the same eligibility as currently exists; and
- additional criteria for granting parole would reflect the requirement for the offender to earn release through adherence to the correctional plan.
The earned parole approach should be supported by initiatives that address the specific risks and needs of offenders who have violently offended and have a high potential for violent reoffending.
Case management strategies would include intensive and ongoing risk assessment and prediction; the development of a comprehensive correctional plan that sets out a blueprint for the offender to move to gradual release to the community with a job or the strong likelihood of a job placement; clear statements of the offender's responsibilities and accountabilities for following that blueprint to earn parole; engagement of offenders in the parole process as early as possible and on a continuing basis; and preparation of offenders for release through more comprehensive community release planning. Particular attention will have to be given in applying these initiatives to the unique needs of women and Aboriginal offenders.
Offenders must fully understand the consequences of not meeting correctional plan requirements with respect to access to penitentiary privileges and conditional release, and the consequences of reoffending while in the community on conditional release.
The implementation of the enhanced strategy should respect the positive benefits that can be demonstrated with gradual, job-focused release. The principle should guide CSC in ensuring that every effort is made to support offenders in actively and successfully engaging in their correctional plan to reduce their risk to reoffend and consequently improve their eligibility for release. The two key components of conditional release, day parole and full parole, must be reviewed to ensure they are aligned with the earned parole and community employment approaches and are fully supported by a community infrastructure that offers supervision, programming interventions, and service delivery. This will mean closer liaison with police services, provinces and municipalities, new and innovative supervision strategies, and comprehensive release planning that continues the employment training and job-readiness programs started in the penitentiary.
There is a related requirement to review community infrastructure and partnerships with service deliverers as a result of the elimination of statutory release and the new focus on skills development and jobs. Particular attention should be given to the changing roles of and relationships among minimum-security penitentiaries, CSC community correctional centres, and community residential facilities providing contracted services. More emphasis should be placed on supporting work release initiatives and other forms of transitional employment, providing mental health support services, and providing accommodation alternatives for offenders who are actively participating in their correctional plans and transitioning into the community.
The introduction of a new parole or release system could affect the size of the incarcerated population because of potential increases in time served. However, a new focus on employability and employment could have an opposite effect—the effectiveness of programming both inside and outside the walls would likely lead to a reduction in reoffending and a consequent reduction in the return rate of offenders to a federal penitentiary. While the Panel believes that the overall impact will be a reduction in reoffending, CSC, in conjunction with NPB, should develop impact statements that define a time frame for management—preparing for and changing legislation and then applying the legislative change—and should establish cost estimates for a phased implementation of the Panel's recommendations. These estimates should be fully integrated with the Panel's recommendations on the introduction of regional complexes.
- The Panel recommends that the CCRA be amended to replace statutory release and accelerated parole review with earned parole.
- The Panel recommends that the CCRA be amended to reflect that the protection of society is the paramount consideration in the determination of conditional release (CCRA. S. 101(a)) and that (d) the National Parole Board makes the determination consistent with the offender's correctional plan and an individual risks/needs assessment, consistent with the protection of society.
- The Panel recommends that a full review of the conditional release process be undertaken in order to effectively link day parole and full parole with the objectives of the earned parole approach and the principles of gradual release. The review should also focus on the impact of releasing directly from penitentiaries offenders who reach their warrant expiry dates, when they are no longer under the supervision of CSC.
- The Panel recommends that a review be conducted on how community-based interventions should be retooled to meet changing requirements for supervision and service delivery (i.e., employment).
- The Panel recommends that the NPB shall review cases annually each year after parole eligibility dates have passed.
- CSC should notify local Crown Prosecutors about offenders who have been denied parole and will be detained to warrant expiry for non-compliance with their correctional plan, to allow for consideration of issuing a Section 810 application at the time of warrant expiry.
42"Brief to the CSC Review Panel," Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, June 4, 2007, page 8.
43 "Submission to: CSC Review Panel," Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, June 2007, page 8.
44 Submission to the CSC Review Panel, John Howard Society of Canada, May 22, 2007, page 5.
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