Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism
Recidivism is a complex issue for which there is no simple, linear solution.
The Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism is the Government of Canada’s first step in putting together a plan that identifies crucial factors that impact why people reoffend and how to support safe and successful reintegration into the community. The goal: increase public safety by reducing recidivism, preventing victimization, addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous People, Black Canadians and other marginalized groups in our criminal justice system, and ultimately, create safer communities.
Consultations were held over four months this past winter with more than 20 organizations who work in the criminal justice sector and who understand first-hand the barriers to successful reintegration and the consequences of recidivism on communities, families and individuals. Its success will lean on our guiding principles – collaboration with stakeholders; innovative approaches; and flexibility to ensure responsiveness to various needs.
The Government of Canada is committed to continued dialogue with partners as we work to develop a comprehensive implementation plan that will see concrete actions taken to reduce the barriers to community reintegration and ensure that supports are sustained over time.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank everyone who participated in the consultations to date and who shared meaningful and productive dialogue on recidivism. I look forward to ongoing and continued collaboration to build safe communities by reducing recidivism.
The Honourable Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P.
The Minister of Public Safety
The Reduction of Recidivism Framework Act Footnote1 (the Act), which received Royal Assent on June 29, 2021, requires the federal government to develop a Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism that would include the following measures:
- initiate pilot projects and develop standardized and evidence-based programs aimed at reducing recidivism;
- promote the reintegration of people who have been incarcerated back into the community through access to adequate and ongoing resources as well as employment opportunities in order to lessen the likelihood of their reoffending;
- support faith-based and communal initiatives that aim to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated;
- review and implement international best practices related to the reduction of recidivism; and,
- evaluate and improve risk assessment instruments and procedures to address racial and cultural biases and ensure that all people who are incarcerated have access to appropriate programs that will help reduce recidivism.
The Act called for consultations with diverse stakeholders in the criminal justice sector, including with the provinces and territories. Consultations were held from November 2021 to February 2022. In that time, over 20 organizations and 140 people representing a wide-range of partners and stakeholders shared meaningful and productive dialogue on issues pertaining to: evidence-based programming that can reduce recidivism; challenges that currently exist in delivering programs to people incarcerated in federal institutions; the opportunities that can be leveraged to fill gaps in services; and, unique challenges faced by women, Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians who are consistently overrepresented in correctional facilities Footnote1.
In addition, Public Safety Canada commissioned a research paper on international best practices, which provides a comprehensive review of international approaches for reducing recidivism.
The Government of Canada is committed to helping offenders access supports that set them up for success both in institutions and in community settings. Further, in recognizing the importance of addressing the overrepresentation of marginalized populations in the criminal justice system, the Government of Canada will collaborate with other sectors and jurisdictions to tailor support to specific communities, and incorporate trauma-informed approaches that consider the needs of victims.
The large majority of individuals who are incarcerated will be released in their lifetime Footnote2. In this context, a public shift to understanding rehabilitation and supporting reintegration needs to happen for the offenders to successfully reintegrate into the community. When we support the successful reintegration of offenders back into the community, we ensure that former offenders can become contributing pro-social members of society. When we put supports in place to reduce recidivism we invest in second chances, improve public safety, and build safer communities.
Rehabilitation is provided through effective correctional programs and interventions in the institutions where most offenders serving a sentence reside prior to being supervised in the community. Offenders follow a correctional plan, throughout their sentence, to help address the factors contributing to their criminal behaviour. After serving part of their sentence in an institution, offenders are released into the community to serve the remainder of their sentence, on parole or statutory release. During this release, offenders must follow certain conditions and are supervised by parole officers. Correctional programs are also available in the community to assist offenders in their reintegration process.
There is no common international or federal definition of recidivism. Recidivism means different things depending on the province or country. For the purpose of this Federal Framework, recidivism will be defined as any reconviction of a criminal offence.
Recidivism, or repeat offending, impacts public safety and the victims affected by those new crimes, as well as the lives and families of offenders who are unable to break out of the cycle of repeat offending. Ensuring offenders are effectively rehabilitated and reintegrated is essential to building safer communities. Further, reducing recidivism can generate additional substantial benefits to society by reducing criminal justice costs and preventing new victimization.
Overrepresentation of marginalized populations in Canada
Overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system (CJS) is a longstanding issue that has only increased over time. While Indigenous peoples represent 4% of the Canadian population, they are overrepresented on both the offender and victim sides. In the Federal Correctional system, the proportion of Indigenous peoples in the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) custody has reached an all-time high of 26.1% Footnote2. This disproportionate overrepresentation is even more acutely felt in women’s corrections where 48% of women in CSC’s custody are Indigenous.
Further, between 2015-16 and 2019-20, the proportion of Indigenous peoples within CSC’s total offender population has increased by 15.3 % Footnote2. The root causes behind the overrepresentation of Indigenous people are found in the intergenerational trauma Indigenous peoples live with as a result of colonization in Canada. This is exacerbated by systemic racism.
Indigenous healing lodges have proven to be successful in reducing the recidivism rate amongst offenders who participate in their holistic programming. Healing Lodges are environments designed specifically to meet the needs of Indigenous offenders, and offer culturally appropriate services, interventions, and programs to offenders in a way that incorporates Indigenous values, traditions and beliefs. The main goal is to support healing, address factors that led to their incarceration, and prepare them for reintegration into society, with emphasis placed on spiritual leadership and the value of life experiences of staff and community members who act as role models.
The needs of offenders are addressed through teachings and ceremonies, contact with Elders and interaction with nature. Programs are delivered in a context of community interaction and focus on preparing an offender for their eventual release. In 2019, approximately 85 per cent of CSC's Indigenous offenders were working with Elders and committed or interested in following a traditional path across all CSC institutions.
The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Footnote3 outlines Calls for Justice for CSC to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in the correctional system. Among the Calls, the report identifies the need for additional healing lodges that are run by Indigenous communities.
CSC currently has ten healing lodges in Canada. Four healing lodges are operated by CSC, while six healing lodges are operated by Indigenous communities under Section 81 agreements Footnote4. Further the MMIWG report called healing lodges to provide residential services oriented to family and community healing. The most recent Section 81 healing lodge is the Eagle Women’s Lodge, which is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Eagle Women’s Lodge can accommodate up to 30 women and promotes community reintegration while offering culturally relevant programs and services, including family reunification.
Black Canadians, are also overrepresented in the CJS, representing over 8% of the prison population, despite making up about 3.5% of the whole population Footnote2. The reality of systemic racism is evident in overrepresentation of racialized Canadians. The Government of Canada will continue its efforts to address systemic racism through this Framework, federal policy, and ongoing collaboration among all criminal justice system partners.
Women offenders have unique needs and considerations that impact their response to corrections. A gender-responsive lens/approach is required to address the complex challenges faced in their social, economic, and cultural situations. Consequently, there should be a distinction on how women offenders face housing barriers, particularly those with children and renewed family responsibilities upon release.
When considering women’s corrections, it is particularly important to ensure that programming and interventions recognize that women place great value on the relationships in their lives. Evidence in the correctional literature has suggested that the mother-child bond may be critical for successful reintegration into the community. When strong familial ties are maintained by women offenders, research has found there to be less likelihood of recidivism. This research underscores the importance of CSC’s Mother-Child Program and the need for it be expanded to a greater number of eligible offenders.
A key challenge CSC is facing is to provide gang intervention and prevention within its institutions. Gang disaffiliation work is underway, as CSC seeks to work with organizations with expertise in gang intervention. As consultations continue on the implementation plan for the Framework, Public Safety Canada will engage with stakeholders who are experts in providing gang diversion and gang exiting programming.
Incarceration in and of itself is not a deterrent to gang involvement. Within correctional institutions, gang members have a disproportionate influence on the level of violence, and involvement in institutional misconduct as compared to their non-gang-associated peers. More needs to be understood on how best to disincentive young offenders from joining gangs, once they have been sentenced, especially if they have no prior history of gang involvement prior to their sentencing.
Gang behaviours range from involvement in fights and assaults, to the introduction and trafficking of contraband (e.g., drugs, weapons, and cell phones). Overall, they contribute to higher rates of violence and increasing inter-group tensions within institutions. They also lead to unstable offender populations, and undermine interventions, programming, and ultimately, community reintegration and rehabilitation Footnote5 Footnote6.
Gang disaffiliation is a significant challenge. Each institution has its own site-specific approach for the management of Security Threat Groups (STG) and their affiliated offenders. These approaches take into account the unique type and dynamics of STGs present, security levels, physical infrastructure and the institution’s ability to run various routines, as well as the institutional offender profile, programming capacity and more. Efforts within the community and within correctional institutions are required to support disaffiliation from security threat groups.
A shared federal responsibility
Given its multi-faceted nature, a broad multi-sectoral approach to address the complex interwoven issues affecting recidivism is required. As a result, multiple federal departments, as well as provinces and territories and civil society, will need to be involved in reducing recidivism.
Direct responsibilities for offenders is shared across three key federal departments, a special operating agency, and an independent administrative tribunal.
Correctional Service of Canada: contributes to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by carrying out sentences imposed by courts through the safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders. The department’s goal is to assist in rehabilitating offenders and to reintegrate them into the community as law-abiding citizens through the provision of programs in penitentiaries and in the community.
Department of Justice: The Department of Justice is committed to helping keep Canadian families safe and secure, while supporting victims of crime. It works with organizations in communities across the country to address victims' needs and to help youth who are in conflict with the law. The Department also monitors trends in criminal law and develops options for law reform.
Public Safety Canada: Public Safety Canada was created in 2003 to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians. Public Safety Canada provides federal policy leadership, coordination and program support on many activities related to crime prevention, law enforcement, and the rehabilitation of offenders.
CORCAN is a special agency within CSC that is responsible for providing offenders with employment and employability training and services while incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and while under community supervision. This is achieved through on-the-job training, apprenticeship hours and vocational certifications, as well as employment services, that improve their ability to find and maintain employment as part of a safe and successful release into the community.
Parole Board of Canada: The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is an independent administrative tribunal that, makes quality conditional release and record suspension decisions and clemency recommendations. The PBC contributes to public safety by facilitating, as appropriate, the timely reintegration of offenders into society as law-abiding citizens.
The Government of Canada will play a national leadership role in reducing recidivism by coordinating across jurisdictions, engaging with civil society, undertaking research, brokering knowledge transfer, and working towards better data systems to measure progress on recidivism reduction.
The Framework is structured around five priority areas to assist offenders with their reintegration. These pillars, validated throughout the consultation process, are based on the social determinants of health. The priority areas of housing, education, employment, health, and positive support networks all fulfill important needs in successful reintegration. However, consultations have identified a number of barriers/challenges under each of these areas that impede the successful reintegration of offenders into the community. The Framework identifies these pillars as areas where the federal government will focus its efforts, including by working with other levels of government and civil society, to support reintegration and reduce recidivism.
Research suggests that approximately 30% of those released from both federal and provincial institutions will face homelessness within the first two years of their release Footnote7. In fact, being homeless increases the risk of offending and being released without stable and secure housing leads to a greater risk of recidivism. To address the housing insecurity faced by offenders upon release, greater efforts must be made to provide transitional housing solutions. An increase in transitional housing options for offenders would allow for greater support as they move from living in a community-based residential facility (CRF) to living independently in the community.
Release conditions may include measures to avoid contact with certain individuals, locations, or substances. Many short-term housing solutions, such as being placed in a shelter, will force offenders to come into contact with situations that are not positive influences on their reintegration including, being exposed to drug or alcohol use or other risk behaviours while staying in shelters. This type of exposure can increase the likelihood of a relapse or lead to recidivism.
Further exacerbating the housing issue in many cities across Canada, many rental properties are financially out of reach for offenders. With limited savings, many offenders cannot meet the amounts required for deposits such as a damage deposit or “first and last month’s” rent. Applying for social assistance can take weeks; and, it also takes time to secure employment.
Compounding the financial challenges associated with securing housing are the administrative barriers that exist. For example, a form of identification (driver’s licence or Photo ID card) is required for completing rental applications, but many offenders leave institutions without identification and/or there is a cost to obtaining the necessary identification. Additionally, rental applications often require references and/or credit checks, which are difficult for an offender to secure.
Finally, many landlords are reluctant to rent to former offenders. These prejudices are further compounded for racialized people.
Offenders with low levels of education often find themselves with limited economic opportunities upon their release, leaving them more vulnerable to committing criminal acts rather than re-integrating into society. CSC reported in 2018 that 72% of incarcerated individuals have some need for education/employment, with 46.1% of the offender population indicating a grade 10 to grade 12 education.
Repeated research has shown that involvement in education decreases recidivism by approximately 20-30%, with any involvement in post-secondary education decreasing recidivism by 45-75%. CSC’s own evaluation of its education program found $6.37 in direct savings for every $1 spent on education due to its effect on recidivism, and the power education has in keeping an individual from reoffending.
A basic education is not sufficient to prepare incarcerated individuals for successful reintegration. Many offenders benefit from additional job training, including the technical aspect and assistance in how to apply to a job.
There are considerable challenges in providing offenders within federal correctional institutions with ready access to technology. Due to aging facilities and challenges with IT infrastructure, prisoners currently have limited access to current computer technology or to the internet. Familiarity with both of these technical skills is important in many jobs, and other parts of life (such as navigating local transportation networks or searching and applying for basic social services). CSC will continue to advance pilot projects and examine ways to modernize its infrastructure in order to address this important gap in access to technology, in order to facilitate successful reintegration and reduce recidivism.
Lastly, literacy skills are fundamental to one’s ability to improve their education. Literacy was raised in consultations as being critical to successful reintegration. Assessing and improving literacy levels both in institutions and in the community are important considerations under the pillar of education.
As noted, educational attainment (basic education, employment skills training) can provide better access to employment and improve economic opportunities. Employment opportunities provide the offender with the ability to financially support themselves. They provide access to prosocial role models and allow offenders to expand their support network. However, many offenders struggle to find employment with barriers including having a lower level of education, lack of community work experience and/or skills training. Additionally, having a criminal record can impact one’s ability to find and secure employment. Recognizing the detrimental effect an older criminal record can play in the lives of former offenders, the Government announced in December of 2021 a major decrease in the cost associated with obtaining a pardon, lowering the costs from $658.00 to $50.00. Furthermore, the Government is investing $18 million in community organization that work with offenders to navigate the process of requesting and affording a pardon.
CSC research indicates that offenders serving a federal sentence, who obtain and maintain community employment, are almost three times less likely to return to custody due to a new offence than those who are not employed. Participation in employment and employability-related training was found to increase the likelihood of obtaining a job in the community. While these types of programs already exist within CSC, the Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism will explore possibilities for expanding upon existing programs for training. To ensure that offenders are receiving the vocational skills that are most likely to lead to gainful employment, a review of the training offered, in particular in women’s institutions would be helpful to ensure that women offenders have access to training that better reflects the job market upon release.
CSC is responsible for the health care provided to offenders while incarcerated. However, upon release, the responsibility for health care shifts back to the provinces and territories, which creates an additional challenge to maintaining access to health care for all offenders.
Compared to the general population, people who experience imprisonment are more likely to have a mood disorder such as depression, or a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia. This underlines the need to consider expanded mental health services for offenders when they are incarcerated. Further, offenders are more likely to have chronic conditions such as living with HIV, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.
Further, we know that people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system due to neuropsychological deficits in judgement. There is more work that can be done to screen and support offenders who may be living with undiagnosed FASD and then ensuring they receive the mental health care needed to support successful rehabilitation in the community.
In the days and weeks after release to the community, offenders face elevated risks of adverse health outcomes, including spikes in emergency department use, hospitalization and death. Offenders are also more likely to be at risk for overdose upon release. Research cites individual risk factors such as a decreased drug tolerance and low purity of drugs in institutions. Addressing problematic substance use among offenders is an urgent issue. 60% of offenders who are incarcerated at CSC institutions were intoxicated at the time of their arrest. More programming inside and outside of the institution to aid offenders in managing addiction would be beneficial.
One of the most important conclusions from the literature describing the link between problematic substance use and criminal behaviour is that the gains made during in-prison treatment programs can only be maintained if an offender is provided with sufficient aftercare supports and community treatment upon release Footnote8. In many cases, securing access to a family physician can be a challenge. Without regular access to a doctor, offenders may only have access to health care through walk-in clinics or the emergency room, where there is no patient history on file and where teams of physicians on rotation are often used. This impacts the continuity of care to follow through on medical needs, including prescriptions refills, treatment for problematic substance use, management of chronic conditions, and more. These challenges, in particular those tied to maintaining progress on treatment for substance use.
Consultations pointed to the need for early planning as crucial in securing access to medical services, ensuring prescriptions continue post-release, and that any follow-ups by parole officers include getting a health card and/or finding a family physician.
Positive Support Network
Human beings are social beings and need to feel a sense of belonging. Release conditions sometimes prohibit offenders from having contacts with specific friends or groups they associated with prior to offending. This can cause isolation for individuals who will need to develop a positive support network in the absence of old or prohibited contacts. Consultations spoke to the need for an interim place or network of positive “prosocial” supports for those reintegrating to help prevent isolation and exposure to negative factors.
A “positive support network” refers to identifying the community reintegration support with prosocial peers. Research has shown that the risk for committing crime and recidivism is higher for those who associate with antisocial peers. Therefore, it is important that offenders are surrounded by positive influences upon their release. Building that social network of support can start while the individual is still incarcerated in the institution and continue in the community. Consultations spoke to the expertise of client-facing organizations in assisting offenders in rebuilding positive social support networks.
The Framework outlines the strategy that Canada will take, working to address the barriers identified under each of the thematic priorities of housing, education, employment, health, and positive support networks. The Framework is designed to allow for nimble approaches to address the issue of recidivism either through federally funded initiatives and programs or by leveraging existing provincial and territorial initiatives and programs, promoting partnerships with community and faith-based organizations, and also by raising awareness of the benefits of supporting released offenders.
Recognizing that no one department or agency will have all of the solutions, engagements will continue with the intent to develop the Framework implementation plan, including the identification of specific actions, including innovative pilot projects, that can be advanced to reduce recidivism, and which will respond to the enabling legislation.
The Act also requires Public Safety Canada to prepare a report within three years of the tabling of the Framework on its effectiveness, including conclusions and recommendations. As such, the Framework and the subsequent implementation plan will also be used as an assessment tool to evaluate the relevance and success of federal actions, including those carried out in partnership with provinces, territories, the private sector, voluntary groups, and other organizations.
This Framework represents a meaningful first step and is intended to evolve over time; adjusting for emerging and changing needs and to incorporate new approaches based on the latest research and new best practices.
Leadership on reducing recidivism in Canada
Canada is committed to reducing recidivism in order to provide safe and secure communities for all Canadians.
While the consultation process focused on the thematic areas of housing, education, employment, health, and positive support networks, discussions also took place on issues relating to evidence-based programming that can reduce recidivism, challenges that currently exist in delivering programs to incarcerated people, and the opportunities that can be leveraged to fill gaps in services.
As we continue to consider what we heard, and as we work in partnership on the implementation plan, a set of guiding principles will help shape our work across each of the Framework’s thematic pillars.
We cannot act alone
Therefore Canada will aim to:
- Facilitate linkages with the voluntary sector, including those that are faith-based, to deliver programming both within and beyond the institution; ·
- Promote partnerships with the provinces and territories;
- Provide clear direction and collaboration across government departments and agencies
We need to do things differently
Therefore Canada will aim to:
- Review policy and program instruments as well as internal policies and procedures to identify systemic barriers;
- Evaluate risk assessment instruments and procedures to identify and address any racial and cultural biases;
- Conduct research and promote evidence-based best practices to reduce recidivism;
- Support pilot projects aimed at reducing recidivism;
- Enhance data collection to augment measurement of the effectiveness of correctional interventions
- Work to establish an integrated system to measure and track recidivism across jurisdictions in Canada
We must be responsive to needs
Therefore Canada will aim to:
- Implement approaches that speak to the unique needs of marginalized groups who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, including Indigenous people and Black Canadians;
- Assess the unique needs of gender diverse offenders to best support their unique needs and apply a trauma-informed approach
- Integrate the needs of victims; and·
- Promote communications and awareness activities to reduce stigma
The new Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism is the first of its kind, and Canada will take immediate steps to begin its implementation.
The Framework defines the strategic priorities out of which an implementation plan will be developed to direct efforts and resources to address the unique circumstances of offenders exiting the correctional system in order to assist with their successful reintegration into the community following incarceration and to prevent reoffending.
Over the longer term, Canada will continue to work in partnership with provinces and territories, the private sector, and community and voluntary organizations. Building on these networks, Canada will take action so that more offenders will be able to find the assistance they need to meet their basic needs – like assistance finding housing, accessing health care, participating in educational opportunities and seeking employment.
Canada will report back on the concrete actions that were taken under the umbrella of this Framework and the implementation plan in its report back to Parliament in three years.
Reduction of Recidivism Framework Act. Statutes of Canada, c. 18. Canada. Department of Justice. 2021. Web. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/R-4.6/page-1.html
2020 Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview, Section C. Offender Population. Canada. Public Safety Canada. 2022. Web. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ccrso-2020/index-en.aspx#sc
Canada. National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Calls for Justice. 2019. Web. https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Calls_for_Justice.pdf
Sections 81 and 84, federal corrections and the Indigenous Community. Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Statutes of Canada, c. 20. Canada. Department of Justice. 2019. Web. https://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/002/003/002003-0004-en.shtml
Canada. Correctional Service of Canada, Research Branch, Correctional Research Division. Research Brief. Prison Gangs: A Review and Survey of Strategies. Canada. Correctional Service of Canada. 2009. Web. https://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/research/092/b43-eng.pdf
Jean-Pierre Guay, PhD. Corrections Research: User Report. Predicting Recidivism with Street Gang Members. [Quebec, Canada] [Public Safety Canada], 2012. Web. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/2012-02-prsgm/index-en.aspx
Ex-prisoner helps forge new path for others at risk of homelessness. National Housing Strategy, 2021. https://www.placetocallhome.ca/en/stories/083-from-prison-to-homelessness-ending-a-perilous-trajectory.
Curt T. Griffiths, PhD. Yvon Dandurand, Danielle Murdoch. Research Report 2007-02. The Social Reintegration of Offenders and Crime Prevention. [Ottawa, ON] [National Crime Prevention Centre], 2007. Web. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/scl-rntgrtn/index-en.aspx
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