Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
Correctional Service Canada—Reintegration of Women Offenders
14 May 2003
Assistant Auditor General
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to meet with the Committee to discuss our April 2003 Report chapter on Correctional Service Canada and its reintegration of women offenders into the community. With me today are Ron Wolchuk, Principal, and Jocelyne Therrien, Director, who were responsible for this audit, which we conducted as a result of a recommendation by the subcommittee of the Justice and Human Rights.
Correctional Service Canada has accomplished a great deal in changing how women are incarcerated and rehabilitated, particularly by closing down the Kingston Prison for Women and replacing it with five facilities across Canada. Since 1994, the Service has developed many rehabilitation programs and modified others to better meet the needs of women offenders. But it needs to make some improvements in delivering programs and services to women while they are incarcerated and while they are supervised in the community.
In the institution
The Service has not sufficiently tested the tools it uses in the initial assessment of women offenders—a critical first step in their reintegration that determines the level of risk they present and identifies the programs they will need in their rehabilitation.
The Service has not provided the necessary evidence of the tools' inter-rater reliability—that is, evidence indicating that different parole officers using them would assess the same offender similarly.
And one of the most important tools, the Custody Rating Scale, requires more validity testing to ensure that it is the most appropriate tool for women.
Another of our concerns is that although employment is an essential part of effective reintegration, women offenders have little access to meaningful work opportunities and employment programs while they are incarcerated.
Work releases and temporary absences help prepare offenders for release by affording them the opportunity to maintain positive contacts in the community. But the use of these releases varied widely among women's institutions, from some use to very little. The Service should also do more to facilitate the increased use of special provisions available by law for the care, custody, and parole of Aboriginal women offenders.
In the community
Despite the efforts of community parole officers and the fact that women are generally receptive to the assistance provided to them, a high percentage of paroles are suspended. Parole officers have identified some things Correctional Service could provide to help keep these women in the community:
- better access to substance abuse programs and to mental health services;
- temporary facilities as an alternative to sending suspended offenders back to the institution;
- suitable accommodation especially in communities where a half-way house for women is not available.
Access to the right program or service in the community at the right time could help reduce parole suspensions and increase the efficiency of parole officers. What is more important, the potential for individual rehabilitation would improve significantly. The Service needs to set priorities for programs and services to paroled women offenders, dedicate the necessary funds, and measure the results.
In conclusion, Correctional Service Canada has greatly improved conditions for women offenders over the last 13 years, and we are encouraged by its commitment to continue improving.
The Committee might wish to consider asking Correctional Service these questions:
- How will it provide assurance that its assessment tools are reliable?
- How will it better test the validity of the Custody Rating Scale to assess women offenders?
- How does it plan to better prepare women offenders for future employment?
- What specific steps will it take to give offenders better access to appropriate programs and services in the community?
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions.