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1996 May Report of the Auditor General of Canada

Assistant Auditor General: Maria Barrados
Responsible Auditor: David Brittain

Main Points

10.1 Part of the mandate of Correctional Service is to rehabilitate offenders in its care. Since most of the 14,000 offenders currently incarcerated in federal penitentiaries will eventually be released to the community, many argue that this role is the most important part of the Service's mandate. It is particularly important when one considers that, historically, 28 percent of released offenders committed new offences after release.

10.2 Correctional Service spends approximately seven percent of its $1 billion annual budget on programs targeted at factors that contribute to criminal behaviour. Traditional programs, such as education, vocational training and prison industries, focus on employability. Since 1988, intervention programs have been the main focus of the rehabilitation efforts of Correctional Service. These programs focus on factors such as sexual deviancy, substance abuse, and antisocial behaviour. Today, Correctional Service has designed an impressive series of intervention programs, some of which have received international recognition.

10.3 We noted weaknesses in the management of the $34 million spent on intervention programs. The Service spends a disproportionate amount of its intervention program resources on two contracts without any assurance that the right offenders are being treated or any analysis indicating that the results being achieved justify their cost. For instance, 17 percent of the expenditure on sex offender programs is spent to treat 20 offenders, while the remaining 83 percent is spent on 1,800 offenders. For substance abuse programs, 16 percent of the expenditure is spent to treat 100 offenders, while the remaining 84 percent is spent on 5,000 offenders. Another weakness is that the Service has not fully established a continuum of programs to properly support offenders in their transition from the institution to the community. The Service is currently able to meet only 65 percent of demand for relapse prevention programs for sex offenders in the community.

10.4 There are also weaknesses in the management of the Service's traditional programs. CORCAN (the prison industry operation) is the Service's most expensive rehabilitation program, using more than $100 million in the past four years. CORCAN jobs cost $13,000 per full-time job in 1994-95, while basic education and vocational training cost about $7,500 per full-time student. Furthermore, half of the offenders assigned to CORCAN did not necessarily need the skills being offered. Another concern is that over 95 percent of the Service's employability resources are focussed in the institutions, leaving very little to help offenders get a job once they return to the community. The Service does not have a coherent strategy to deal with offender employability. It cannot make the necessary trade-offs for resource allocation.

10.5 Correctional Service is committed to reintegration and has been successful in developing a wide range of intervention programs. However, there is a lack of attention by senior managers to determining the best match of resources to their overall objective of safe reintegration. To achieve this balance, the Service will require better information on the cost and benefits of its rehabilitation programs. Without such information, the Service lacks the capability to strategically reassess and reallocate its investment in rehabilitation programs.


Correctional Service has two jobs - incarceration and rehabilitation
10.6 At any one time, approximately 14,000 offenders are incarcerated in federal penitentiaries. Most will eventually be released to the community, either on parole or statutory release, prior to serving their full sentence or at the end of their sentence. Because virtually all offenders will ultimately be released, the impact of Correctional Service on offenders extends beyond incarceration ( see Exhibit 10.1 ).

10.7 Part of the Service's mandate is to rehabilitate the offenders in its care. To meet this objective, the Service:

  • assesses offenders when they enter an institution to identify the "criminogenic" factors that have led to their criminal behaviour;
  • assigns offenders to programs based on these assessments;
  • assesses whether participating in rehabilitation programs has contributed to reducing the risk that an offender will commit another offence after release;
  • makes recommendations to the National Parole Board on the release of an offender to the community; and
  • provides supervision, further assessment and programs in the community until the end of the sentence.
Changing offenders' behaviour has been a goal of corrections for a long time
10.8 From the earliest days of corrections in Canada, changing the behaviour of offenders has been a goal. Before Kingston Penitentiary was opened in 1835, it was thought that removing individuals from the "evil influences" that led them to crime and subjecting them to hard work would not only punish them but contribute to reforming them as well. Over the years, the debate over the role of penitentiaries has continued, as has the debate over the efficacy of rehabilitation.

10.9 By the 1980s, the rehabilitation programs of the Service consisted mainly of education and vocational training as well as prison industry jobs. Those efforts were supplemented by inmate self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and some locally developed programs, such as sex offender treatment programs, which began at the Regional Psychiatric Centres in the Ontario and Pacific Regions in the 1970s. At the time, Correctional Service saw its role as providing rehabilitation opportunities to offenders, who could take advantage of them if they wished.

The Service significantly changed its approach to rehabilitation in the late 1980s
10.10 Starting in 1988, Correctional Service fundamentally changed its approach to rehabilitation programs by implementing what it terms an "active interventionist" approach. In 1991, it enunciated four guiding principles on which the approach is based:

  • Addressing the problems that have led to criminal behaviour is essential to reducing recidivism.
  • The environment within the institution must be conducive to changing an offender's behaviour.
  • The attitude, values and skills of staff are important elements of the Service's effort to change an offender's behaviour.
  • Correctional Service must have an organized approach to providing rehabilitation programs.
10.11 The Service has implemented a number of programs intended to deal with criminogenic factors, that is, those factors that research indicates relate to criminal behaviour ( see Exhibit 10.2 ).

10.12 In 1994-95, out of a departmental budget of approximately $1 billion, Correctional Service spent $75 million, or seven percent, on programs that deal with criminogenic factors. A list of these programs and their estimated cost is shown in Exhibit 10.3 .

10.13 In 1994-95, the Service began devolving operational responsibility for programs from national and regional headquarters to local management. As a result, national headquarters is responsible primarily for developing and implementing new programs, carrying out program-related research, and allocating funds to the regions. Regions are responsible for allocating their program resources and for training instructors. Institutions and parole offices are responsible for providing programs and for selecting instructors. This devolution of authority is still in process. In some regions, roles and responsibilities of the various players have not yet been fully developed. The Service has implemented a resourcing model designed to redress historical funding imbalances between regions.

10.14 Programs may be delivered in either the institution or the community. Programs in the institution are aimed at reducing the risk posed by an offender to a level that will make him suitable for release. Programs in the community are intended to build upon gains that offenders have made in institutional programs. Community programs also need to deal with risks specifically associated with being in the community - for example, by supporting a sex offender in his efforts to avoid relapse. In 1994-95, the education and CORCAN (prison industry) programs were delivered almost exclusively in the institution. As well, three quarters of the money spent on other programs (such as sex offender and substance abuse programs) was spent in institutions, and one quarter was spent in the community.

10.15 In an institution, an offender's day is ruled by the routine of the institution (see Exhibit 10.4 ). On an average weekday, an offender has approximately six hours during which he might take part in activities.

Offenders can be involved in programs, education, institutional employment (working in the kitchen, institutional maintenance or cleaning), vocational training and CORCAN. There are also offenders who, for a variety of reasons, are unemployed.

Rehabilitating offenders is a difficult task, made more difficult by the environment of correctional institutions
10.16 Correctional Service's rehabilitation programs aim to reduce criminal behaviour by dealing with the factors that have led offenders to commit their crimes. Changing behaviour is a difficult task in itself, which is made more difficult by other factors:

  • By the time individuals are admitted into a federal penitentiary, they have often developed problems that make them highly resistant to change.
  • The sterile and artificial nature of the penitentiary environment does not necessarily support efforts to rehabilitate. Added to this is the pressure of living in close confinement with other offenders. As well, correctional officers (guards) are less supportive of rehabilitation than are other groups within the Service (as indicated in the Correctional Service staff survey). This lack of support can take the form of not co-operating with those involved in programs and failing to reinforce positive behaviours taught in Correctional Service programs.
  • According to Correctional Service studies, the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in penitentiaries may reduce the impact of its substance abuse programs.
10.17 The Service has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to address some of these issues. For instance, it attempts to encourage program participation through inmate pay. The pay scale is intended to reward offenders who are complying with their correctional plans. The service is examining whether the current scale sufficiently supports its program efforts. It is also attempting to reduce the presence of alcohol and drugs in institutions through a national drug strategy.

10.18 Complicating decision making in institutions are other pressures that often conflict with the goals of rehabilitation programs. For example:

  • Programs are useful as a way of keeping offenders busy in the institution. This is particularly true of programs that can be provided to a large number of offenders over a long period of time (for example, education, vocational training and CORCAN). As a result, there is pressure to accept as many offenders as possible in these programs, regardless of whether they have criminogenic needs that the programs are designed to meet.
  • Although CORCAN's main purpose is essentially rehabilitative, there is pressure to be efficient to meet its objective of breaking even. This can lead to selecting offenders with needed job skills to participate in the program rather than those who most need the skills being taught. This is discussed further in paragraph 10.48.
  • Programs are often given to an offender only to increase the likelihood of parole. For instance, many low-risk offenders are seen as suitable for rehabilitation programs in the community. However, the Service will frequently register those offenders for institutional programs in order to facilitate their application for parole with the National Parole Board. This practice leads to an overprescription of institutional programs, and ultimately to long waiting lists.
10.19 The Service has put a lot of effort into developing its rehabilitation programs, some of which have an excellent reputation. Research indicates that rehabilitation programs can be effective; however, it is essential that they be run well. As the Service has limited resources to devote to programs, it must make choices wisely. For example, it needs to be very clear about whom to treat. Should it take the worst offenders (such as those most likely to reoffend violently) and focus its efforts on minimizing the risk that they will reoffend? Or should it take the offenders who are most likely to benefit from programs, regardless of risk, and focus on them? Or should it expose as many offenders as possible to as many programs as possible and hope for the best?

Observations and Recommendations

10.20 The audit examined the value of the $34 million spent on the Service's new program thrust, which is focussed on changing inmate behaviour (addressing six of the seven criminogenic factors identified in Exhibit 10.2 ). Here we tried to determine if the Service had a clear set of guidelines on who was eligible for programs; an integrated, cost-effective set of programs; information on costs and results; and a framework for assessing programs and reallocating resources.

10.21 Second, we looked at the $41 million spent on the traditional programs of CORCAN, education and vocational training, which are focussed on employability skills - academic, interpersonal and teamwork. These programs have been in existence for a long time and, essentially, were once the Service's rehabilitation efforts. Here we tried to determine if the Service had a clear strategy for dealing with employability, and if it had a mechanism for allocating its resources among the various components. Additional details about the audit are presented at the end of the chapter.

Intervention Programs

10.22 As noted earlier, Correctional Service dramatically changed its approach to rehabilitation in the late 1980s. The main thrust of its new approach, as specified in the Correctional Strategy, was the decision to concentrate its limited resources on programs that the research literature indicated had the most potential for reducing recidivism. This involved developing programs aimed at those offender characteristics related to criminal behaviour - such as treatment for sex offenders, substance abuse programs, family violence initiatives, and living skills programs. These programs are mainly delivered within the institutions; some continue after the offender has been released into the community. Some intervention programs attempt to influence attitudes and behaviour indirectly by conveying information; others try to change behaviour directly. Some of the key programs are described below.

10.23 Sex offender treatment. A variety of sex offender programs are offered in 27 institutions. They range from intensive (for example, a one-year residential program in a psychiatric centre) to intermediate (for example, a five-month program offered within a regular institution by a psychologist) to low-intensity programs. The latter are typically "relapse prevention" programs, which are offered in minimum security institutions and prepare offenders for their eventual release by both teaching them to recognize the factors that led to their offence and helping them to develop the skills to manage those factors. Community-based relapse prevention programs are also available and are important in maintaining gains. In 1994-95 Correctional Service spent $10 million to treat approximately 1,800 sex offenders. See Exhibit 10.5 for the evolution of sex offender treatment.

10.24 Substance abuse. A variety of programs are available, but there are two key nationally developed programs. One is called the Offender Substance Abuse Pre-Release Program. It consists of 26 sessions, each three hours long, and is given in an institutional setting. It is designed to be followed by the second program, called Choices, which is delivered in the community. Choices has five six-hour sessions followed by weekly maintenance sessions for three months. Both programs are seen by the Service to be appropriate for offenders with moderate substance abuse problems. There is also a national education program for offenders with low-level substance abuse problems. Finally, there are some locally developed programs in the various institutions, based on different philosophies of substance abuse treatment. In 1994-95 Correctional Service spent $7 million on all substance abuse programs to treat approximately 5,000 offenders.

10.25 Living skills. The living skills initiative consists of a series of programs, the key component of which is called Cognitive Skills. It is a five-year-old program designed to change the anti-social thinking that led offenders to criminal behaviour. This program involves 36 two-hour sessions. There also is an Anger and Emotions Management program component, which has recently been developed to teach offenders to manage harmful emotions and to deal with high-risk anger situations. In 1994-95 Correctional Service spent $4 million to treat approximately 6,000 offenders in the living skills field.

10.26 Family violence. In 1995 Correctional Service estimated that at least 33 percent of the offender population had indications of family violence in their background. To deal with the issue of family violence among this group, the Service has given priority to developing new programs, some within the institutions and others in the community. In 1994-95 the Service spent approximately $1.9 million to treat approximately 500 offenders.

Wide variation exists in the costs and methods used to treat offenders who pose a similar risk of reoffending
10.27 The Service's treatment of sex offenders varies considerably from region to region. For example, a high-risk sex offender may undergo a year-long residential program in a psychiatric facility in one region, while in another region an equally high-risk sex offender will receive a six-month, non-residential program. A second problem with sex offender programs is that the costs vary widely for a given level of risk. For example, in some moderate-intensity programs it costs $2,000 to treat an offender, while in other similar programs it costs up to $7,000 per offender. Similar cost discrepancies can be found in both high- and low-intensity treatment. Given the wide variation in length, approach and, ultimately, cost, the Service needs to concentrate its effort on those sex offender treatment programs that are most cost-effective.

10.28 Another anomaly in sex offender programs is the disproportionate amount of resources spent on a few offenders, without any assurance that they are the right offenders and that the program is achieving its intended results. Seventeen percent ($1.7 million) of the Service's total sex offender program budget is used in one region, on a contract to treat up to 20 sex offenders per year. The remaining 83 percent ($8.3 million) of the sex offender program budget is used to treat 1,800 sex offenders per year.

10.29 The same type of problem exists with substance abuse programs, where a disproportionate amount of resources is spent in one region on a contract to treat a small group of 100 offenders who need substance abuse treatment. The cost of treating these offenders ($1.1 million) represents 16 percent of the total expenditures for substance abuse. The remaining 5,000 offenders receive only $5.9 million for treatment.

10.30 Correctional Service has greatly expanded its knowledge and expertise since these contracts were initiated in the 1980s. Since that time, the Service has also developed a significant array of programs designed to address similar types of criminogenic needs. However, to date it has not determined whether the contracts are cost-effective in relation to alternative programs within the Service.

The Service has not consistently ensured continuity between institutional and community programs
10.31 To reduce the risk to the community, appropriate treatment or assistance for offenders must continue to be available in the community after they have been released. This is critical to reducing recidivism because, upon return to the community, offenders are once again confronted with those factors that initially led to their criminal conviction. The goal is for offenders to use skills taught within the institution to deal with "hazardous" situations in the community. One example of such treatment is called "relapse prevention", which is a recognized approach to treating sex offenders and substance abusers.

10.32 Despite the fact that relapse prevention for sex offenders in the community is a highly effective risk-management tool, there is an estimated shortfall in this "maintenance" treatment available in the community. Currently, 35 percent (or approximately 400 released offenders) are not receiving relapse prevention treatment. Furthermore, this shortfall is most pronounced in the two regions with the largest proportion of sex offenders.

10.33 We also noted that a continuum of programs for family violence is lacking. In 1990, approximately $9 million was allocated to Correctional Service for use over four years to develop and implement family violence programs. Since that time, this initiative has gone from an experimental to an official program. However, ensuring that offenders are properly identified and receive intervention programs for family violence has been a difficult task. Of a sample of 80 offenders now in the community who were identified in 1995 as needing family violence programs, we found that only a few had participated in suitable programs in the institution and none in the community. In fact, nothing in the files on most of these offenders indicated that their parole officers knew that family violence was an issue.

10.34 A comparison of expenditures on family violence programs shows considerable differences in the amount of money that different regions spend on providing a continuum of family violence treatment from institution to community. For example, while most regions spend the majority of their funds in the community, the Quebec region invests only 19 percent in the community ( see Exhibit 10.6 ).

10.35 Another problem with continuity of programs is in the design of programs delivered in the community. Programs originally developed for institutions are difficult to deliver effectively in the community because their structure reflects the artificial environment in institutions. However, we found that most programs delivered in the community were essentially duplicates of those offered in the institutions, rather than designed as a "booster/follow-up" program to be delivered in the community. We did note, however, that the Service has recently developed a Cognitive Skills booster, although this program is still not available nationally.

Recruitment and support of program instructors require further emphasis
10.36 The Service has established standard training programs and selection criteria for instructors in nationally designed programs. The Service believes that selecting the right people (those who best meet the selection criteria) will ensure that it will have instructors with the skills to influence offenders. Correctional Service then trains the instructors in the subject matter they will be required to teach. However, each region has adopted a different salary classification range for instructors, resulting in a wide discrepancy in salaries. Correctional Service has not fully considered the implications of this inconsistency on its rehabilitation programs.

10.37 As well, we noted that instructors receive limited support for their classroom work. Assessment is done by national or regional instructors who review videotapes of delivered sessions. Although Correctional Service is decentralizing this function, more ongoing support is necessary, given the difficulty of changing the behaviour of offenders in the correctional setting.

The management of intervention programs requires greater attention
10.38 The Service's ability to intervene and change criminal behaviour has grown tremendously in the last 10 years. It developed a conceptual model based on research literature and many elements of this model are now in place. However, we concluded that there is no management framework for intervention programs that would enable senior management to reassess and strategically reallocate funds in order to reduce risk. Without this management framework, the Service does not know if it is making the best use of its funds, in keeping with its overall objective of safe reintegration. This lack of a framework is illustrated by our audit findings:

  • different treatment approaches for offenders with similar risk profiles;
  • expensive programs conducted for small groups of offenders without knowledge of their cost effectiveness and results when compared with other Correctional Service programs; and
  • an incomplete array of programs to manage the transition of the offender from institution to community.
10.39 Correctional Service should ensure, in keeping with the principles in its Correctional Strategy, that its resource allocation is based on cost and sound information on the benefits of its programs, both among similar types of programs and across all rehabilitation programs.

Correctional Service's response: We agree with this recommendation. Over the past seven years, we achieved an enormous growth in the variety and volume of programs. We did so by launching new programs in institutions that volunteered to be the front runners or where external sources of expertise were most available. As a result, some institutions advanced more than others.

We have begun the necessary rationalization of resources. At the macro level, a resourcing formula has been in place for a couple of years. We have also begun a program-by-program review to ensure that delivery can be made regardless of location. The first programs subject to this review have been cognitive living skills, moderate-intensity substance abuse, and relapse prevention for sex offenders.

Employability Programs

10.40 Research indicates that offenders who find good jobs upon release are less likely to be reincarcerated. In a recent study, the Conference Board of Canada identified employability skills as key to success in the Canadian work force: academic skills (communication, thinking, learning), personal management skills (attitudes, behaviours, responsibility, adaptability) and teamwork skills. To help offenders acquire these skills, the Service has education, vocational programs and CORCAN. The latter is a special operating agency that provides jobs to offenders in prison, in a setting that is intended to model a real work situation. In addition, the Service has limited employment counselling and job placement services in the community. The cost associated with these programs varies significantly. As we have noted earlier, these programs face contradictory pressures. The emphasis on rehabilitation can be at odds with the need to keep offenders busy and, in the case of CORCAN, the pressures of trying to run an efficient and financially viable operation.

10.41 We expected that management would have reviewed these various programs and determined whether they formed a coherent national strategy designed to deal with offender employability. We considered this review particularly important given that governments are eliminating their employment programs for offenders in the community.


10.42 Offender employment within the federal prison system dates back to the 19th century. In the early years, the purpose of prison employment was to reduce idleness among offenders. By 1960, Correctional Service began focussing on the potential of prison employment as a rehabilitation activity.

10.43 In 1981 Correctional Service created a national prison industry. The trademark CORCAN was used to identify goods and services produced using inmate labour. CORCAN was made a special operating agency in 1992. It operates farms and workshops in 33 of the Service's 43 prisons and uses inmate labour to produce goods and services for sale to Correctional Service and other federal departments and public agencies. Products and services include agricultural commodities, construction, garments, office furniture and data entry. When it became a special operating agency, CORCAN was given the authority to enter into joint ventures and marketing arrangements with the private sector.

10.44 In addition to revenue from the sale of goods and services, CORCAN receives an annual training and corrections fee from Correctional Service ( see Exhibit 10.7 ). This fee, $16.6 million in 1994-95, is intended to offset the cost associated with training offenders and compensate CORCAN for operating within a prison setting. When CORCAN was made a special operating agency, it also obtained access to a $45 million revolving fund to provide working capital and investment funds to assist in an expansion of its rehabilitation mandate.

10.45 According to CORCAN's 1992 special operating agency charter, the agency is to:

  • offer offenders work-related training and work experience in accordance with needs identified in their correctional plans; and
  • provide a wide range of employment-related services in the community to help released offenders to re-enter the labour market and reintegrate into society.
In addition to the training and corrections goals, the new mandate set out these objectives:

  • increase offender participation in CORCAN; and
  • be financially self-sustainable.
CORCAN is not meeting its training and corrections goals
10.46 CORCAN has been unable to meet its expanded goals since becoming a special operating agency with a revolving fund in 1992. It has not performed as expected in areas related to its rehabilitation and corrections mandate: the number of training jobs it provides to offenders; targeting offenders who lack employability skills; and providing employment-related services to help released offenders reintegrate into the community.

10.47 For example, employment of offenders at CORCAN has remained relatively constant at approximately 1,700 full-time jobs. This number had been forecast to increase to 2,000 by 1995-96.

10.48 CORCAN's mandate is to provide offenders with training and employment in accordance with employability needs identified in their correctional plan. These needs are identified during the offender intake process, at which time a correctional plan is prepared. At five institutions we examined a sample of offenders assigned by the Service to work at CORCAN. We found that, in the majority of cases, neither the files nor, more specifically, the correctional plan indicated that the offenders needed the training in employability skills provided by CORCAN. Furthermore, we found that nearly half the offenders in our sample had had a good employment history before being imprisoned, or that they had either held consecutive CORCAN jobs over a number of years or were working with CORCAN in areas where they already had job experience.

10.49 CORCAN has a mandate to provide a wide range of employment-related services to assist offenders being released or living in the community. These services are to range from job search and counselling to community-based employment projects and workshops. Currently, CORCAN offers these services to offenders in only 12 locations across the country. It spent $1.6 million on these projects in 1994-95, half of it in one region.

CORCAN is not meeting its goal of self-sustainability
10.50 In the three years ending 31 March 1995, CORCAN had net operating losses of $7.3 million. Further losses of up to $2 million are forecast by CORCAN for 1995-96. In particular, CORCAN's Industries (manufacturing) business line has sustained significant operating losses each year. As a result, CORCAN has been drawing down its revolving fund more quickly than was originally expected. The $45 million revolving fund was expected to have a balance of only $7-10 million at 31 March 1996.

10.51 The reasons for this poor financial performance are varied and require management's attention:

  • In order to maintain offender employment levels, CORCAN operates 14 manufacturing facilities despite low demand for some of their products. Furthermore, work in a prison setting entails a high supervisor/offender ratio and, in some cases, low offender productivity.
  • CORCAN has experienced declining demand in the traditional federal government market for office furniture. To date, the introduction of new products and services has been insufficient to address these operating losses. Thus, CORCAN remains reliant on the Service for the majority of its operating revenue.
  • A 1974 Cabinet decision, which was reaffirmed by the Treasury Board ministers in 1995, encouraged federal departments to purchase from CORCAN when appropriate. CORCAN stated that the response has been lukewarm.
  • There are costs that are not directly attributable to units of sales. These costs are high relative to sales - $10 million on $30 million sales in 1994-95 - and overall operating margins are insufficient to cover them.

Vocational Training

The Service needs to assess the potential of vocational training to meet employability needs
10.52 Correctional Service spends approximately $5.2 million per year on vocational programs. According to its latest figures, 3,572 offenders were registered in vocational programs in 1994-95, which is the equivalent of 728 full-time student positions, at a unit cost of approximately $7,200 each. Seventy-two percent of these students successfully completed their course of study.

10.53 Traditionally, Correctional Service has offered a wide range of vocational training programs in its institutions. These include auto mechanics, auto body repair, small engine repair, sheet metal, upholstery, welding and woodworking. Some institutions have eliminated many or all of their vocational programs because of difficulty with certification, the high cost of some programs, the length of time needed for completion (when compared with the average length of stay in an institution for a typical offender), and the difficulty in anticipating which skills the job market will be seeking.

10.54 Although some institutions have cut vocational programs, others have taken the initiative to develop and implement simpler training programs. For example, following an analysis of its vocational programs, one institution developed an inexpensive course using maintenance of the institution to teach inmates custodial/janitorial skills such as equipment maintenance, painting and drywall installation. The course is inexpensive, has a short time frame, and provides inmates with skills that are appropriate to the typical inmate's aptitudes and for entry level into the work force. We have been told that inmates who have completed the course have had some success in finding related jobs. However, ventures such as these have generally remained local. While they appear to be worth further investigation for broader use, there is very limited evaluation carried out within Correctional Service, either at the local or regional/national levels, to determine which vocational programs are the most cost-effective. In some cases, vocational training may have possibilities as an alternative to CORCAN. Its advantage seems to be its lower cost and flexibility to keep pace with changing local circumstances, both inside the institution and in the community.


Education is delivered consistently well across the Service
10.55 In 1994-95, Correctional Service reported that 70 percent of offenders entering institutions tested below Grade 8 and 86 percent below Grade 10. Their average level was Grade 7.4. The Service views low education as a factor related to criminal behaviour. Currently, its policy is to provide all inmates with Grade 10 equivalency. Generally, basic education needs are addressed before proceeding with vocational training or CORCAN jobs. The Service spends about $12.5 million per year on basic education (Grades 8 and 10 programs combined). The approximately 7,000 enrollments per year in Correctional Service schools are equivalent to 1,700 full-time students, at an average cost of about $7,400 per student.

10.56 Offenders can complete up to Grade 12. However, it is not a requirement, and the program relies heavily on self-study by the inmate. Currently, the equivalent of about 771 full-time students are pursuing Grade 12 studies, at a cost of about $7,200 per full-time equivalent or $5.6 million per year. Inmates generally pay for their own post-secondary education, unless it can be demonstrated that the education addresses a specific criminogenic need.

10.57 Correctional Service requires that the education programs delivered in institutions meet provincial accreditation standards. In some cases, the institution or its contractor is accredited as a school, and the principal has the authority to grant grade level accreditation to the students. In other cases, the students write provincially set exams to qualify for the grade level equivalency. A few institutions are in transition from one system to another, but inmates in Correctional Service institutions are generally receiving education that is recognized and valid upon their release.

Strategy for Addressing Offender Employability

Resources used to address employability are not well managed
10.58 There are significant variations in costs among CORCAN, vocational training and education. For example, both education and vocational training are much less expensive per inmate than CORCAN. Furthermore, experience to date indicates that education and vocational training are given to those who need it, whereas half of the offenders in CORCAN shops do not necessarily need the training CORCAN offers.

10.59 CORCAN jobs cost more than other comparable employability training. The cost to Correctional Service for a CORCAN job - based on the training fee of $16.6 million for 1,688 jobs - was $9,800 in 1994-95. This does not include CORCAN's operating loss, which was financed by drawing down the revolving fund. Taking these operating losses into consideration, the cost of a CORCAN job was approximately $13,000 in 1994-95. (CORCAN forecasts a cost per job of approximately $11,000 for 1995-96.) By comparison, vocational training and basic education cost about $7,500 in 1994-95.

10.60 The Service does not have an adequate continuum to assist offenders in their transition from the institution to the community. For instance, we found that there is only limited assistance to help offenders locate and keep a job, once released into the community. As well, employment counselling or job placement services offered by the Service or by other agencies is sporadic. Under fiscal restraint, Human Resources Development Canada is having difficulty maintaining the traditional level and form of assistance for ex-offenders. In addition, the federal government's decision to withdraw from purchasing labour market training may leave a significant void in the range of services to offenders.

10.61 The Service is not able to make the trade-offs necessary to address employability as a criminogenic factor. Correctional Service has the option of spending its resources on any combination of education, vocational training, CORCAN or job search assistance. It needs a framework for making these choices and a process to ensure that they are periodically reassessed. For example, it could change its education policy and raise the education level of offenders to Grade 12. It could put more effort on job search and counselling, or more emphasis on vocational training. It could rationalize those CORCAN operations (both business lines and sites) that are the most expensive.

10.62 The Correctional Service should evaluate the costs and benefits related to its expenditures in CORCAN, education and vocational training to establish clear guidelines on who should be trained and establish which programs are most cost-effective.

Correctional Service's response: We agree. Greater efforts should be made to assess the respective contributions to offender employability of prison industries, education and vocational training. However, they are not necessarily true alternatives since many offenders need adult basic education as a prerequisite for entry into vocational training or prison industry. It should also be noted that most labour market observers argue that adaptability rather than specific job skills is the most important determinant of employability in a rapidly changing economy. Education and actual job experience are more likely to bring this about.

Management of Rehabilitation Programs

10.63 The rehabilitation initiatives of Correctional Service over the past decade represent a significant accomplishment. The Service has put a great deal of effort and resources into improving programs since 1988. Its efforts to reduce recidivism by good rehabilitation programs are laudable.

10.64 Correctional Service has recently shifted responsibility for many aspects of rehabilitation programs to its regions, institutions and parole districts. Each region has established committees (or councils) to plan and develop as well as oversee program delivery. While there is some variation among regions, the committees are responsible for functions such as identifying new program needs and training program instructors. In some regions, the mandates for these committees have not yet been formalized, and the committees are not formally connected to senior regional management. Within institutions there are different organizational structures. The other rehabilitation programs are distinct from CORCAN, with a further separation between the intervention programs and the educational and vocational programs.

10.65 The budget for rehabilitation programs is allocated to the regions under a process that was introduced in 1994 to address the long-standing problem of uneven allocation of resources among regions. The regions have different approaches to funding and delivering programs and do not have control over the entire rehabilitation program budget; the CORCAN budget, for example, is separately controlled. As a result, the management of rehabilitation programs is diffused across a multitude of centres. There is little capacity to manage the diversity of programs from an overall perspective. This contributes to offenders with identical needs at different institutions or in the community receiving different levels of programming.

Better measurement of program costs and effectiveness is needed
10.66 With the Service's decentralized approach to rehabilitation programs, management at all levels needs clear goals, targets and measurement systems that provide results-based information on the extent to which criminogenic needs are being addressed and results achieved. Correctional Service has limited cost information available on its rehabilitation efforts. Recently, the Service has developed a series of independent databases for some activities, such as sex offender programs, institutional programs, community programs and education programs. These databases contain information on costs and participation rates. However, they are difficult to use in an integrated way because they were developed independently for different purposes. An initiative is under way to develop a national performance measurement system for rehabilitation programs. Progress to date has been slow, but plans call for the completion of the framework in 1996.

10.67 In our 1994 Report chapter on the National Parole Board, we indicated that "Board members...often do not know what (if any) benefit ...the offender has received from programs." This information is important both for making release decisions and for prescribing or continuing post-release treatment in the community. According to our discussions with Correctional Service and National Parole Board management and our review of recent Correctional Service investigations, closing the information gap remains a challenge. Without this information, Correctional Service's ability to manage risk is hampered.

10.68 A further concern is the lack of information about the overall effectiveness of many of the rehabilitation programs in contributing to the safe reintegration of offenders into the community. In order to make the best possible release decisions affecting the risk to the public, it is critical to know "what works" and "what does not work" in rehabilitation programs.

10.69 To date, the effectiveness of only a few of the Service's rehabilitation programs has been measured. However, the Service has made progress in this area. We examined three recently completed evaluation studies. In two studies, we concluded that, while there was general merit, the scope and methodology were not sufficient to produce a reliable and comprehensive picture of the programs' effectiveness. In the third study, the Service used a much more rigorous methodology. Although we found some problems with the application of the methodology, we commend the Service for its increased efforts in this area. Given the importance of studies like these in contributing to decisions affecting release to the community, further efforts are required that will increase the scope and rigor of these evaluations. More important, the Service needs to broaden its efforts to include assessing the effectiveness of combinations of programs provided to offenders, as well as the measurement of the relative impacts of different programs targeted at the same criminogenic need.

The Service needs to address the overall management of rehabilitation programs
10.70 As noted earlier, we expected the Service to have a management framework that would allow it to:

  • set a clear policy direction on how rehabilitation goals are to be achieved;
  • establish clear guidelines on who should be treated, and the level of intervention or treatment required;
  • establish an integrated, cost-effective set of programs;
  • monitor the operational performance of the program as well as the results being achieved (at the overall and individual offender levels); and
  • reassess its rehabilitation programs and reallocate resources on the basis of changing needs, priorities and results.
10.71 In our audit we noted that the Service:

  • spends a disproportionate amount of its intervention programs budget on two contracts, without any assurance that the right offenders are being treated or any analysis that indicates that the results being achieved by these services justify their cost;
  • has not established a continuum of programs from the institution to the community to properly support offenders in their transition to the community;
  • spends more money on its traditional employability programs than it does on its newer research-based intervention programs;
  • spends a large amount of its employability resources on CORCAN, which was offered approximately half of the time to offenders with minimal employability needs;
  • lacks an adequate information base to assess and compare the performance of its various programs; and
  • lacks the knowledge of how effective most of its programs are.
10.72 Our observations led us to conclude that Correctional Service lacks the management framework to effectively guide the delivery of rehabilitation programs in accordance with its overall objective of reduced recidivism. We believe that it is now time to strengthen the management of its rehabilitation programs.

10.73 Correctional Service Canada should develop the capability to strategically reassess its rehabilitation program expenditures and reallocate its funds as necessary. The Service should develop performance measures so that management at all levels can truly manage the rehabilitation effort.

Correctional Service's response: The Correctional Service agrees wholeheartedly with this recommendation. It is obviously the goal to be pursued. However, despite our close ties with most of the major prison services in the world, we are not aware of any that have found fully satisfactory ways of evaluating the relative values of programs or that have come up with more powerful performance measures than unit costs and participation rates. This is not an argument for complacency; we are determined to remain in the forefront of this field and, to this end, have launched a number of steps such as a manual on program standards and guidelines, refinements to the financial coding structure, enhancements to the management monitoring system, better program referral criteria, and the establishment of an ongoing national council on correctional programs. The project team charged with this work is due to report in September 1996.

About the Audit


This audit focussed on the activities and services of Correctional Service Canada that address the criminogenic needs of its offender population. Specifically, we looked at the activities related to $75 million of expenditures on education, vocational training, CORCAN, and substance-abuse, sex offender and living skills programs. Excluded from the scope of our examination were the Service's recent initiatives in the area of rehabilitation programs specifically designed for women and aboriginal offenders.


The objective of the audit was to assess how well the rehabilitation process is being managed. Specifically we assessed whether:

  • there is clear policy direction on how rehabilitation goals are to be achieved;
  • there are clear guidelines on who should be treated, and the level of intervention or treatment required;
  • there is an integrated, cost-effective set of programs;
  • there is a process to monitor the operational performance of the program as well as the results being achieved (at the overall and individual offender levels);
  • the Service periodically reassesses its rehabilitation program efforts and reallocates resources on the basis of changing needs, priorities and results.

Audit Team

Tom Beaver
Estelle Charette
Bill Johnson
Chantal Michaud
Marion Smith
Mary Louise Sutherland
Jocelyne Therrien
Frank Vandenhoven

For information, please contact David Brittain, the responsible auditor.