OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(e), the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has the honour to present its
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has considered Chapter 1 of the April 1999 Report of the Auditor General of Canada (Correctional Service Canada – Reintegration of Offenders) and the Committee has agreed to report the following:
Correctional Service Canada (CSS, the Service) is responsible for fulfilling two crucial responsibilities in Canada’s criminal justice system – the incarceration of offenders and their safe reintegration into Canadian society. In recent years the Service’s fulfilment of these responsibilities has been the subject of a series of audits by the Auditor General of Canada. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts has reviewed the results of these audits, and has, in turn, tabled several reports on the subject. These reports and the recommendations contained in them were intended to assist CSC in its efforts to become more efficient and economical while ensuring that offenders are dealt with in ways that better guarantee the safety of Canadians.
In his April 1999 Report, the Auditor General issued the results of an audit that revisited a broad range of the Service’s activities whose collective purpose is the safe reintegration of prisoners. Due to its past involvement in this subject and its continuing interest in safe and effective reintegration, the Committee decided to examine the results of this recent audit. It met, therefore, with Mrs. Maria Barrados, Assistant Auditor General, and Mr. Ron Wolchuk, Principal, Audit Operations Branch, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and Mr. Ole Ingstrup, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, on 25 November 1999.
Correctional Service Canada’s responsibility for reintegrating offenders into society begins on the first day of incarceration and does not end until expiry of sentence. Upon entering the prison system, offenders are assessed (Offender Intake Assessment) to determine the level of risk they pose, the level of security they require, and the right mixture of programs they need to address the factors that led to their criminal behaviour (Correctional Plan). This process of assessment, followed by development of a Correctional Plan and completion of prescribed programs should occur before an offender’s first parole eligibility date. During this phase, which takes place in an institutional setting, the Service must prepare a report for the National Parole Board for use when it determines if an offender should be released on parole. The Service also reassesses offenders on an annual basis to determine if correctional programs are working and if the level of security remains appropriate. For those who have been granted parole, a second phase of the reintegration process takes place in the community. Correctional Service is responsible for monitoring offenders at this critical stage when sentences remain in effect and the potential threat to public safety is at its highest.
Previous audits have revealed shortcomings in every phase of this process. Official documentation needed by the Service to initially assess offenders was routinely late in arriving or absent altogether. Assessments and reassessments frequently resulted in the assignment of offenders to institutions whose level of security did not match the risks they posed. Programs were frequently not completed before offenders reached their first parole eligibility date with the result that many of them were staying in institutions longer than they should have. This in turn hampered reintegration, strained the capacity of the institutions to house offenders, and increased the Service’s costs. Once offenders were released on parole, the Service often did an inadequate job of monitoring them. The level of resources allocated to reintegration by the Service was heavily weighted in favour of the institutional phase with the result that programs delivered in a community setting were inadequate. Communication between Service employees with reintegration responsibilities in the institutions and those outside was poor and between them collectively and CSC management no better. In summary, there was much that needed corrective action before the system could be deemed effective, efficient, economical, and above all, safe.
III. OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In contrast to the results of past audits, recent findings reported in the April 1999 Report of the Auditor General are encouraging. The Service has recognized that major changes are needed to its corporate culture and its processes. It has adopted an ambitious approach aimed at producing improvements in both areas. In February 1999, following the work of a task force on reintegration, three national reviews, and several simultaneous pilot projects, CSC implemented Operation Bypass in all of its regions. Its goals are to reduce duplication of tasks and information, consolidate reports on offenders, and strengthen communication and co-ordination between institutional and community parole officers.
The Service has also taken other, more immediate steps to improve the reintegration process, including:
Strengthening its national headquarters organization, which provides overall direction and co-ordination for changes in the offender reintegration process;
Developing and implementing an evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness of intervention programs. Under a new policy, each rehabilitation program is to have clear objectives, criteria for selecting participants, and a process for evaluating their progress. The Service is setting up panels of experts to accredit programs. Programs will then be re-accredited every five years.
Adopting a more balanced approach to institutional and community programming;
Improving its offender risk assessment tools and processes;
Improving performance information concerning case management activities including an increased capacity to acquire, organize and analyse performance data in a more timely manner; and
Making lessons learned activities and the sharing of best practices an effective part of the Service’s corporate culture.
In its Report and opening statement to the Committee, the Office of the Auditor General expressed its conviction that the Service "has made a concerted effort to respond to many of [the Auditor General’s] previous concerns and observations" (1531) and is "now moving in the right direction" (1.2) as evidenced by the above initiatives.
Despite signs of progress, however, the Auditor General found that Correctional Service Canada has work to do in the following areas:
more timely acquisition of official documents for offender assessment;
more timely casework preparation to meet the offender's first parole date;
a clear operational strategy for offender employment programs;
better-quality offender reintegration reports for the National Parole Board; and
improved adherence to national standards for frequency of contact with offenders in the community.
Although he was pleased with the progress made by his organization and the Auditor General’s largely positive conclusions, the Commissioner of Correctional Service told the Committee that he was "in no way delighted" by the Report’s findings, (1535) and that the good news in the Report "is not enough."(1540) Mr. Ingstrup then indicated his full agreement with the Auditor General’s nine recommendations and committed himself and CSC to take action on all of them. The Commissioner also agreed to make CSC’s action plan developed to address the recommendations available to the Committee (1620) and it awaits the receipt of this document within the near future.
The Committee welcomes the Commissioner’s acceptance of the audit’s findings and recommendations, and his determination to use them to improve the reintegration of offenders. The Committee wishes to assist Correctional Service of Canada in its efforts and, in that spirit, offers several observations and recommendations of its own.
As noted above, it is important that the Service receive relevant documentation when an offender first enters the system. CSC has determined that this set of documents consists of an official version of the offence that was committed (court documents, police report or pre-sentence report), police records detailing the offender’s criminal activity, and a Post-Sentence Community Assessment that covers issues such as the offender’ s employment history, family relations, behavioural problems and victim information.
If these documents are not received on time, the result is a chain reaction that spreads throughout the reintegration process, undermining its effectiveness and potentially exposing society to unnecessary risk. Knowledge, therefore, that approximately one quarter of these documents are not received within the Service’s own 56-day time frame and that "parole officers were completing many Offender Intake Assessments before receiving either the desired police reports or the Post-Sentence Community Assessments (or both)," (1.31) is of considerable concern to the Committee.
The Service has agreed with the Auditor General’s recommendation that it look for ways to improve timeliness of receipt of documents, but has added that it "has no authority to compel" outside agencies to provide information in a timely manner. (1.35) This overlooks the Auditor General’s earlier observation that between July and September 1998, less than 40 percent of the Post-Sentence Community Assessments met the Service’s 30 to 45 day standard for preparation. (1.32) These documents do not come from outside agencies; they come from within the Service itself. The Service needs to make improvements in an area that it – and no one else – is supposed to control. The Committee notes the Commissioner’s determination to assert this control (1615) and recommends:
That Correctional Service develop and implement an action plan to ensure that all Post-Sentence Community Assessments are prepared and received within its standard. This action plan should include the means to be used and a target implementation date, and should be submitted to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts no later than 30 April 2000. Progress in implementing this plan should be reported in the Service’s Performance Reports beginning with the Report for the period ended 31 March 2001.
While the Committee is aware that the Service cannot compel other agencies to provide needed information, it does not believe that this should stand in the way of other measures that are available. Indeed, the Committee observes that in four of its regions, the Service has memoranda of understanding and agreements with provincial governments and municipalities for the timely receipt of documents. (1.33) With this in mind, the Committee recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada make a concerted effort in all of its regions to obtain the co-operation of outside agencies in order to secure the timely receipt of documents required for Offender Intake Assessments and that it report to Parliament on the progress made in this regard in its annual Performance Report beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2001.
Once initial assessments are completed, a Correctional Plan is drawn up. Offenders must complete the rehabilitation programs prescribed by the Plan before date upon which they first become eligible for parole. The Auditor General observes in his Report that "failure to prepare offenders in time for their first parallel eligibility date may adversely affect their chances for safe reintegration." (1.36) He then reports that as of November 1998, 21 percent of incarcerated offenders had not had a National Parole Board hearing and were past their eligibility date for either day parole or full parole. (1.37) While this may be the result of the offender’s own preferences, it may also be the consequence of the Service’s inability to prepare the offender’s case in time.
In his examination of the Service’s case management process, the Auditor General found that CSC often fell short of its own time standards. About one third of offenders with two-to-three-year sentences were not assessed within the CSC’s standard of 56 days. (1.41) In 1996, the Auditor General estimated that on average, low-risk/low-need offenders were prescribed three rehabilitation programs and that 105 days was the shortest time in which these programs could be completed. In 1998, only 60 days were available for completion of this process before the earliest eligibility date. The goal that has been set for Operation Bypass is 106 days for the completion of programs, assessments, and the preparation of reports in time for the National Parole Board’s requirement that it have case documents at least 21 days before a parole hearing. This goal, while ambitious, leaves virtually no room for delay or unforeseen events. Consequently, the Committee recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada redouble its efforts to ensure that a maximum amount of time is available for the effective completion of intake assessments, Correctional Plans, rehabilitation programs, and reports prior to offenders’ earliest parole eligibility dates. The progress achieved by these efforts should be presented in the Service’s Performance Reports, beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2001.
In his Report, the Auditor General also draws attention to the poor quality of the reports prepared by correctional officers for use by the National Parole Board. In 1997, the Service found that of over 3,000 documents it examined, 48 percent to 78 percent met quality standards. (1.116) The Auditor General conducted a test of his own and discovered that 11 percent were poor, a number that increased to 16% when it came to reports on high-risk offenders. (1.118)
On April 22, 1997, when he addressed this Committee, Mr. Ingstrup testified that the Service was "implementing a process in which line staff know what the quality expectations are, and apply them all the time." He went on to tell the Committee that "line supervisors will be expected to review staff work using CSC’s quality standards, and they will have to give immediate, practical, constructive feedback." The Committee is disappointed that these efforts have not resulted in any substantial improvements and recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada provide thorough training to its correctional officers in the preparation of reports submitted to the National Parole Board, that it ensure that its senior staff develop procedures that will ensure the production of reports that meet the standards for quality that both it and the National Parole Board demand. The Service should report on the progress that has been made in this regard in its Performance Reports, beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2001.
There is a general recognition that programs designed to enhance the chances of an offender finding useful employment once he or she leaves a correctional facility is a key to effective reintegration. Although the Auditor General notes several improvements since his last audit, he observes that "little information is available on the cost effectiveness of various types of employment programs," and that "uncertainty remains about the relative priority" of these programs and their role in effective reintegration. (1.77) He goes on to report that the employment needs of offenders are not adequately matched with the programs that are available under CORCAN, a special operating agency within the Service. The Committee strongly believes that meaningful employment is a crucial element in preventing recidivism and that offenders must leave institutions with the right skills to get that kind of employment. The Committee therefore recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada regularly assess the cost effectiveness of its employment programs, that it make adjustments that are indicated as a consequence of that assessment, and that it report both the assessment results and program adjustments to Parliament in its annual Performance Reports, beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2001.
The Committee also recommends:
That, by 15 September 2000, Correctional Service Canada develop and implement a strategy designed to ensure that offenders are provided with employment programs that accurately match their employment needs and that it submit this strategy to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts prior to that date.
Under current arrangements, most offenders are eligible for release prior to the expiry of their sentences. If an offender leaves a correctional institution under these circumstances, he or she serves out the remainder of the sentence in the community and under the supervision of CSC. The Auditor General reports that Service is now devoting more attention to its community supervision responsibilities. However, he indicates that in February 1998, the Service found that it was still having problems in making sure that there was sufficient contact between its personnel and offenders under community supervision. In particular, he noted that the percentage of offenders who were not contacted with the required frequency varied from a low of 11 percent to a high of 38 percent across CSC’s five regions. The Service planned to implement a community workload formula in June 1999. This formula is intended to ensure that community parole officers will have enough time to satisfy the Services standards for contact with offenders under supervision in the community. Parliament and Canadians must have the assurance that offenders are being adequately supervised at this crucial stage and the Committee therefore recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada include data on the results achieved from the use of its new community workload formula in its annual Performance Report beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2000.
The Committee has some pronounced concerns about the efficacy of the Service’s offender risk assessment instruments, as well as their use. In their questioning of Mr. Ingstrup, several Committee members made reference to recent escapes from correctional institutions; it was thought that inadequate assessment tools or improper use of them, or both, were the cause of these incidents.
The Service makes use of the Custody Rating Scale to determine the appropriate institutional security level in which to place an offender. Parole officers have the authority to overrule the results obtained by the CRS and put an offender in a different security level. This process is known as an override and the Committee has expressed concerns in the past that the level of these overrides was excessive. The Service has responded to these concerns by adjusting the CRS in June 1998 to so that 34 percent of offenders would be placed in minimum-security institutions (previously the percentage was set at 15 percent). While this has had the effect of lowering the level of overrides, the Committee questions whether or not this was the right approach to use. Although the Auditor General reports that he found no evidence of a significant increase in the number of escapes as a result, the Committee believes that this possibility requires further investigation. The Committee accordingly recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada closely monitor the number and frequency of escapes among offenders who have been assigned to minimum-security institutions on the basis of assessments derived from its Custody Rating Scale and that it report this information to Parliament in its annual Performance Reports beginning with the Report for the period ending 31 March 2000.
The Committee also takes note that while the Service has tested the scientific basis for its risk assessment instruments, it has not thoroughly tested to determine whether its parole officers will use the instruments in a consistent and predictable way. The Committee firmly believes that this gap in testing needs to be addressed and recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada take immediate steps to test the reliability of its risk assessment instruments in order to determine if they are used by its staff in a consistent and predictable manner.
The Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada has indicated that it intends to correct many of the problems identified by this audit, as well as earlier audits, through its Operation Bypass initiative. This initiative was implemented by the Service in all of its regions in February 1999 and thus it has not been in operation long enough to provide results that the Committee could examine. The Committee believes that Parliament must be in a position to assess the outcomes generated by this initiative against its costs and objectives. The Committee therefore recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada include a detailed discussion of the results achieved by Operation Bypass in its Performance Report for the period ending 31 March 2000. This discussion must link the initiative’s results with its objectives and the costs involved in its design, implementation, and operation. Clear references to those areas in which the initiative is intended to fulfil recommendations made by the Auditor General of Canada must also be included.
Under its Financial Information Strategy (FIS), the government of Canada intends to move to full accrual accounting. This transition, which is to be completed by 2001, should result in better financial information for use by departmental managers in day-to-day decision making. The Committee endorses the Strategy and expects that it will be implemented properly and on time. In keeping, therefore, with the Committee’s belief that the use of financial information generated by the FIS will result in better program design, delivery, and effectiveness, the Committee recommends:
That Correctional Service Canada meet its FIS implementation target, that it ensure that the financial information generated as a result be fully incorporated into every aspect of its planning, program design, and performance measurement and reporting processes, and that it include this information and the outcomes generated by its use in its Performance Reports, beginning with the Report for the period ended 31 March 2001.
In her closing comments to the Committee, Ms. Barrados stated that the Office of the Auditor General of Canada is "pleased at how seriously the Service is taking [the Office’s] audit report and how diligently they are making an effort to act on the issues" raised by the Office. (1705) The Committee, as well, appreciates the Service’s acknowledgement that it has more work to do and its positive reaction to the Auditor General’s Report and recommendations. The Committee expects that its own observations and recommendations will be accorded similar treatment.
Correctional Service of Canada plays a key role in the criminal justice system of Canada. Canadians rely on the Service to rehabilitate offenders and to ensure that when they return to society, it is under circumstances that are safe. The Committee is under no illusions that this is an easy job. However, awareness that this is so points to the absolute necessity that this job be done well at every step of the way. The Committee will watch with great interest as Correctional Service moves to put in place the measures it has promised to see if these measures produce the hoped-for results.
Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this Report.
A copy of the relevant Minutes of Proceedings (Meetings Nos. 6 and 13) are tabled.