In 2018, Anne Kelly became the ninth commissioner since CSC was established in 1979. She is the second woman commissioner. To mark International Women’s Day, Let’s Talk Express sat down with Commissioner Kelly to talk about her career at the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
A career in corrections
The day after she turned 17, Anne Kelly started her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Ottawa with the goal of going into medicine. She took psychology as an elective and loved it! This prompted a change in career direction. Following her graduation with a Bachelor of Science, she completed the Master’s program in Criminology by the time she was 21. That summer, in 1983, she applied for a job as a Correctional Officer, as CSC was hiring.
”As I was bilingual, the board said ‘Can you come back for an interview for a case management officer (now called parole officer) position?’ I did, and was offered a Parole Officer position on the spot.”
In October 1983, Commissioner Kelly started her career in corrections at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston. She loved the job of parole officer. She was well accepted by her new colleagues and felt like she was making a difference in the lives of the offenders she was working with.
Before she had finished her one-year probation, she was asked to be on a board hiring new parole officers. She was seconded to Regional Headquarters and, between interviews, the Regional Deputy Commissioner’s (RDC) administrative assistant told her the RDC wanted to speak with her.
“At the time, I didn’t have a year under my belt and did not understand the hierarchy of the organization. So I said, ‘Oh, tell him I’m busy. I’m doing interviews.’ I was advised ‘You don’t understand, this is the RDC.’ So I went to see him. His name was Art Trono, who has now passed away. He said, ‘Listen Anne, I don’t know you but I’m hearing good things about you, and I wanted to tell you that I believe you’ll go far in the organization.’ Those words really had an impact on me.”
The RDC was right. Commissioner Kelly worked in many institutions in the Kingston area as parole officer, case management supervisor, and unit manager, including the Prison for Women, Joyceville, and Warkworth, as well as working in the community. She became deputy warden at Mountain Institution in the Pacific Region in 1996. She moved to National Headquarters (NHQ) in 1998 and served in several different roles: Director of Institutional Reintegration Operations, Director General of Offender Programs and Reintegration, and A/Assistant Commissioner, Correctional Operations and Programs. She was appointed as Deputy Commissioner for Women in 2004. Her CSC journey than took her back to B.C. where she was Regional Deputy Commissioner from 2006 to 2011. Five years later, she came back to NHQ in the position of Senior Deputy Commissioner.
Commissioner Kelly delivering a speech at the International Corrections and Prisons Association conference in Montreal in 2018.
“For me, having come up through the ranks helped me gain incredible knowledge of CSC from different perspectives. I have been lucky to work in the institutions, in the community, at regional and national headquarters – and in various roles. Throughout my career, I was mobile and open to different challenges and that really served me well.”
She said her experience in the field influenced the work she did in policy development, programs, and training. For instance, in 1992, when the Corrections and Conditional Release Act came into effect, Commissioner Kelly was part of a small team that developed all of the case management-related Commissioner’s Directives based on the new legislation.
Some Things Have Changed; Some Things Haven’t
“At CSC, we have a motto: ‘Changing Lives, Protecting Canadians.’ Although CSC has had to adapt to changing times and respond to new challenges, this motto remains the foundation of who we are and what we do.”
“The vast majority of offenders will be released under supervision in the community one day and we want them to be better than when they came to us because, in the end, they are potentially going to be our neighbours – mine, yours, a loved-one’s. So, you want to make sure that our communities are safe. That has not changed.”
What has changed is the composition of our workforce, and how we get our work done.
“When I started, in 1983, I was one of a few women working in corrections. Today, approximately half of the staff are women, and are represented in almost every position at CSC. They are frontline workers, such as correctional officers, primary workers, parole officers, and program managers. They are in health services, information technology, human resources, administration, finance, and management roles.
In 1980, Mary Dawson became the first female warden of an all-male prison. Only three years before Commissioner Kelly started working at CSC. Four decades later, having a woman as the head of the entire organization highlights the progress made in gender equity.
The way we do things has also changed. Commissioner Kelly recalled that when she started, all reports and documents were written by hand. There was no delete button and if you made a mistake, you needed to put lines through it. She laughed that some of her reports had arrows pointing to additional information in margins, and pieces of paper attached with notes. The handwritten reports were handed in to be typed and submitted.
Eventually, voice recorders made it easier to document information about offenders. Laptops are now invaluable tools for case management staff working with offenders on the frontline. And computers are essential to the daily functioning and efficiency of the entire organization.
Other significant changes since she become Commissioner include the elimination of segregation and the creation of Structured Intervention Units (SIU) in 2019 and the introduction of Prison Needle Exchange Program and the Overdose Prevention Service. And then, there was the pandemic. Something no one expected and which represented the most significant health challenge that the world has confronted in our lifetime.
Everyone in CSC really stepped up to the plate during this crisis. As an organization, we pulled together and were able to achieve extraordinary results compared to other jurisdictions.
On a personal level, Commissioner Kelly went through a very unexpected major health issue during COVID. She underwent open heart surgery to repair her mitral valve in July 2020.
“It was the pandemic and I certainly didn’t need that on top of it. Because it was in the midst of COVID, I was dropped off at the curb of the hospital. No one was allowed in. You couldn’t have any visitors.”
She was in the hospital for four days and back at work after three weeks. There was work to be done.
What inspires her to come to work?
“I love the Service. I love our mission. I love the people that I work with. I truly, truly believe that we can have a positive influence in people’s lives. And what can be better than that?”
Commissioner Anne Kelly shaking hands with CSC officer at the annual Canadian Police and Peace Officer’s Memorial event.
“It is so important that each employee can see themselves in terms of the role they each play in helping us achieve our mandate. It’s truly a chain effect. We each represent a link that holds the organization together and makes it stronger. We play a crucial role in the safety of Canadians.”
“I’m proud of CSC. I’m proud of our staff. I’m proud of the work we do. I’m proud that there are people like us that find it important to work with the most troubled and challenging members of society. The work we do is important.”
“Although there are times when it may seem that the crucial role CSC plays in contributing to public safety is not fully acknowledged, it is essential to remember that our work is integral to what is most valued in Canadian society: our freedom and our public safety. Canadians depend on us, and indeed expect us, to do our very best to fulfill our mandate by working with offenders to enable them to become law-abiding citizens.”
Commissioner Kelly receiving a gift from Elder Melissa Graber
Commissioner Kelly noted that too often it is the negative incidents that get the attention of our stakeholders or the media.
“It’s challenging. Do we have an incident every day? Yes, we do. But, we also have thousands of positive stories each day. Perspective is important. We cannot forget that we are responsible for around 13,000 offenders in our institutions and approximately 8,500 under supervision in the community. With this number of people in our care and custody, and the complexity that each case presents, unfortunately, incidents will and do happen. What’s important is that we work to manage them effectively and learn from them.”
“No matter what you do—especially if you are interacting with offenders—whether you are a food services officer, teacher, correctional officer, chaplain, nurse, or administrative assistant, you never know when what you say is going to be the turning point in someone’s life, including the offenders’. We should never underestimate the influence we can have, whether it is the advice we provide, a kind word we utter, how we lead by example, or through a story we tell.”