CSC’s National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (NEAC) met in Ottawa on Thursday, March 10 to discuss recent best practices and success stories that highlight progress made in providing support to ethnocultural offenders across the country.
The NEAC is made up of the Chair and Vice-Chair from each Regional Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (REAC), all of whom are influential members of their communities who come from ethnocultural backgrounds or have experience working in the area of ethnoculturalism. The purpose of this committee is to provide advice to the Commissioner and EXCOM members on how best to address needs of ethnocultural offenders in the institutions or in the community with the goal of achieving positive correctional results. They provide support to incarcerated or community-supervised ethnocultural offenders by:
- Providing advice to the Regional Deputy Commissioners and the Commissioner of CSC on a variety of topics pertaining to the reintegration of ethnocultural offenders
- Assisting institutions in providing specialized cultural activities to staff and offenders
- Addressing offender spiritual needs and advising them on how to make community contacts
- Assisting offenders in preparing for their parole
- Mentoring offenders upon their return to the community
- Helping offenders find jobs or a place to stay.
Offender employment was a key discussion topic at the meeting as members shared recent success stories and new ideas for helping offenders find work in the community. Spencer Colley, a NEAC member from the Atlantic Region, informed the group of his plans to hire local offenders to build homes on the 68 acres of land he is developing. He is currently working with government agencies to secure support and funding for this opportunity that he says will make a difference in his community.
“Providing offenders with the chance to learn new skills and be employed is one way for the community to help these offenders reintegrate and to show that they care about them. I hope that my vision comes to be,” says Mr. Colley.
As well, the benefits of a recent pilot project aimed at enhancing supports for ethnocultural offenders in the Prairie Region were shared and discussed with the group. The Ethnocultural Liaison Officer (ELO) Pilot Project ran from October 2015 until
March 31, 2016 with the primary role of the ELO being to enhance reintegration opportunities for ethnocultural offenders on parole or nearing parole by identifying their specific needs and connecting them to community ethnocultural resources, particularly for housing and employment.
Fitzgerald Yaw has worked as a casual ELO at the Edmonton Parole Office throughout the course of this project. He has helped offenders by providing them with information and resources about seeking and securing employment, adjusting to the Canadian labour market, and facing issues around possible deportation, something that many offenders face once finished their sentence.
“As offenders, these individuals are already facing challenges in finding employment. Add the fact that they are visible minorities, and they are at an even higher disadvantage. This is a serious issue and this project has allowed us to fill the gaps in support that these offenders otherwise may have fallen into” says Mr. Yaw.
Mr. Yaw highlights one particular success story that shows just how effective an ELO can be. He began working with an offender on statutory release with special conditions and also under a deportation order. His immediate needs were to find a job, secure the services of an immigration lawyer, and obtain educational upgrading (High School equivalency). The offender was overwhelmed and frustrated by the complex process that he had to navigate. Mr. Yaw worked with him over the course of six months, guiding him toward the proper resources and support systems, and seeking potential employment for the offender. Today, the offender is working for a local moving company and saving money to pay for an immigration lawyer.
The meeting hit an emotional note as well when the group took a few moments to honour their late friend and colleague, Marcel Kabundi, who passed away in November 2015. Marcel began his career at CSC at Leclerc Institution in Quebec where he made a tremendous contribution. It was there that Marcel began to notice the specific needs of ethnically diverse offenders. He quickly demonstrated his capacity as a leader and the Ethnocultural program began to take shape within CSC.
Under Marcel’s leadership, the CSC policy on Ethnocultural Offenders, Commissioner’s Directive (CD) 767, was developed. His leadership brought together a variety of community partners and stakeholders from across Canada to liaise, inform, engage, collaborate, and advise CSC on issues pertaining to the incarceration and reintegration needs of ethnocultural offenders. This led to the establishment of National and Regional Ethnocultural Advisory Committees (NEAC and REAC), which continue to provide valued advice to CSC. The group created a commemorative plaque in Marcel’s memory, which was given to Marcel’s family, and reflected on his commitment and dedication to making a difference in the lives of ethnocultural offenders.