How Can We Build A Better Correctional System?


On February 22, 2016, Minister Goodale addressed a Strategic Leadership Symposium of the Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa. The following is a condensed version of those remarks.


Since being appointed as Minister last November, it’s been a steep learning curve.


I am struck by the complexity of what it means to “actively encourage and assist offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control” – as stated in CSC's Mission.


It goes beyond what most people imagine when they think of incarceration, and includes medical interventions, employment programs, psychological support, and managing offenders’ release into the community.


And that is the reality: most offenders will be released back to our communities.


I appreciate everything you do to make a constructive difference in the lives of the 23,000 offenders for whom you are responsible all across the country.


You have a very tough job.


You face challenging situations every day – situations that have immediate implications for the safety of the public, CSC staff and the well-being of the women and men who are entrusted to your care.


Changes in the offender population intensify these challenges.


Indigenous persons represent only about 4% of Canada’s total population, yet they now represent 25% of the federal inmate population. The situation is even more dramatic for Indigenous women, who make up nearly 36% of incarcerated women.


And these trends are not slowing down: the Indigenous inmate population has increased by more than 50% in the past decade compared to just a 10% increase in the total inmate population over the same period.


Moreover, the prevalence of mental illness is increasingly common among inmates of all kinds, and our federal institutions now house some of the largest concentrations of people with mental health conditions in the country.

Is that where they ought to be? Do we have the facilities and resources to deal with them effectively?


When Canadians elected our government last fall, we made it very clear that these two issues—the Indigenous overrepresentation in the incarcerated population and the prevalence of mental health issues—must be addressed.


Prime Minister Trudeau has laid out a clear mandate for change.


Simply put, we cannot turn a blind eye to the gaps in our criminal justice system that ensnare our most vulnerable people.


We are going to be reviewing the changes made to our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade to assess the merit of those changes. We need to make certain that they are actually increasing the safety of our communities, that we are getting value for money and that they are aligned with smart public policy objectives.


We want to see more emphasis on restorative justice and we want to be sure as much as humanly possible to avoid future tragedies like the one that befell Ashley Smith.


We are committed to addressing gaps in services to Indigenous peoples and those with mental illnesses throughout our criminal justice system.


And the Correctional Service of Canada is going to play a major role in helping us meet these crucial objectives.


Together, we will ensure that we not only have the tools to hold guilty parties to account for illegal behaviour, but also to create an environment that fosters rehabilitation so that we have fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims, and ultimately, safer communities.


That will mean re-visiting some of the decisions made in the past. For example, many of my colleagues in Parliament have asked questions about changes to the chaplaincy program, the loss of the farms, programs like CoSA, and the use of segregation. We need to find answers to these questions.


It doesn’t mean we’re going to blindly reverse all the actions taken by the previous government.


But it does mean that we need to make sure that government policies are sound and supported by evidence, not ideology. And that what we’re getting is in the best interests of Canadians.


The past few years have not been easy. Fiscal decisions in particular have meant that public servants have had to do more with less. CSC has been particularly affected.


It speaks to the resilience of your people and your organization that you have maintained positive correctional outcomes overall. I am encouraged to think of what we can accomplish together with a common commitment to positive change.

That commitment includes the Correctional Investigator, who was put in place to ask the hard questions and to shine a light on areas where we need to improve.


I have a great deal of respect for the work and dedication of those who work in that office.


It’s never easy to have the job to tell someone else you don’t like the job they are doing. And on your end, it’s not easy to hear that the system may be struggling in one area or another.


But the relationship between the OCI and CSC is an important one because it serves an important challenge function. It makes us better, stronger, and more effective at what we do. And we are all in this together.


That extends to the many partners, the people and organizations who work with offenders inside institutions and in the community. They play an integral part in supporting offenders in their return to the community, hopefully as contributing and productive members of society.


We must continue to nurture those relationships.


Prime Minister Trudeau has signaled that we are entering a new era in how we conduct ourselves as a government, how we interact with one another, and how we do business.


I know this job can often be tough, challenging and frustrating.


But as the Prime Minister has often said, “This is Canada, and in Canada, better is always possible.” We have to strive for better.


Your ideas, your experience, your expertise, your energy and judgment are essential to accomplishing these shared goals. I look forward to building a better correctional system with you.

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