Safe and humane custody and assisting in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into the community are the fundamentals of Canada’s correctional system. Last year, that principle was front and center during a collaborative initiative between CSC and the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS).
Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2014 with “the goal of engaging in cooperative activities in the field of corrections,” the partnership between CSC and BDCS has grown. In 2017, CSC completed a preliminary review of the BDCS’ correctional interventions process and practices. Four areas where training and technical assistance could be facilitated by CSC were identified:
- delivery of Parole Officer Induction Training (POIT);
- development of an offender Risk Assessment Tool similar to those administered by CSC;
- delivery of an initial Integrated Correctional Program Model (ICPM) training session; and,
- development of a basic offender management system.
Nine CSC staff members travelled to the archipelago for this initiative. The long term scope of this collaborative project is to assist BDCS in the development of comprehensive intake measures, identifying each offender’s individual needs, and developing correctional programs targeted for rehabilitation and re-entry into society at the end of their sentence, if applicable. Gearing corrections to meet specific needs, such as substance misuse, mental illness, or poor education increases the chances of rehabilitation and ultimately boosts the guiding principles of public safety.
The initiative was an all-around success. As Parole Officer Heather Finn of the Atlantic region recalls, “To watch the class move from questions on the first day like ‘what is parole,’ ‘how do parole officers make a difference,’ to completing comprehensive risk assessments and risk-based decisions that were on par with the experienced parole officers in Canada was an incredible progression to witness. The people of the Bahamas are highly educated and they instinctively know that their system can be improved. When presented with some of the tools and research we use at CSC, I think it helped close the gap between their system as it is today and the system they want to see in the future.”
Leslie Ottenhof, Manager of Assessment and Interventions of the Ontario region agrees, stating that she was most impressed by “the staff’s professionalism, overwhelming interest in our program, and their willingness to explore a different approach to corrections [which] was very refreshing and encouraging. Their current system is more punitive than rehabilitative, so a shift in thinking is occurring and it was remarkable to see so many staff looking for positive change”.
The fact that the Bahamas selected Canada to learn from is a testament to our international reputation in the correctional field.
“The contribution of CSC should be something we are all proud of. The BDCS staff shared that they had looked at various other correctional systems and they decided on Canada due to it being highly regarded for meeting their goal of understanding and assessing risk,” says Tosha Osterhout, Parole Officer– in the Pacific region. “This was my career highlight. I returned with a renewed faith in our system and pride in the challenging work that CSC does on a daily basis. The highlight was definitely the people, not only the Bahamian staff who were gracious hosts, quick to laugh and eager for all information we could share, but also the incredible team that I was part of.”
Tosha isn’t alone in feeling this way. Leslie, too, recounts her experience with pride: “I have been involved in many training initiatives in my 27 years of service and this experience is the highlight of my career. Not because it was the Bahamas, but because of the people. Bahamians are proud like Canadians. And with the warmth, humour and professionalism that was extended to all of us, I found myself excited yet humbled at the same time to think we were part of their endeavours for change in the BDCS. As the CSC representatives, I feel we have developed some lifetime connections as a result of this experience.”
The next steps of this collaboration will focus on ensuring the sustainability of our work together. As the BDCS modernizes its legislation and regulations, prioritizing the rehabilitation of offenders in the process of transitioning to a rehabilitative system, CSC can take pride in its participation in this unique collaborative exchange between the two countries.