For offenders from Nunavut, maintaining a relationship with family members and friends is a lifelong challenge. Nunavut consists of roughly 25 small and remote Inuit communities that are only accessible by air. There is a lack of federal facilities in Nunavut and offenders often serve time in the South away from their communities and families.
As the only parole officer in Nunavut, Hamza Al-Baghdadi had to get creative about finding solutions to support offenders from Nunavut.
Hamza proposed to connect offenders incarcerated in southern institutions or residing in halfway houses with their families via videoconference. “The successful reintegration of offenders back into their home communities is key to public safety,” he explains.
“The videoconference program can provide the means for the offender to make amends with the victim in a safe and controlled manner. It also provides both offender and victim the opportunity to break the ice and begin a dialogue prior to the offender’s eventual reintegration. It’s a proactive approach” says Hamza.
For Inuit offenders unable to benefit from in-person face-to-face institutional visits, the videoconference program serves as a cost effective alternative for those who do not have the financial means to travel to a federal institution outside of Nunavut. The ability to stay connected with family members and friends addresses the unique needs of Inuit offenders. “It’s common to see tears of joy in the conference room,” says Hamza. “Last year, we had a lifer who hadn’t seen his family in over 10 years, and we were able to connect them through this program.”
“Today, the Offender/Family Video Conference Program holds anywhere between 70 and 80 sessions every fiscal year. (…) Perhaps the most important evidence of the program’s success is the impact on the families,” states Hamza.
The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) recognizes the importance of working collaboratively to support the rehabilitation and safe reintegration of Indigenous offenders into the community. The Nunavut Area Parole Office (NAPO) established a productive partnership with the Government of Nunavut to connect incarcerated offenders in southern institutions with their family and community support.
“What’s really important in making this program work,” says Hamza, “is the partnerships.” NAPO acts as a bridge between CSC and the federal and territorial authorities, arranging all the videoconference appointments and contacting the families with locations, dates and times.
The videoconference facility in Iqaluit has also opened the door to restorative justice opportunities. Offenders are frequently released on parole in Iqaluit before they return to their own communities. Teleconferencing, with the support of mental health specialists, can ease their way back home.