Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has over 4,000 volunteers who work directly with offenders to support their rehabilitation and reintegration. Volunteering with CSC has deep historical roots going back to the late 1800s. Volunteers in correctional settings can offer an emotional and humanistic interaction that complement interactions with staff. They connect offenders to the outside world and model pro-social behaviour.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ways in which volunteers provide their valued services, it has also created opportunities for innovation. Staff, community partners and volunteers have shown ingenuity and commitment to meet the needs of offenders during these challenging times. They have adapted by creating virtual volunteering activities through telephone, videoconferencing, email shuttles and correspondence.
Innovation in volunteering during the pandemic was the topic of a presentation delivered by CSC at the 2021 International Corrections and Prison Associates conference. The presentation featured three case studies:
- Creative exchanges between volunteers and William Head on Stage, an inmate-run theatre company at William Head Institution in British Colombia;
- The Alcoholics Anonymous Pen Pal Plus Program at Fraser Valley and Mountain Institutions in the Pacific Region; and
- The community-based Volunteer Mentor Program that expanded in the community, from one district to another, and then into the Structured Intervention Unit at Millhaven Institution.
While there remain concerns from volunteers that virtual activities are not as impactful, and for many it will always be seen as an alternative to face-to-face interactions, inmates and volunteers were motivated to maintain contact and connections.
Through a survey with volunteers in 2020, with approximately 1000 responses, CSC gleaned that attitudes and beliefs of volunteers and volunteer coordinators around virtual volunteering have become more favorable over time. CSC plans to continue with virtual volunteering beyond the pandemic, in addition to in-person services.
Many staff pushed through barriers during the pandemic to make virtual volunteer activities happen. However, the adaptation required a high degree of coordination and committed effort due to the changes in administration of programming, workload and logistical challenges. New ways of working do not come without a cost.
Our next step is to support and ensure system-wide uptake of volunteer-based activities, whether virtual or in-person, so that offenders get equal access these valued resources, regardless of their location. CSC also wants to find opportunities to provide offenders with more access to volunteers who are relatable and can support them in their needs and interests.
In addition to the workshop, CSC also participated in a panel discussion on the value of volunteers in the correctional environment. It was a great opportunity to talk with global peers about volunteer recruitment, staff-volunteer relations, their role in reducing recidivism, and balancing technology and the need for face-to-face interaction.
We thank our volunteers and volunteer coordinators who gave their time and energy to create these new opportunities for those in our care and custody. While we know that volunteering at CSC may not be the same after the pandemic, one thing remains the same – the value of our volunteers!
If you would like a copy of the conference presentation or have any questions or comments, please contact:
Interested in becoming a volunteer? Contact us at: