I would now like to take a minute to express our sympathies and respect to the Office of the Auditor General on the passing of our Auditor General. This is the first meeting we have convened since going to the funeral, and last week we did not meet. I want to underscore, as I think Mr. Christopherson did so well in his comments in the House, that this committee appreciated the extremely good working relationship we had with our Auditor General and friend, Michael Ferguson. To say the least, all of us recognize that we lost the people's auditor, as someone said, and we also lost a very honourable man.
Before we move on with the meeting, I think we'll just take a moment out of respect for him.
[A moment of silence observed]
We're here today in consideration of report 6, “Community Supervision—Correctional Service Canada”, of the 2018 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada.
I'll remind everyone that we are televised today, so please turn your phones to silent.
Today we are honoured to have with us, from the Office of the Auditor General, Mr. Andrew Hayes, Deputy Auditor General; and Nicholas Swales, principal.
From Correctional Service Canada we have Ms. Anne Kelly, our commissioner; Larry Motiuk, assistant commissioner, policy; and Alain Tousignant, senior deputy commissioner.
We welcome you all here this morning.
We'll begin with you, Mr. Hayes. The floor is yours, sir.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our report on community supervision. Joining me is Nicholas Swales, the principal responsible for the audit.
Most offenders become eligible for release before their sentences end, serving a portion of their sentences under supervision in the community. As of April 2018, almost 40% of all federal offenders were supervised in the community. The number of offenders in the community increased substantially between 2013 and 2018. Correctional Service Canada anticipates that this number will keep growing.
This audit looked at Correctional Service Canada's supervision of offenders in the community and the agency's accommodation of them, when required, to support their return to society as law-abiding citizens.
This audit is important because the offenders' gradual and supervised return to society leads to better public safety outcomes.
Overall, we found that Correctional Service Canada had reached the limit on how many offenders it could accommodate in the community. We also found that it did not properly manage offenders under community supervision.
In March 2018, nearly one third of the federal offenders on release required supervised housing as a condition of their release. We found that Correctional Service Canada didn't increase the number of housing spaces to keep pace with the demand. As a result, offenders who were approved for release into the community in 2017-18 had to wait on average twice as long for accommodation than did the offenders who were released into the community four years before. We also found that some offenders weren't being placed in their requested communities because of capacity constraints. This made reintegration more difficult for those offenders.
Furthermore, we found that Correctional Service Canada forecasted a need for more housing, but that it did not have a long-term plan to meet that need. This means that the housing shortages are likely to get worse.
With respect to the supervision of offenders, we found that Correctional Service Canada didn't provide parole officers with all the health information they needed to design release plans for offenders.
We also found that parole officers did not meet with offenders as often as they should have, and they did not always monitor special conditions imposed by the Parole Board of Canada as part of the terms of an offender's release. By not performing these activities, parole officers were not always able to conduct a timely assessment of progress against the offender's release plan or to identify changes to the offender's needs or the risk they present to society.
Finally, we found that Correctional Service Canada did not properly measure its success in meeting its mandate to reintegrate offenders into society as law-abiding citizens. The agency measured only convictions that resulted in the return of federal offenders to federal custody. The agency did not include data on post-sentence offences requiring the incarceration of offenders in provincial or territorial facilities. Without data on convictions recorded by other levels of government, the agency had an incomplete picture of the rate at which federal offenders were successfully reintegrating into society as law-abiding citizens.
We made five recommendations, and Correctional Service Canada agreed with all of them. The agency has shared with us its action plan, which includes actions and timelines for our recommendations.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.
Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Auditor General's performance audit on community supervision.
Again with me today are the senior deputy commissioner, Mr. Alain Tousignant; the assistant commissioner of policy, Mr. Larry Motiuk; and, the assistant commissioner, health services, Ms. Jennifer Wheatley.
While I have appeared before this committee as interim commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, I'm honoured to appear before you today as the commissioner, which became effective at the end of July 2018.
I'd like to take a moment to mark the recent passing of Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General of Canada. He was a highly respected public servant who dedicated his career to Canadians. The impact of his passing is being felt by many.
The Auditor General's reports under the leadership of Mr. Ferguson have significantly contributed to our ongoing mission to assist offenders with their rehabilitation and to keep Canadians safe, and this fall 2018 report is no exception. This most recent report examined whether CSC adequately supervises offenders in the community and assists them with accommodation and health care-related services that facilitate and support the reintegration process.
As the committee knows, CSC is responsible for offenders sentenced to two years or more. It's important to note that the majority of offenders will be released back into Canadian communities. CSC keeps Canadians safe through the effective rehabilitation and successful reintegration of offenders.
Beginning at sentencing, parole officers and other institutional staff work closely with offenders to prepare them for their eventual release into the community. While incarcerated, offenders are encouraged to participate in various correctional interventions, such as educational and correctional programs and vocational training, in order to learn the skills necessary to help them return safely to the community and to become law-abiding citizens.
It's important to note that offender rehabilitation doesn’t end once the offenders are released into the community. Research demonstrates that society is best protected when offenders are gradually reintegrated into society through a supervised release, rather than released at the end of their sentence with no controls or support.
The gradual release of offenders into the community under supervision allows them to be assessed, monitored, guided and encouraged to become law-abiding citizens. Assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens upon their release from prison is the most significant contribution CSC can make to keeping Canadian communities safe.
With the appropriate level of structured supervision by their community parole officer coupled with the assistance from their community case management team and members of the community, offenders can continue to apply the skills they have gained while in custody and benefit from new opportunities available to them in the community.
CSC is experiencing a shift in how and where it is managing its offender population, with a greater proportion of federal offenders serving their sentence in the community. For example, CSC saw an increase of approximately 1,500 offenders managed in the community in the last five years, from approximately 7,600 at fiscal year-end 2012-13 to over 9,100 in 2017-18.
The community-supervision population continues to grow. At the end of 2018 it exceeded 9,400. Moreover, the numbers of both indigenous and women offenders on conditional release have increased substantially over the past five years, an increase of 36% for indigenous offenders and of 50% for women offenders. In fact, there are now more women under community supervision than in federal custody. In addition, in 2017-18 we saw the highest number of day parole releases reported since 2012-13, an increase of 43%. As well, we saw the lowest number of revocations, with a decrease of 27%.
These results are positive for CSC. However, they also present a challenge, particularly with regard to community accommodation. There are approximately 200 community-based residential facilities in Canada, which are operated by CSC partners and accept offenders with residency conditions at their discretion. If one of these facilities is unable or unwilling to offer an offender residency, it is the responsibility of CSC to provide the offender with accommodation through one of its 14 community correctional centres.
Our efforts to manage, monitor and support offenders beyond institutional walls are as important as ever. Community supervision is critical to our ability to successfully reintegrate offenders into the community while ensuring the safety and security of all.
As you know, the Auditor General made five recommendations to address identified issues concerning community supervision. CSC fully accepts the Auditor General's findings and recommendations. Work is already under way to implement measures to address these important findings.
With respect to a long-term approach to accommodations, we are creating a national long-term community accommodation plan. We have also begun developing a comprehensive solution to better manage bed inventory, match offenders to community facilities and manage wait-lists.
In terms of the Auditor General's recommendation regarding the monitoring of offenders, we have added a responsibility to those of the district directors to monitor, on a monthly basis, compliance with the frequency of contact and special conditions. In addition, CSC has reinforced the need for and the monitoring of documentation to be completed in cases where exceptions to the frequency of contact requirements are warranted.
Regarding the recommendation concerning the facilitation of access to health care services, CSC is reviewing its policies related to the sharing of health care information and determining the most effective approach to ensuring that parole officers receive the information they require in a timely manner.
CSC is also continuing to work with provincial and territorial health care authorities to remove barriers to accessing health care cards and to ensure that offenders obtain proper identification prior to their release.
Finally, with respect to post-sentence outcome data collection, CSC is collaborating with the Department of Public Safety on work in the area of recidivism rates, including information held by provinces and territories on adult reconviction.
The Auditor General's findings and recommendations have given us much to consider moving forward. Please rest assured that we are working diligently to address the audit recommendations.
I will conclude my remarks by saying that I have been lucky over my 35 plus years with CSC to witness its evolution in its approach to corrections, as well as the considerable progress we have made in ensuring the effective rehabilitation and safe reintegration of offenders serving a federal sentence.
CSC's contributions to creating safer communities would not be possible without the dedication and passion of Correctional Service employees, our partners and stakeholders and our volunteers—to all, thank you.
With that, I thank you for the opportunity to meet today and welcome any questions you may have.
I started my career as a parole officer 35 years ago. I worked both in the institutions and in the community, and it was among the best jobs I have had.
Certainly as a community parole officer, frequency of contact, which is mentioned by the Auditor General, is one key element among many elements that comprise the community supervision framework. Frequency of contact is established when the offender is released into the community. It's based on the offender's risks and needs. That's how you establish whether you're going to see the offender eight times a month, four times a month, twice a month, once a month. Sometimes when they have been in the community for a long time, it's more sporadic.
There are other elements to community supervision. Almost 3,000 offenders in the community are residing in community-based residential facilities. When you reside in what we call a halfway house, you are seen on a daily basis by the people who work in the halfway house. There are other things in place in the community as part of the community supervision framework. Normally the offender has to report to the police so they are seen by the police. We also have electronic monitoring in the community to assist in supervising the offenders.
Offenders in the community are also expected to participate in community maintenance programs, which means they are seen by program officers. Many offenders also have to see a psychologist as a special condition, which means they are seen by a mental health professional. Many offenders also go to work. We also reach out to their family. In some cases, we do urinalysis testing with the offenders, and we do curfew checks. As you can see, community supervision includes a lot of elements.
When the Auditor General looked, frequency of contact is supposed to be documented in a certain place in the casework records. That's not always done. I fully admit we need to be better at documenting.
The other thing is frequency of contact. The offender is continuously assessed, so frequency of contact can change. When released, an offender may be seen by the parole officer four times a month, based on their progress it may be reduced to twice a month. That needs to be clearly documented. Otherwise, the auditors are going to look for four contacts a month and not two. That's something else we need to document.
There are times where it's impossible for the parole officer to see an offender. The Auditor General has raised this, and he has talked to us about it. For example, there was a forest fire in a community, and the parole officer couldn't speak to an offender. The parole officer in that case clearly documented that in the casework record, and the Auditor General's Office accepted that. These are the things we need to do.
Thank you, Mr. Hayes and Commissioner. I appreciate you all being here.
As you probably know, back in another life I was the minister of Correctional Services in Ontario for a few years, which I have found is sometimes to the advantage of witnesses in that I know what the challenges are in the real world and what you're facing. At other times, it plays to your disadvantage because I can see where the spin is in a way that I might not otherwise see.
I have some thoughts before I get into detailed questions.
First, Commissioner, you clearly know your file, and your 35 years show, but I have to tell you that I am not impressed with your written word. Your personal words are better. I won't blame you; I'll let you off the hook and say it's your communications people. It's like the military. They do not seem to have the ability to say, “We screwed up. We didn't do as well as we should have. We failed to achieve certain objectives.” When the Auditor General report says that, it's not that it's a big secret. Acknowledge that. I got so furious the last two times we had the military. Clearly, blatantly, they screwed up. Do you think they would say so? It made for a very uncomfortable hearing that didn't need to happen.
So I say to you and the other communications departments that come before us, don't give us a lot of spin and tell us how wonderful you are. We know the good work you do. Acknowledge where you fell down and where you didn't meet the standards that are expected, as outlined in the report.
I leave that with you.
I also want to comment that, on page 5 of your remarks, Commissioner, you said, “ln fact, there are now more women under community supervision (51%) than in federal custody (49%).” I just want to say that, with the exception of some cases, society is never really well served by locking women up, especially moms, in non-violent cases. I'm very glad to see there's a move to recognize that, if there has to be a sentence, where possible, we should keep women and moms in the community. It just makes, I think, good sense for all of us.
In the opening remarks of the deputy, we found “did not properly manage”, “did not have a long-term plan”, “did not provide”, “did not meet” and “did not properly measure”. I won't take the time, but I marked out the comments in terms of the focus of the audit and whether you passed or failed. Basically you failed. In most of the areas there were clear problems.
So let me delve into a couple of things.
First of all, on page 1 of the Auditor General's report, it states that “40% of all federal offenders...were supervised in the community”, and yet only 6% of the budget goes to community corrections. Doesn't it make sense, even from an economic point of view, if not from a societal one, to be putting more money in there? It's 40% of the offenders, but they only get 6% of the budget.
Problematic substance use is a very complex health need. We're fully committed to implementing all pillars of the Canada health strategy, which includes the enforcement elements that Commissioner Kelly spoke about and harm reduction such as take-home naloxone and treatment.
Whether an offender is using or not while they're incarcerated, they can still have a substance misuse problem. Sometimes using a substance is indicative of access to a substance. You can have offenders who don't use while they're incarcerated, but still have a substance misuse problem on release. Substance misuse is very difficult to treat. I won't get into all the technicalities. Whether you're in a community treatment centre for the average Canadian or whether you're in our services, there are very low success rates for substance misuse treatment. We're certainly committed to doing our best.
To improve our approach—particularly in response to the opioid crisis, and in addition to the take-home naloxone and the nursing teaching—we're reviewing our entire opiate substitution therapy program to make sure we have all the supports, including the medical supports, the psychosocial supports, etc., so that we can have the best outcome possible for this disorder that is very difficult to treat.
For example, we've seen a doubling of the number of offenders on opiate substitution therapy in recent years. It used to be 400; it's now 800. We know that's a stabilizing factor. Offenders on opiate substitution will be more ready for release into the community.
First, I want to thank all the witnesses for joining us.
I'm a newcomer here. This is my first meeting. I want to apologize in advance, because my questions may not be relevant. I don't have the knowledge that my colleagues have accumulated over time.
Before I speak to Mr. Hayes, I'll start with you, Ms. Kelly.
The Auditor General's report highlights two issues. First, there's the lack of housing, which seems critical. Second, according to the Office of the Auditor General, the offenders under community supervision haven't been managed properly.
In your opinion, when did it become apparent that the number of offenders being released would skyrocket? When did this issue start being taken into account in order to find a solution?
This is a committee for accountability. We study reports from the Auditor General, and departments are asked to explain what has happened in their departments.
I want to draw to your attention, on page 13 of the report in English, to “Measurement of results”, where the Auditor General found that “performance measures did not include data on offences requiring incarceration in provincial or territorial facilities. CSC officials informed us that such data on convictions was excluded because it was difficult to gather.”
The Auditor General, though, made the point of mentioning that this was public information.
I'm relatively new to the committee compared to some of the others. However, I have seen over and over again, from a variety of different departments that have been before our committee, the poor collection of data, insufficient retention of data, in particular when it's from public sources. I mean, how hard can it really be?
I would like an explanation for why something that would seem as obvious as tracking offences that would have a person incarcerated back into a provincial facility is not tracked as part of the monitoring of results.
We're working on a national long-term accommodation plan, but in the meantime, we've had many discussions with the regional deputy commissioners of each region to talk about this. I can tell you that, for 2017-18, to November 30, there were 61 beds added. By the end of this fiscal year, there are going to be another 77 beds added, and there are already 120 beds planned for 2019-20 as well as other potential bed availability.
At this point, we're going to ensure that we collect all of the information from the regions, and, as I said, have a comprehensive solution. As Mr. Tousignant pointed out, it's not just the number of beds. If you look at the number of beds we have available and the number of offenders who require residency, we have enough beds. Now the thing is whether they are the right beds in the right place at the right time, because we have offenders who require specialized types of beds. We have indigenous offenders who may follow traditional paths and are looking for specific beds. We have offenders with mental health issues who have to go to a treatment centre, so this is what we want a line of sight on at the national level, and ensuring, as I said, that we have the right beds.
In terms of bed availability, it's not an issue everywhere. For example, in the Atlantic region, it's not an issue. There are enough beds for the number of offenders who are in the community.
In some pockets, though, for example in Ontario and especially in Toronto, that's more of an issue, and there's lots of work being done to look at increasing the bed capacity, potentially even looking at establishing another community correctional centre in that area.
On a lighter note, I want to share something. My Liberal colleagues from Ontario may know Steve Mahoney. Steve Mahoney was a Liberal MPP in Ontario who went on to become the president and CEO or chair of the WSIB. He was one of the funniest parliamentarians I've ever served with. He and Chris Stockwell had me in stitches.
The day I walked into the House after I'd been appointed to cabinet, one of the pages brought me a note. I opened it up. It was from Steve Mahoney and said, “Congratulations on your ascension to cabinet. You are now the landlord to a significant part of my family.” I always thought that was cute.
Now on a very different note, I want to talk about health cards.
In my now 15 years on this committee, nothing makes me crazier than seeing the previous recommendations made to departments or agencies and entities to do things and their not doing them. Then there's another audit, with the same recommendation and the same promises, and still they don't act.
On page 11 we have a similar problem. There was an internal audit regarding the problems around health cards in 2012 that identified this. Your own CSC found the same issue, as did the Correctional Investigator of Canada in 2014, which is now five years ago.
Please help me understand how you can have at least two, if not three, major audits that point out a problem that has to do with the health care of people returning to the community and Corrections failing to do anything about it on both counts, and here it is again in front of us.
Please explain to me how we got here and what's going to be different this time.
Thank you again for all the things you said about probation and parole officers. It's much appreciated.
ID in general is an issue we've been tackling for a long time. The first thing that happens, once offenders are admitted to federal custody, is that a parole officer sits down with the offenders and ascertains what kind of cards they have, and if there are cards missing, assists them in getting the cards they require.
We've reached out to the provinces and territories to ensure that a process is in place at remand centres to retain, track, store and transfer the ID with the offender when they come into federal custody. Follow-up letters have even been written by the assistant commissioner to provincial counterparts to request ongoing assistance.
As I said, once an offender is admitted to federal custody, a parole officer sits down with the offender and figures out what cards the person is missing.
Ms. Wheatley will be able to speak more to the health card, but regional management is working with various stakeholders, including provincial health officials and Service Ontario, to reduce the barriers to accessing provincial cards. As you know, in many provinces you can't apply for a health card until you are released.
The other thing I'm very excited about, and this is building on the success of the Prairie region, is that we have a new partnership—it's going to be in the form of an MOU that we're poised to sign with Indigenous Services Canada—through which Indigenous Services Canada staff will visit various sites and assist indigenous offenders to apply for their status cards.
I have one thing on the housing and then two follow-up questions.
You made the statement that that there was sufficient housing in the aggregate. If you look at this report and the fact that some people have to wait two years and you have all kinds of facilities elsewhere, but nowhere for the person who's waiting two years beyond what they.... There's a mandatory requirement, but they have to go somewhere. You're keeping them in there, which does not benefit them, does not benefit society and costs taxpayers more money than it should.
You knew ahead of time this was going to happen. I just have a real problem with you saying we have all kinds of housing and it's just a little problem over here. That little problem over here is the equivalent of not having enough. If there isn't one for the instant case, then what good are all the other numbers?
The sugar-coating that sometimes goes on is frustrating. It's frustrating when it flies in the face of the report that's right in front of us.
I'm looking at recommendation 4 of your action plan. It says, “Amend Commissioner's Directive”. People do these dates different ways. I see “2019-12-01”. I'd like to think that was January 12, but I suspect it's December 1.