Skip to content

Reduction of Recidivism Framework Bill

Third Reading

June 21, 2021

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ - ]

Moved, for Senator Martin, third reading of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

This bill was put forward by MP Richard Bragdon in the other place and lays out a reasonable framework in order to support and assist those reintegrating into society after serving a sentence in a federal institution. As mentioned by Senator Martin, the Senate sponsor, this bill received strong support in the other place.

Bill C-228 calls on the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to develop and implement a federal framework to reduce recidivism. The framework includes the initiations of pilot projects and the development of standardized and evidence-based programs aimed at reducing recidivism, promotes the reintegration back into the community through access to adequate and ongoing resources — including employment opportunities that support faith-based and communal initiatives aimed at rehabilitation that reviews and implements international best practices — and, finally, it evaluates and improves risk assessment instruments and procedures to address racial and cultural biases, ensuring that all people who are incarcerated have access to appropriate programs.

This bill is important because sooner or later almost all offenders in Canadian federal correctional institutions will be released into the community. We need to ensure that when people who have been incarcerated make the transition, they are well prepared and well equipped to succeed.

I do not believe that any offender upon release has anything but the best of intentions, but in order to accomplish their goals, they require the relevant services available to them, both in prison before release and afterward in the community. They require employment opportunities, otherwise how can anyone transition back into society and lead a crime-free life, no matter how noble their intentions? The importance of training programs cannot be overstated.

Bill C-228 would mandate the Minister of Public Safety via the framework to work with partners — NGOs, faith-based and private sector organizations and Indigenous groups — to come together using a holistic approach to reducing the risk of reoffending. The goal of this federal framework is consistent with the government’s commitments to providing reintegration resources, supporting community-based and community justice centre programs, and addressing the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous persons in the criminal justice system. The bill is also consistent with government priorities announced with its recent Throne Speech. This includes its commitment to introduce legislation and make investments to take action to address the systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, from diversion to sentencing, from rehabilitation to records. Bill C-228 would provide a prioritized opportunity and overarching mandate for broad collaboration to address the complex issue of recidivism and thereby strengthening public safety.

In his most recent report, the Correctional Investigator highlighted the need for additional community corrections resources and raised concerns relating to insufficient community bed spaces. He also noted that individuals are often released into the community without health cards or other official identification. The Auditor General has reported on gaps in housing and health supports, and the voluntary sector has advocated for increased access to conditional release; release preparation and planning; employment, housing and health resources, with tailored supports for women, aging Indigenous and Black Canadian inmate populations. The John Howard Society of Canada expressed support for Bill C-228, noting the framework should address post-custody homelessness, unemployment, arbitrary conditions and limited mental health treatment.

Unfortunately, Canada is not currently able to produce national recidivism data. Each jurisdiction and sector have their own information. The data collection and measurement are not done consistently, nor is it integrated. The public service is working with Statistics Canada on a multi-year project that aims to link criminal justice data and reporting on national indicators. The project also plans to eventually link this criminal justice data with socio-economic data to better capture reintegration outcomes. This information will help enormously in reporting evidence-informed policy and program interventions.

The government is committed to supporting the safe reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders and reducing recidivism to keep our communities safe. While we have increased community expenditures by 10.8% since 2015-16, more can and should be done for the safety of our communities and the lives of those looking to start over. Bill C-228 assists by providing a level of coordination and cooperation between all levels of government and all organizations involved in the field of recidivism and support for those re-entering communities.

There are colleagues in this chamber who know far better than I the struggles and barriers faced by those who must navigate the outside world upon release and why it is sometimes so difficult for them. Bill C-228 offers a measure of collaboration that is a step forward in coordinating the necessary supports and gathering the information required to determine how best to move ahead. This private member’s bill has the support of the government and a majority of members in the other place. I support Bill C-228 for all the reasons mentioned and I ask that colleagues in this chamber do the same.

Honourable senators, I speak today to Bill C-228, the purpose of which is articulated as the development of a framework to reduce recidivism. In essence, the legislation urges the government and the Correctional Service of Canada to fulfill what is already their legal obligation. Pursuant to section 3 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act:

The purpose of the federal correctional system is to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by . . . assisting the rehabilitation of [prisoners] and their reintegration into the community . . . .

This is not a situation where the government or Correctional Service Canada needs new legislation to authorize them to act. The changes Bill C-228 seeks could have been implemented nearly three decades ago when the CCRA was first developed and enacted as a piece of human rights legislation with numerous provisions creating not only opportunities but legal requirements to support reintegration and access to community supports. For decades, there has been a failure to breathe life into these provisions.

It has been those most marginalized — women, Black and Indigenous peoples and others from the racialized communities, those living with disabilities and those below the poverty line — who have disproportionately paid the price for this failure to fulfill and fully implement the CCRA in accordance with its legislative intent. Marginalized people have struggled and are struggling to access crucial community, health, social and economic supports prior to, during and following prison sentences.

Because of the terminology in this bill, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the message that we risk sending by using terms such as “recidivism prevention” or “crime prevention” for what should really be understood as questions of fundamental Charter and human rights. Research demonstrates time and again that people leaving prisons need three things: a place to stay, a community of support and a way of supporting themselves. These are not specific tools for preventing crime. They are the same things that all of us need and without which none of us can thrive.

In the absence of adequate access to such supports, 80% of women in Canadian prisons are there as a result of attempts to negotiate poverty. Imagine for a moment trying to survive on provincial and territorial social assistance programs that provide resources so far below any measure of the poverty line that you are rendered infinitely criminalizable and left with no legal way of affording necessities, such as feeding or clothing or sheltering your children. For those who are criminalized, a criminal record is too often a further barrier to jobs, to education, to shelter and to contributing to the community.

Despite the challenges and the barriers that criminal legal policy too often creates and entrenches, however, as government data indicates, the majority of people who leave federal prisons never return to them. Research is also clear that after a certain number of years in the community, people with a criminal record are no more likely than anyone else to be criminalized.

In the past months, as horrific and isolating COVID-19 conditions in federal prisons have created new opportunities to advocate for release, I have witnessed Indigenous women, whom the Correctional Service of Canada had labelled as dangerous and high security risks, thrive in the community when given the opportunity. Those within Corrections who were initially skeptical of their releases — and that is putting it mildly — have not only become supportive of them, they have recognized that the problem was not these women, but rather it is the racist and sexist context and assessment tools that CSC persists in employing that created the problems.

The success that so many have had in the community, despite a systemic lack of supports and community access while in prisons, speaks volumes about their determination to make positive contributions to their communities. It should not, however, excuse a system that is legally responsible for reintegration.

Bill C-228 rightly tells us that this status quo is unacceptable. However, it focuses very narrowly on only one part of the solution. The duty of the correctional system to support reintegration begins the moment a person arrives in prison. Bill C-228 focuses on the time immediately before a person is released. In between are a host of crucial opportunities to support individuals to successfully integrate by enhancing access to community supports and release measures that we cannot afford to miss.

In its report on Bill C-228, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence issued an observation to this effect, urging, alongside Bill C-228, more rigorous pursuit by the government of options for supporting reintegration that already exist in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, in particular sections 29, 81 and 84. This echoes the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights’ report on the Human Rights of Federally-Sentenced Persons as well as the Senate amendments to Bill C-83.

CCRA sections 29, 81 and 84 create opportunities for releasing prisoners and building community supports during a prison sentence. They have been a part of the CCRA since its inception decades ago, yet have rarely been used in practice.

Section 29 allows individuals to be transferred out of prisons to provincial and territorial hospitals to receive the health and mental health supports they need in a community, not a correctional setting.

Section 81 allows individuals to be transferred from a federal penitentiary to an Indigenous community to serve their sentences. The intent of this provision was to promote inherent rights to self-determination and self-governance of Indigenous peoples with respect to matters of criminal justice and to redress overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in Canadian prisons by creating community-based alternatives to incarceration and institutionalization.

Section 84 likewise permits parole and other forms of conditional release.

These opportunities for reintegration have been unfairly and unduly circumscribed by correctional authorities and policies. For example, correctional authorities have indicated to Indigenous communities seeking to support individuals in transferring out of prisons under section 81 that the community would be expected to build a kinder, gentler, indigenized but nevertheless prison-like structure to receive them, despite the fact that this is not a requirement in the law. In the meantime, the number of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons has continued to increase precipitously and exponentially.

Meaningful rehabilitation and community integration will and must be supported by actions to decolonize, decriminalize and decarcerate the Canadian criminal legal system. This means recognizing and upholding inherent rights of Indigenous people to self-government, including decolonization of legal systems to meaningfully incorporate community-based and culturally appropriate approaches. This means respecting Indigenous laws and practices, implementing programs like guaranteed liveable income in the community to recognize and redress systemic inequalities and economic marginalization, and perhaps even insisting on the option of deferred prosecution agreements, a privilege we currently only bestow on corporations. Imagine how many fewer people we might criminalize and imprison if we implemented deferred prosecution agreements for individuals and not merely for corporations. For those currently before courts, this could provide prosecutors and judges the discretion to consider alternatives to prosecution as well as incarceration.

Indigenous histories and other experiences of systemic racism could help to inform these approaches. We could also ensure measures such as judicial oversight and remedies for unlawful and unfair correctional decisions. Ultimately, shifting correctional culture to uphold human rights is most likely to increase the successful community integration of all.

Bill C-228 is a small, repetitive step at a time when more is desperately needed. Let us continue to do this work together as we strive for justice for all.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

Hon. Patricia Bovey [ - ]

Honourable senators, I am speaking to you from Winnipeg, Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene and Dakota, the birthplace of the Métis Nation and the heart of the Métis Nation homeland.

I support Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

I draw your attention to clause 2(2)(a) of Bill C-228, which says the framework must “. . . initiate pilot projects and develop standardized and evidence-based programs aimed at reducing recidivism . . . .”

And I would also like to point out clause 2(2)(e), which says the framework must include measures to:

. . . evaluate and improve risk assessment instruments and procedures to address racial and cultural biases and ensure that all people who are incarcerated have access to appropriate programs that will help reduce recidivism.

All faith-based and Indigenous organizations should receive support to undertake programs of particular spiritual and cultural meaning for those involved.

You’ve heard my late husband’s mantra, “we are all better off when we are all better off.” That mantra and my work in the arts impels me to speak to Bill C-228. I do so honouring National Indigenous Peoples Day and the tremendous work and cultures of all artists. Senator McCallum, your carrying the eagle feather is important. I thank you. Your cultural leadership and honesty is applauded and truly meaningful to both Indigenous and non‑Indigenous people.

Why am I talking about C-228? Because I believe we have a duty to look beyond the reasons for these incarcerations, to help people discover their creative heritage and to develop tools that encourage positive community interaction and healthy, meaningful living.

Prison art programs and those where professional artists provide training create positive outcomes and reduce recidivism and crime rates.

Education programs in prisons prepare inmates for life outside and equip them with skills to prevent recidivism. We know those which existed in the past had good outcomes nationally and internationally. I believe revitalizing earlier programs of artists-in-residence in our prisons — federal, provincial, women’s, men’s and youth detention centres — would make a positive contribution to society.

For years I have followed arts programs with goals of crime prevention and recidivism reduction. Some are developed for adults; others for youth.

My multi-year research on youth after school community programs revealed truly encouraging results. A pioneering program was in Fort Myers, Florida. After just several years in existence, the 1996 publication Coming Up Taller reported its stunning early impacts:

The City of Fort Myers police claim a 28 percent drop in juvenile arrests since the inception of the award-winning STARS Program . . .

— a program that provided recreational and artistic outlets.

J. Weitz, of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, noted in the same report:

One of the most natural and effective vehicles for gang members is the road of the arts, especially theater. New values only emerge through new experiences, and the arts provide a unique laboratory where truth and possibility can be explored safely. Validating emotional safety is everything.

Further, the report comments that art programs that allow:

. . . youth to accept responsibility is part of what makes these programs work. “It’s not learning to please some external thing. The kids are in charge of the project.”

These projects are brought out into the community for viewing and sharing . . . the kids are responsible for the success.

Other publications draw similar conclusions. Youth on Youth , concluded that art:

. . . allows youth to express themselves, to create their own identity instead of having it shaped by the mainstream institutions . . . There is no expected outcome or no right or wrong.

This is particularly important for at-risk kids who are marginalized to begin with.

I should say now I prefer not to use the negative at-risk-youth nomenclature but rather youth with untapped potential.

The overriding result in Dr. Gina Browne’s 2003 extensive study, “Making the Case for Recreation” was that cultural and recreation programs can reduce the cost of social services and policing, indicating that accessible services appear to pay for themselves, the reduced use of health and social services, child psychology, social work, policing and probation. “A $500 savings was attributed to family not including the doubling of exits from social assistance!”

A proposal for arts programming in Winnipeg’s youth detention centre was unfortunately turned down a few years ago. I was told kids creating art together might “incite negative behaviours.” However, the then First Nations spiritual leader at the centre underlined that art creation was essential for these young people. He showed me drawers filled with art the kids had created, work never exhibited. I hope the significant impact of such programs will be understood. In that case, I had private funders ready in the wings.

Winnipeg’s Graffiti Gallery is an inspiration, founded in 1998 by Steve Wilson, not an artist but a former Stony Mountain Institution prison guard with a social work degree. He knew there was a better way to deal with youth in trouble, so he founded, with the power of positive creativity, this unique place in Winnipeg, a not-for-profit youth community arts centre dedicated to enhancing the cultural well-being of the community, focused on arts programming and legal mural painting.

Young artists meet, work, research, exchange ideas, learn skills and show their work in an encouraging environment, which sees value in their work. It is a powerful tool for community development, social change and individual growth. The Murals of Winnipeg website comments of this former prison guard’s work:

Many of the young people he encounters have serious trust issues, especially with people who are adults or in some kind of authority position. Some of them, perhaps, have been in trouble with the law or have been portrayed by others as attacking their community.

I spoke with Steve last week. He said:

. . . the reason that these young people are attacking their community is because that’s all they know. It’s because at a very early age they were being attacked by their community. . . . When they get a little older, it’s little wonder that they start getting into trouble. Number one they’re trying to get away from their community that is abusing them, and number two they’re looking for some sort of connection that they can hang onto.

Graffiti Gallery has diligently worked to:

. . . reverse that cycle and get a young person who has a little bit of skill, teach them a thing or two about painting Murals . . . . Murals are one of the best ways to bring at risk youth and young adults back into the community. . . . They come away from that experience with feelings of accomplishment and confidence. Plus in order to complete the work, they’ve had to drop the negative influences on their life and get it together to accomplish this work which leaves a lasting legacy in the neighbourhood.

They come to the point where they:

. . . are offering to contribute to give something back to help their community heal through some form of public art. The end result is a young person who was attacking their community is now back in the community painting a beautiful Mural that is adding to the community and gives the artist a sense of renewed pride in that community. . . . It’s a really positive experience for both the artist and the community, and can act as a catalyst for further change.

Exhibitions of their artwork at Graffiti Gallery expand their self-esteem and their community connections, and the young artists realized as they said to me:

Well I can do other things besides breaking the law; I can get attention in a positive way with my artwork.

A number of other programs have developed since, and many led by recent graduates of the University of Manitoba. They are instilling cultural understanding through beading, murals, drumming and painting in these young people, and it’s proving to reduce incarceration and recidivism.

I have recently been involved in a number of discussions about potential exhibitions of art created by prisoners, and I hope these opportunities will be supported. They validate the artist’s ideas, increase self-confidence and afford audiences the opportunity to understand the issues and perspectives of prisoners from the inside, from the outside, and prisoners’ personal circumstances. We need these voices of change. We need to understand that place making can make an individual and community level change. It’s especially timely now.

When formulating Winnipeg’s public art policy, a Winnipeg police officer called me. He wanted to join the public art committee, not because he knew anything about art — he said he didn’t — but because he knew public art reduced crime since it contributed to civic pride and because most people honour the creative work of others. He contributed significantly to the development of the policy and thereafter as part of the public art committee.

An American study for a rehabilitation program reducing recidivism in prison had interesting conclusions:

When an arts-based, non-profit organization claims to have developed a prisoner rehabilitation program that reduces recidivism to less than five percent, criminal justice experts may shake their heads in disbelief. Yet that is what Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) a non-profit organization based in New York State has done. Their program has improved prison morale and safety, caused the incarcerated population to act more respectfully and work more cooperatively, and helping people in prison build the life skills necessary to make it on the outside.

New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision independently published research that demonstrated, “. . . fewer infractions; and a greater pursuit of higher education among the program participants.”

Brampton’s Bridge Prison Ministry, in 2017, exhibited art by former and current convicts. The work I have seen reproduced is impressive, truly moving, and the revelations are of deep suffering yet of hope and humanity. Colleagues, when I was director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Albert Head prisoners helped us build stages and some installations. Some prisoners attended the opening of an exhibition in which they were the subjects for a featured portrait artist. That same night we opened an exhibition of Jack Bush, a major Canadian artist. The sponsoring bank’s board chair and CEO were in attendance. A harmony drum was set up, and through the evening corporate executives drummed unknowingly alongside the prisoners. Some had been incarcerated for bank robbery.

In closing, I want to quote an article from The Tyee, about a University of British Columbia program where Indigenous academics were researching art and culture for those in prison. They distributed art and journaling kits to Indigenous men in prison and halfway houses to “. . . alleviate dual mental health tolls of incarceration and the pandemic.” Revealing:

. . . the importance of relationships between First Nations communities and Indigenous incarcerated people against the backdrop of over-incarceration of Indigenous people in British Columbia. . . .

Last December, Emily van der Meulen and Jackie Omstead published a report about rethinking evaluation arts programming in prison. They say:

Canadian prison-based arts and other programming are limited at best. Even the country’s Correctional Investigator, or prison-ombudsperson, has critiqued the lack of meaningful options in which prisoners can engage. Those programs that do exist tend to be focused on the logic of penal rehabilitation, with the end goal of reducing recidivism.

Their work showcased the evaluation of a nine-week arts program in a women’s prison, which was tremendous.

Colleagues, we have a long way to go. I support prison and community programs aimed at reducing recidivism and building self-esteem, self-confidence and skills. Excellent art has been created on the inside over the years, and art has prevented others from going inside. Let’s turn that creative talent into constructive ends. These programs are essential, successful and far-reaching. I therefore support this bill. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Senator Bovey, Senator Dagenais would like to ask you a question. Would you accept another question?

Senator Bovey [ - ]

Yes, if I have time.

Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais [ - ]

Senator Bovey, you know as well as I do that femicide has been on the rise for some time now and that we are doing everything we can to prevent that. Unfortunately, we know that most femicides are committed by repeat offenders. I am thinking about what happened in Sainte-Foy last year and about the woman who was stabbed in the neck on Monkland Street in Montreal by a repeat offender who had just gotten out of prison. I am also thinking about André Livernoche, whose son was killed by a sexual predator who had just been released from prison.

What do we say to these families when we want to support a bill that seeks to rehabilitate murderers, especially now, when it is impossible to deny that there has been a tragic rise in the number of cases of femicide and that femicide is often committed by people who have had trouble with the law?

What do we say to those families?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Senator Bovey, you have only 40 seconds to answer the question.

Senator Bovey [ - ]

Thank you for the question. That’s a big question and, honestly, in the time I have, I don’t think I can answer it, save to say that Steve Wilson has often told me that many of these people who get in trouble the first time do so because of the upbringing they had or they didn’t have, and the lessons they learned or were witness to as youth. That’s where these programs that he has been working with have been so successful. I think we need more of them.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to third reading of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

I would like to once again begin by acknowledging the sponsor of this bill, member of Parliament Richard Bragdon, and to thank him for his years of dedication in helping others and bringing forward this bill to reduce recidivism in our communities across Canada.

I would also like to acknowledge members of the other house for their contributions at committee and for the broad support of the bill.

I want to commend our Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Senator Boniface, the deputy chair Senator Boisvenu, Senator Bovey for her remarks and Senator Pate, who has been a champion, really, of what happens to individuals in and out of prison. We have heard her speak on this issue many times. I thank them for all of their leadership and efforts to ensure an efficient and effective review of this bill at committee.

I would also like to thank my fellow colleagues and members of the committee for their thoughtful questions to the witnesses and for the discussions and observations at clause-by-clause. Finally, I thank Senator Jim Munson, the friendly critic on this bill, for his support and his unwavering dedication to helping so many people.

At our Senate committee, the bill’s sponsor, MP Richard Bragdon, stated the intent of Bill C-228:

The bill aims to address the ever-revolving door within our prison system and break this perilous cycle that sees individuals consistently reoffend. Lasting societal change can only be accomplished when we work across different sectors to come to meaningful solutions.

Our witnesses at committee concurred and generally gave resounding support to the bill. Let me quote some of them.

Carmen Long, Director General of the Offender Programs and Reintegration Branch of the Correctional Service of Canada, said:

. . . the focus within the Correctional Service of Canada really is the safe reintegration of offenders. We take a number of different approaches to manage that. . . . by teaching offenders how to manage those factors, they are able to better successfully reintegrate.

The Honourable Graydon Nicholas, Endowed Chair in Native Studies at St. Thomas University and former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, said:

. . . there have been many studies done to recommend fundamental changes in the criminal justice system, but not enough have been implemented. I want to commend the initiative of member of Parliament Mr. Richard Bragdon and the other members who have supported this important legislative blueprint.

I make the same request for your positive input and the endorsement of Bill C-228.

Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said:

We enthusiastically support Bill C-228. . . . This bill provides us a real opportunity to work collaboratively and to put together the best practices that allow our communities to be safer.

Lastly, Franca Cortoni, Professor of Criminal Psychology, School of Criminology at the University of Montreal, said:

One of the elements that has demonstrated value for the reduction of recidivism is the availability of community systems to support offenders in their efforts at reintegration. It’s within this context that I fully support Bill C-228.

Honourable senators, as stated by the bill’s sponsor, the witnesses echoed that efforts are being made and good programs do exist. Therefore, we need to harness and coordinate all the good that is happening and address the gaps. The national framework, as proposed in Bill C-228, is needed to move forward. It is essential for the success of the framework that governments and civil society groups can work together cooperatively and collaboratively in its implementation. We need to reduce the rate of recidivism by helping offenders reintegrate back into the community, by helping their families and by helping the community that they will be a part of for years to come.

Honourable senators, I hope that you agree on the importance of this bill, and I ask you for your support at third reading.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.)

Back to top