Applying a Victim’s Lens to the Proposed Renewal of Federal Prison Farm Employment Programming
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) is an independent resource for victims in Canada. It was created in 2007 to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime.
Our mandate relates exclusively to matters of federal jurisdiction and enables our Office to:
- promote access by victims to existing federal programs and services for victims;
- address complaints of victims about compliance with the provisions of the
Corrections and Conditional Release Act that apply to victims of crimes committed by offenders under federal jurisdiction;
- promote awareness of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime, including to promote the principles set out in the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime with respect to matters of federal jurisdiction, among criminal justice personnel and policy makers;
- identify and review emerging and systemic issues, including those issues related to programs and services provided or administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, that impact negatively on victims of crime; and
- facilitate access by victims to existing federal programs and services by providing them with information and referrals.
Our Office is also involved in ongoing discussions with the Government about our mandate in relation to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR). The CVBR gives registered victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system, including statutory rights for victims to: information, protection, participation, and to seek restitution.At the heart of our work is ensuring that victims of crime are considered when federal programs and services, legislation, and regulations are being developed or updated. Our Office therefore welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Correctional Service Canada (CSC)’s feasibility study on re-establishing agriculture and agri-food operations, including offender employment initiatives at the former federal penitentiary farm locations of Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions.
The connection between marijuana legalization and victims’ issues may not be obvious or intuitive beyond the clear example of concerns related to the potential for increased incidents of drug-impaired driving in a post-legalization context. However, from a victim-centred perspective, there are additional issues and considerations.
Just as the Task Force is considering input from the medical community, industry, law enforcement, substance abuse experts, youth, and others, it is equally important to ensure that the concerns of victims and victim-serving agencies are kept in mind, and to apply a victim’s lens to the initiative. A victim’s lens would necessarily include the critically important issue of impaired driving, while also adopting a broader perspective that takes into account other aspects of victimization.
In June 2016, the CSC launched an online public consultation on Institutional Agribusiness, as part of a larger feasibility study undertaken at the request of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to engage stakeholders on the prospect of renewing agribusiness opportunities in the federal corrections environment. A news release issued by the CSC on July 13, 2016, indicated that the public would also have an opportunity to share its opinions by participating in a town hall meeting hosted by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and officials from the CSC on August 16, 2016 in Kingston, Ontario.
While the OFOVC applauds Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the CSC for engaging Canadians, we note that opportunities for victims of crime to provide input appear somewhat limited. The online survey primarily included questions of a technical nature related to offender rehabilitation, institutional agribusiness, and the agricultural industry. Likewise, the town hall would only be available to those available to attend a two-hour in-person meeting in Kingston. The OFOVC therefore reached out to the CSC in order to request an opportunity for our Office to provide a written submission.At the outset, the OFOVC would like to preface its comments by underscoring that we are not calling into question the potential benefits of the agricultural program for offenders or the community; those types of issues are outside the scope of our expertise. The OFOVC, however, has a mandate relating to victims of crime. From that perspective, the OFOVC is of the view that victims’ right to information should be an integral consideration in CSC’s consultation, as well as in the event that the federal prison farm employment programs are renewed. Specifically, there is an opportunity for CSC to take a proactive and victim-centred approach to ensuring that registered victims will be able to access their statutory right to information about their offender’s Correctional Plan and progress against it in a timely way, in the event that the farm programs are renewed.
Position & Rationale
The CVBR introduced an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) that allows victims to receive information from the CSC about an offender’s Correctional Plan and progress towards meeting the objectives of the plan. As of June 1, 2016, registered victims can request to receive updates on an offender’s Correctional Plan progress, and CSC can begin sending Correctional Plan Progress Reports (CPPRs) to registered victims who ask for them, in cases where the interest of the victim outweighs any invasion to the offender's privacy.The OFOVC was unable to find any clear CSC guidelines or standards with respect to the amount of time required to fulfil a registered victim’s request for information about an offender’s Correctional Plan or progress towards it. The OFOVC urges the CSC to undertake proactive planning to ensure that registered victims will be able to access information about their offender’s participation in the farming employment program in a timely way, in cases where the victim's interest clearly outweighs any invasion of the offender's privacy. It is the OFOVC’s view that all reasonable measures should be taken to minimize inconvenience to registered victims of crime to receive this information.
In June 2016, the CSC released a guide, The Correctional Plan Progress Report, designed to help victims understand the correctional planning and reporting process, and how information is used in making decisions about offenders. The guide explains the terms and types of information contained in the CPPR. Employment is identified as an information area included in the CPPR, as follows: “If Employment is one of the contributing factors identified in [an offender’s] Correctional Plans, the report will have information about whether they have a job or why they are not working.”1
It is therefore the OFOVC’s understanding that, should the prison farm programming be renewed, registered victims who want to be informed about their offender’s participation in the program have a right to this information, barring exigent circumstances. Currently, however, guidance provided on the CSC’s website suggests that registered victims may have to wait for this type of information:
As of June 2016, CSC can begin sending these reports to registered victims who ask for them. We will respond to all requests within a reasonable timeframe, but will start with cases where important dates are coming up in the offenders’ sentences. Victims can discuss the possible date that they could receive the report when they contact their Victim Services Officer to ask for it.2
Given this guidance, the OFOVC is concerned that registered victims of crime may experience difficulties or delays in accessing information about their offender’s participation in the farming employment program, should the program be re-instated.
Historically, many victims of crime have expressed frustration with delays in receiving information to which they are entitled, and concern about their safety in light of this. While acknowledging that policies and procedures as set out in the CSC's Commissioner's Directive 784 (Information for Victims) must be respected, the OFOVC is of the view that victims should be able to exercise their rights, as enshrined in the CVBR and CCRA, in a timely way and without having to undergo an onerous process to do so. This would include being able to access their right to information about their offender’s participation in employment or skills training.
Many victims of crime have an interest in knowing what, if anything, their offender is doing to rehabilitate him or herself. The importance of information about offenders’ participation in employment, education, and therapeutic programs cannot be understated as it can help victims to feel safer in their daily lives, as well as provide some reassurance that offenders are taking steps to rehabilitate themselves.
Victims and victim-serving agencies have long advocated for victims’ statutory right to access information about their offender’s Correctional Plan and progress against it. Now that this right exists, it is equally important to ensure that it can be readily accessed by the victims it is intended to benefit.
Given the high level of national media attention devoted to the potential renewal of the farming program, coupled with the potential high level of enrolment of offenders in the program,3 many victims of crime may seek to exercise their right to information about their offender’s participation in it. The current period in which consultations are underway provides a window of opportunity to carefully plan for any influx of requests for information by victims with respect to offenders’ participation in the farming program.
1 The Correctional Plan Progress Report: A Guide for Victims. (June 2016). Accessed from the CSC website on July 29, 2016: http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/victims/092/003006-6009-eng.pdf
2 Correctional Plans: Purpose and Content. Accessed from CSC website on July 29, 2016: http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/victims/003006-6010-eng.shtml. Last modified by the CSC on June 2, 2016.3 According to media reports, in its last fiscal year (2009-2010) of operation, as many as 716 offenders were employed across all of the prison farm programs operating at the time: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/reopening-prison-farms-considered-1.3672587