Citizen Advisory Committees key to correctional system

Matt
Matt Gardner
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Implicit in the name of Canada’s correctional system is the idea that offenders can be rehabilitated to become productive members of society.

Prince Albert Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) chairperson Nicole Rancourt speaks on the role of CACs in the correctional system on Tuesday at the monthly gathering and information exchange hosted by the Community Networking Coalition, as Prince Albert Parole Office supervisor Tyler McKinnon listens.

Nationwide, a key element of this strategy are the Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC) -- volunteer groups of citizens tasked with observing, advising and mediating between different groups to facilitate that process.

On Tuesday, Prince Albert Citizen Advisory Committee chairperson Nicole Rancourt and Prince Albert Parole Office supervisor Tyler McKinnon spoke to the Community Networking Coalition at the P.A. Arts Centre about the role of the local committee.

They identified two key functions of the Prince Albert CAC; working with wardens and managers at Saskatchewan Penitentiary and P.A. Parole to highlight the role of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in ensuring public safety, and providing a community perspective for CSC management.

“We advise local, regional and national CSC managers on the overall development of correctional policies and programs,” Rancourt said. “So when they’re going to be changing some of their policies or programs, oftentimes they’ll inform the Citizen Advisory Committee and just ask for our input.”

Aside from providing a community voice in the correctional system, CACs also serve as a third-party committee for offenders to address perceived injustices or problems inside correctional facilities, which McKinnon noted most often involve food.

“It’s an avenue for the inmates to request the intervention of the CAC to … maybe solve some of their problems or lend an impartial opinion as to what’s going on,” McKinnon said.

“Part of the role of the CAC is also to do some investigations for us and to really meet with the inmates and try to come to a resolution, and to prevent maybe potential grievances or potential uprisings in the institutions.”

“I think the offenders really appreciate that, having just someone in the community come and talk with them,” Rancourt added.

While sometimes the CAC will be able to negotiate a compromise by writing to CSC management, she noted, “There are some times that we say ‘Hmm, I think you're maybe asking for a little bit too much’ -- and when it’s just an outsider’s opinion, (offenders) take it a little bit better than when it’s one of the workers saying that.”

The Prince Albert CAC currently has six members, representing a variety of community organizations.

Besides members, correction managers from all departments attend the committee’s monthly meetings, which take place on the first Tuesday of each month.

A social worker who had long been interested in working with offenders, Rancourt joined the Prince Albert CAC approximately five years ago.

We advise local, regional and national CSC managers on the overall development of correctional policies and programs. Nicole Rancourt

She noted that committee members have a variety of motivations for joining.

“Some people it’s because they want to be involved in the community,” Rancourt said. “They want to learn about the criminal justice system, they want to assist offenders by supporting programming and they want to contribute to a safer society.”

In their role as observers, CAC members monitor day-to-day operations -- often touring facilities -- and how employees interact with prisoners.

“When we go into a facility, we’re keeping our eyes open, we’re kind of observing how things are being run,” Rancourt said.

“Sometimes we observe disciplinary hearings. We’ll attend and observe during an institutional crisis.”

As advisors, the CAC offer recommendations to CSC managers at local, regional and national levels on policies and programs.

Rancourt offered the example of Riverbend Institution moving from a farm-based system towards a focus on the trades.

“When they were deciding to make that change, a lot of the CACs were not in favour of that, so we wrote letters and we informed them of why we were not in favour of that,” she said.

“They still did it,” she added with a chuckle. “But we got to have our say and I think they took that into account.”

The liaison component of CAC membership involves community outreach efforts, interacting with volunteers, offenders and CSC managers and promoting open communication between the different groups.

Offenders often utilize the CAC to find out about employment opportunities and address issues such as housing, while the CAC helps direct offenders to perform volunteer work with others.

“There’s no cost associated with those work crews,” McKinnon said. “Really, the purpose is for them to give back to the community.

“They’re largely involved in working for non-profit organizations or for other events that require physical labour -- setting up, taking down, cleaning, those types of things.”

Rancourt identified three basic traits required of candidates for CAC membership.

These include being involved in one’s community, being open-minded and able to maintain a neutral stance, and supporting offender rehabilitation.

“We’re not advocates for offenders,” Rancourt said. “We’re neutral about everything.”

Additional information is available at www.csc-scc.gc.ca.

Organizations: Citizen Advisory Committees, Correctional Service of Canada, Prince Albert Citizen Advisory Committee Nicole Rancourt and Prince Albert Parole Office Community Networking Coalition Prince Albert Arts Centre Saskatchewan Penitentiary Riverbend Institution

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