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Important Context for Counselling Ex-Offenders

Most offenders come from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Characteristics that may affect their rehabilitation are:

  • Emotional instability
  • Marginality
  • Lack of vocational skills
  • Lack of support systems
  • Negative or deviant self-concept and work attitudes

Offenders have the opportunity to participate in a number of programs, particularly in federal institutions. They may have access to programs that focus on employment and academic skills, substance abuse, and psycho-educational concerns. Such programs can help address behaviours and issues that may interfere with gaining and maintaining employment upon release.

Terminology and definitions

The following terminology and definitions relate to correctional systems.

At the federal government level

The federal correctional system normally provides correctional programs to convicted offenders who have been sentenced to incarceration for 2 years or longer.

  • Parole. Offenders placed on parole are approved for release with a term of community supervision as part of their sentence.
  • Full parole. Offenders are not required to report back regularly to a correctional facility.
  • Day parole. Offenders are normally required to report back daily to a community residential facility, halfway house, or day release centre.
  • Statutory release. Offenders are normally eligible for release under supervision on their statutory release date. This is the point at which they have served two-thirds of their sentence. Usually these are offenders who did not apply for parole or who were denied parole.
  • Penitentiaries. Federal sentences are served in penitentiaries.

At the provincial government level

The provincial government provides correctional programs to offenders sentenced to terms of less than 2 years. This level of government also supervises offenders who received community sentences, such as fines, community service, or probation.

  • Probation. Probation is usually ordered by the court along with a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence. The offender must follow court-ordered conditions as part of the sentence. The conditions are set out in the probation order and may include reporting to a probation officer.
  • Conditional sentence. Conditional sentences are less than 2 years. The sentence is served in the community and can be subject to strict conditions. Upon breach of these conditions, the rest of the sentence could be served in custody.
  • Young offenders. The provincial correctional service administers all young offender sentences. Young offenders may serve terms longer than 2 years in provincial custody.
  • Remand centres, correctional centres, and young offender centres. Provincial sentences are served in these institutions.

Prisonization and recidivism

Being in prison

“Although there have not been very many studies conducted on the psychological effects of prison, there has always been an understanding of the sociological consequences that the atmosphere of a controlled isolated space can have on inmates.”

—Byron Harrison and Robert C. Schehr

Prisonization describes the way prisoners adapt to life in prison, learning and accepting the attitudes of criminals and prison culture as the norm. This is a significant factor in understanding how an ex-offender adjusts to release.

Recidivism is readmittance to a federal or provincial correctional facility. It includes readmittance not only for new offences, but also for technical violations of release conditions.

Conditions of release

Some clients may be under mandated supervision, such as parole, and subject to conditions of release. Ex-offenders must comply with such conditions. Fulfilling them may interfere with or eliminate the option of full-time employment. Determining whether a client’s release is subject to conditions is extremely important.

An offender may be subject to conditions of release, such as:

  • Abstaining from intoxicants
  • Disclosing finances
  • Attending psychiatric counselling
  • Disclosing intimate relationships
  • Not being alone with a person under the age of 18

Pardons

A pardon allows ex-offenders who have completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens to have their criminal record kept separate from other criminal records. Pardons are issued by the federal government of Canada. If the ex-offender receives a pardon, any search of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) will not show a history of a criminal record or the issuance of a pardon.

People are eligible to apply for a pardon once they have completed the sentence ordered by the judge and have waited a certain amount of time, based on their charge. Waiting periods range from no waiting periods for not-guilty dispositions to 5 years for convictions of serious offences.

Employment readiness

Employment is an important way to help with re-entry. At the same time, rushing ex-offenders to search for full-time employment right away may set them up for more challenges. These clients often have other needs that must be addressed before moving into full-time employment.

Practical challenges

Ex-offenders face a number of external and internal challenges to successful work search and employment. These include:

  • The client may not have a driver’s licence due to suspension or unpaid fines. The client may also need funds to use public transportation.
  • Identification and documentation. The client may not have a birth certificate or current driver’s licence. Birth certificates are needed for Alberta Health Care applications.
  • Work clothes and tools. The client may not have clothing and tools for work, such as steel-toed boots for construction work.
  • The client may not have shelter or a permanent residence.
  • The client may not have access to a telephone, cellphone, or internet services.
  • Bank accounts. The client may not be able to meet the requirement to open a bank account. Some employers require employees to have a bank account because they pay wages through direct deposit.

Literacy skills

Literacy as an essential skill

“Not only do offenders need adequate literacy skills to negotiate the legal system, they need them to survive the bureaucracy of the correctional system and to make the transition effectively to the world outside once their sentences are completed.”

—Denise Ryan, Vancouver Sun

Over 1 in 3 prison inmates have not completed Grade 9. They are also 4 times as likely to have learning disabilities. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, the average education level of newly admitted offenders serving 2 years or more is Grade 7. These realities can contribute to a person’s chances of incarceration in the first place.

Research shows that education is an important way to help offenders prepare for their safe return to the community. Not being able to read and write may not be a specific cause of criminal behaviour, but it can make daily life difficult and correctional programming less productive. Low literacy limits employment opportunities for this client population.

Correctional service programs

Both the federal and provincial governments offer programs for ex-offenders to build employment skills. Programs in mental health, life skills, and education are also available. Ask clients about any programs, training, and employment they were enrolled in while they were in a federal or provincial correctional program.

Federal programs

CORCAN is a Correctional Service of Canada rehabilitation program. It provides employment training and teaches employability skills in federal correctional institutions. Offenders can be trained to industry standards in skills such as metalwork, carpentry, and farming. CORCAN offers many products and services. These include office and dormitory furniture, textiles, office supplies and printing, construction services, and laundry services. CORCAN also encourages partnerships with private industry.

CORCAN strives for a realistic work environment. Participants gain marketable skills and learn the importance of commitment, punctuality, self-control, and responsibility at work.

Offenders can earn certifications in these areas:

  • Industrial first aid
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
  • Forklift operations
  • Construction safety
  • Safe food handling

Offenders in a CORCAN program may also have completed academic, substance abuse awareness, or psycho-educational programs. CORCAN is a successful program: offenders who work in CORCAN for 6 months or more show a 25% drop in recidivism compared to offenders who do not work in the program.

Up to 20% of the federal offender population is active in CORCAN training, and there can be a long waiting list.

Provincial programs

The Community Corrections and Release Program offers community-based programs to adult and youth offenders. Community corrections offices and attendance centres are located throughout Alberta. Adult offenders may take part in community-based programs, such as probation, conditional sentence supervision, temporary absence, pre-trial release, fine options, and alternative measures. Offenders in these programs are supervised by staff.

Young offenders may receive bail orders, probation, community service orders, or other community sentences. Offenders under the supervision of community corrections offices can participate in rehabilitative programs that promote positive and productive behaviours. These programs are delivered by agencies other than community corrections.

A variety of rehabilitative services are available. These include:

  • Mental health
  • Specialized treatment programs
  • Education programs
  • Life skills training

Provincially funded agencies also offer programming for offenders convicted of various types of offences, including sexual offences and domestic or family violence.

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