State of the Criminal Justice System - 2019 Report

Introduction

The Department of Justice Canada (the Department) began a review of the criminal justice system (CJS) in 2015 to support the mandate of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (Office of the Prime Minister, 2015). A key component of the CJS review included examining existing strengths and areas to improve. Longstanding gaps in data and information seriously limit our ability to understand the CJS and identify problems, assess performance, and support evidence-based policy, programming, and legislative changes. At issue is not simply the lack of data pertaining to pathways through the CJS process, but also the inability to understand the circumstances that bring individuals into contact with the CJS and provide effective responses. This lack of data has been the subject of many discussions among experts and practitioners in the field of criminal justice and across other social disciplines. For example, the 2014 Re-inventing Criminal Justice symposiumrecommended developing and implementing performance measures to evaluate the CJS (International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, 2014). In addition, as part of public consultations for the CJS review,stakeholders noted that the lack of data on the CJS makes it difficult to measure progress, make decisions, and deliver results (Department of Justice Canada, 2018a). Further, almost nine in ten Canadians strongly support having performance indicators for the CJS to tell Canadians how well it is or is not performing (Department of Justice Canada, 2018b).

As part of its commitment to review the CJS and as part of its broader efforts to identify and address data gaps that hinder evidence-based decision-making, the Department’s Research and Statistics Division created the CJS’ first national performance monitoring framework (Framework).

Performance monitoring refers to the ongoing regular collection of information to monitor how a system is doing, such as whether and to what extent it is achieving its objectives. Performance monitoring helps identify trends, benchmarks, strengths, and areas for improvement, and highlights areas that need more data collected, monitored, and analysed. When the performance of the CJS is monitored regularly and reported publicly, it is more accountable to the public.

The State of the Criminal Justice System Annual Report as well as an online interactive Dashboard present data and information from the Framework. The purpose of the report is to make a complicated and varied collection of CJS datasets and indicators easier for the public to access and understand. The report provides Canadians interested in finding out how effective the CJS is with key CJS information that is located in a central and regularly updated source. This work is consistent with Open Government because it provides ready access to information on the CJS. This work also responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action to report, monitor, and evaluate the issue of Indigenous people being overrepresented in the CJS (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

This first edition of the State of the Criminal Justice System Annual Report presents quantitative data on selected indicators from the Framework. The selected indicators included in this report were based on noteworthy findings and available data. The online Dashboard was developed to present quantitative data for all indicators from the Framework, where data are available. The report and online Dashboard present data at the national level and include the five most recent years where available to show direction of changes (e.g., increase, decrease, neutral), strengths, and areas for improvement.Footnote 3 The report notes some longer-term trends.

The online Dashboard also presents information on Indigenous people’s interaction with the CJS. The Dashboard shows that data for some groups of people can be reported across more than one outcome and an effort to highlight and contextualize data on the experiences of particular populations within the CJS. Future editions of the online Dashboard and annual Report will highlight and contextualize data on the experiences of other populations, such as women and youth.

The report begins by describing the CJS and how it interacts with other social systems. It then discusses the development of the Framework, including its expected outcomes, limitations, and caveats. The main sections of the report describe the outcomes and research findings for each outcome by focusing on two to four indicators per outcome. The conclusion identifies current trends based on available data and highlights what the Department intends to do next. The report does not make any assumptions or conclusions about CJS strengths and areas to improve, aside from a need to invest in data collection.

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