Evaluation of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy

5. Conclusions, Reccommendations and Management Response

The findings presented in Section 4 point to the following set of conclusions about the relevance and performance of the AJS.

5.1. Relevance

The evaluation has found that the conditions underpinning the AJS – overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the MJS and the inability of the System to address the problem effectively – are still in place today. There remains a need for programs and services that offer culturally appropriate alternative means to better protect victims in Indigenous communities and to help steer offenders toward more productive and healthy lives. The AJS is the only departmental community-based justice program for Indigenous persons. It is designed for that purpose, and there is considerably more demand for community-based justice program funding than the AJS currently has available. The Strategy is well aligned with federal government and departmental priorities to play an active role in helping to implement the TRC recommendations, several of which pertain directly to eliminating Indigenous overrepresentation and resourcing alternative justice strategies. There is agreement among FPT justice officials that there is a legitimate and important role for the federal government as the lead in supporting community-based justice programs in Indigenous communities.

5.2. Performance – Achievement of Expected Outcomes

5.2.1. Effectiveness of Community-Based Justice Programs

The evaluation has found that the AJS has succeeded in supporting the establishment of community-based justice programs in many Indigenous communities, and that these programs offer a range of types of alternative programming that are widely recognized as being culturally relevant to the people in those communities. For individuals accessing AJS-funded programs, recidivism rates are lower than for those not participating, and the evaluation found anecdotal evidence that the programs can help bring about transformational change in the lives of participants and in some cases improved community safety. The AJS demonstrates success in achieving progress toward its intended outcomes in many communities and shows an ability to make a real positive difference where the conditions are in place. However, the fact that a majority of Indigenous communities do not receive AJS support means that large numbers of Indigenous people who are in conflict with the law are still faced with a MJS that is not able to respond effectively to their particular needs, and may in fact be perpetuating the problem of overrepresentation.

5.2.2. Access to Community-Based Justice Programs

The evaluation also found a number of factors in AJS-supported communities that limit access to effective alternative programming. One is that the community-based justice programs rely heavily on referrals from police and Crown to enable offenders to take advantage of their programs, and referrals vary greatly from community to community. In some communities, there is a strong, trust-based relationship between the MJS and the community-based justice programs. In others, those relationships do not yet exist because of the predisposition of MJS officials, their lack of awareness of the community-based justice programs or concerns over their quality. Data on referral proportions are not available, but there is a perception among FPT and community officials that there remains a great deal of work to accomplish in order to increase referrals. Steps are being taken to remedy this situation, such as a national RCMP diversion initiative that is viewed as another step in the right direction.

Recommendation 1:

The AJD work with the MJS to increase awareness of and confidence in the AJS to ensure referrals are being made when appropriate.

Management Response:

Agreed. The AJD acknowledges that a collaborative relationship that results in referrals from MJS officials (e.g. Police and Crown) is the cornerstone of success of the AJS. However, referrals have frequently been cited as an ongoing challenge resulting from lack of awareness or confidence in community-based justice programs. Police and Crown confidence in community-based justice programs is largely based on the knowledge and experience of the CJW responsible for delivering the community-based justice program. Consecutive short-term mandate and long-standing program integrity issues have resulted in high turnover in CJW in AJS programs, which has led to instability in the program delivery and inconsistent referrals from the MJS.

The AJD has already begun working with the RCMP to help increase referrals to community-based justice programs. It will also pursue opportunities to support awareness building activities focused on developing partnership and building confidence in referral agencies, which is essential to the community-based justice program model.

5.2.3. Stability of Funding

The capacity of some of the community-based justice programs is also impacting the level of access to alternative programming. This relates to both human resources and training. AJS funding enables communities to hire minimal staff (in some cases, only a single part-time person) to operate programs along with volunteers or other staff paid through other sources. CJWs work is complex, requiring knowledge of the justice system, health and social services, child and family services, mental health and addictions services, and a range of other areas of expertise. But the CJWs are reportedly underpaid compared to mainstream counterparts (e.g., probation officers, victim service workers or courtworkers), and have relied in many cases on annual renewals of the AJS for continued employment. Staff turnover is considered high for these reasons.

AJD staff have encountered similar issues due to an extended period of short-term renewals of the program and staff and operating budget cutbacks. The regional presence of the program is viewed by AJD, provincial and territorial partners and CJWs as a key value because the Department has eyes and ears on the ground and can support the programs in linking better with the MJS. In recent years, though, reduced staff complements and travel restrictions have meant that much of the very important on-site work has not taken place. At NHQ, considerable time and energy has been expended preparing for frequent program renewals instead of further developing the initiative, preparing training programs, developing policy and program planning in concert with other complimentary areas of the Department as well as a much needed cross-departmental collaboration to recognize and act on the multidimensional nature of Indigenous overrepresentation.

Recommendation 2:

The AJD seek stability of funding for the AJS to address program integrity issues in community-based justice programs and to enable effective collaboration within the Department and with the MJS.

Management Response:

Agreed. The AJD will pursue opportunities=- to address program integrity issues as well as the need for new community-based justice programs.

The AJD will continue to foster and improve horizontal partnerships within the Department, for example, with the Aboriginal Courtwork Program. Joint opportunities for collaboration and research with provinces and territories and other government departments (i.e. Public Safety) will continue to be identified.

5.2.4. Enhancing the Capacity of Community-Based Justice Programs

The evaluation found that there is considerable variation in the quality of the programs, with some viewed as very strong and well organized and others requiring improvement. Stakeholders highlighted a number of factors that influence program quality, including the level of training and experience of program managers and staff; a lack of resources for systematic, ongoing training of CJWs and other service providers; and a lack of recognized core competencies for the various types of programs and services, resulting in a reported wide variance in the experience, training and abilities of CJWs.

The AJS has attempted to address these capacity issues through its Capacity-Building Fund. However, the impact has been limited in terms of resources, the ability of Regional Coordinators to provide support and mentoring to build capacity at the community level, and the one-time contributions or grants from the Capacity-Building Fund that are accessible to a small number of communities each year. AJD officials acknowledge that often the more advanced communities are successful in obtaining the funding because they have greater proposal writing experience.

There is a perceived value among CJWs and FPT justice officials in bringing CJWs together for training and information exchange, especially to enable less developed programs to learn from more experienced ones. This can be done through regional training events, webinars or online forum that increase access to training. In summary, the AJS demonstrates success in achieving progress toward its intended outcomes in many communities and shows an ability to make a real positive difference where the conditions are in place. But access is limited in many AJS communities due to lack of referrals from the MJS, and community-based justice programs are not accessible at all in a majority of Indigenous communities in Canada. In AJS communities, there are barriers to greater effectiveness related to program capacity, and the AJD has limited ability to help improve capacity with existing resources and with its current short mandate. Importantly, the AJS is only one component of a broader cross-government and community initiative that is required to address the root causes of Indigenous overrepresentation.

Recommendation 3:

To enhance the capacity of Indigenous communities, the AJD focus Capacity-Building Fund resources on supporting activities that promote the development of a community of practice and have the greatest reach/impact on community-based justice programs.

Management Response:

Agreed. The AJD is committed to taking a more strategic approach to utilizing its capacity-building funding to maximize its funding and reach the maximum number of recipients. Regional training opportunities for example, provide jurisdictions with opportunities to bring community-based justice programs and other justice stakeholders together and focus on provincial/territorial priorities or emerging justice issues.

5.3. Performance – Demonstration of Efficiency and Economy

The AJS is an efficiently operated program and is highly economic as far as costs relative to benefit. The evaluation found that administration costs for the program were low, especially taking in account the regional presence and efforts of Program Analysts and Regional Coordinators to support the community-based justice programs. An analysis of the comparative costs of AJS-funded programs against MJS courts demonstrates that there are cost-savings to the justice system from the employment of the community-based justice programs. These cost savings exceed the cost of the AJS, while demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing recidivism rates among program participants. There seems little doubt that the benefits of the AJS exceed the cost. In this light, budget reductions through the evaluation period can be seen as limiting this benefit rather than saving money.

The other area in relation related to efficiency has to do with the short-term program mandates and the frequent requirements for policy and program managers and staff to focus on program renewal. Besides the costs in terms of staff presence on the ground, the costs of these renewals (in staff time and effort) appear to demonstrate inefficiency. A series of AJS evaluations has shown no major areas of concern related to program effectiveness or lack of FPT support for the program that might warrant the short-term mandates.