Cindy Caudron has visited penitentiaries all over Canada and she won’t hesitate to say that the NWT has implemented the most progressive correctional measures in the country.
“Think outside the box and, if you’re at a loss, you can use stuff that’s in the box,” said the regional probation manager for Hay River with the territorial Department of Justice.
That kind of mindset has led to the creation of reintegration teams, an extensive support system that ensures offenders stay on the right track upon their release. The initiative, which has been used in Hay River for several years, is the only one of its kind in Canada.
“I’m not a believer of waiting around for the South to come up with ideas for us,” Caudron said.
Before its creation, she wanted to find a way to eliminate the clean break that took place once an offender left a correctional facility.
“Historically there were no ties to bind them to the community when they were in jail,” she said. “There was a total disconnect. It used to be that offenders would go to jail, and a case management team would develop a case plan for them. Upon their release, the offenders would be supervised by a parole officer who would have to create an entirely new plan for them. This started changing six or seven years ago.”
Caudron said offenders at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre can, and often do, request a reintegration team, a group of people they choose themselves. The teams usually range between three to 15 people. They are briefed beforehand by people such as Caudron to ensure they can recognize the offender’s risk factors and relapse indicators.
“The probation officers might only see the person once or twice a week when they’re released, but the reintegration team is comprised of friends and family who cross paths with this person all the time,” she said. “We ask the person (offender) about what they want from their reintegration team, how they want them to react if things go sideways. The objective for us is to assist in forming those relationships so that, once the offender is out of the system, he or she has that ongoing support.”
The teams have an extremely high success rate. Only two of the 25 offenders who have had reintegration teams have re-offended.
Caudron said the success stems from providing help in many shapes and forms, as opposed to leaving someone alone upon their release, where the likelihood to go back to bad habits is increased.
“I’ve realized that in my 18 or 19 years of doing this work that communities are a lot more strict,” she said, referring to reintegration teams being blunt with offenders. “One time an elder got up and pointed to the person. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but I knew that he was in trouble. It’s always to speak the truth, which is what all people want. They want you to be successful.”
The sense of community that exists in the Northwest Territories is also a factor.
“We might be 45,000 here on a good day when everyone is home,” Caudron said. “We know people who know people. Ultimately the management of those people (offenders) affects me, too. When I go home, I can look outside and I know that that person in the system has a case management team and a reintegration team that goes beyond what the norm in Canada is.”
There is an increased workload associated with following an offender’s progress once that person is released from a correctional facility, and it would be much easier to cut ties with that person upon release, she said. “Some people need to be in jail, but if it is that people are released – and they will be released some day – far better off that we can reduce their risk of re-offending and put them under supervision as opposed to letting them walk free.”
Other support in Hay River has come in the shape of employers, who hire offenders and keep track of their progress. If attitudes or behaviours take a turn for the worst, employers contact reintegration teams to co-ordinate a new meeting.
Caudron gave the example of an employer who called because a worker had been late for work a few times, and there was concern about the person’s attitude.
“They called me, we had a meeting and laid everything on the table,” Caudron said. “Employers here in Hay River are very supportive of what we do, they’re instrumental actually. People in this town are great, very forgiving. They give people chances that they wouldn’t get under normal circumstances.”
– Myles Dolphin