A Journey in Effective Correctional Reform: Canada's Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Cuddington, Lynn, Corrections Today
Canada's Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) is the foundation of the country's federal corrections and conditional release system. Its purpose is the long-term protection of Canadians, and as such, it has a direct impact on public safety. The act has been in force for five years and currently is undergoing a parliamentary review. With the review now well under way, extensive consultation within the correctional system as well as with the public at large indicate that the edicts of the CCRA will be upheld.
The Context of Legislative Reform
Like most significant policy or legislative initiatives, CCRA was not the result of a single issue or event. Instead, it was the culmination of years of work and diverse concerns, perspectives, challenges and opportunities.
The 15-year period preceding the creation of CCRA saw considerable growth in crime rates in Canada, particularly in the years just prior to the act's enactment in 1992. Overall, the crime rate rose by about 40 percent. While the rate of property crime increased by 28 percent, the largest increase was in the rate of violent crime (86 percent).
Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, public opinion surveys showed that Canadians were losing confidence in their criminal justice system. Moreover, many Canadians believed that the law needed to be reviewed and updated to reflect the impact of a society that had changed significantly since the introduction of the Penitentiary Act in 1868 and the Parole Act in 1959.
Over the same period, public pressure mounted for formal recognition of the role of victims. Both victims' groups and the public identified access to information about offenders and their conditional release as priorities.
The years just prior to CCRA's creation also presented complex challenges involving Aboriginal peoples and criminal justice. Research had demonstrated persistent Aboriginal overrepresentation at all stages of the criminal justice process, from policing through courts to corrections. Proposals from Aboriginal groups called for revised legal frameworks and jurisdictional arrangements.
In August 1988, a parliamentary standing committee released a report that made numerous recommendations for reform, emphasizing a need for the restoration of public confidence in criminal justice and for greater openness, accountability and effectiveness. In response to the report, the government released a consultation package in June 1990 titled "Directions for Reform," which addressed sentencing, sentence administration and conditional release.
In 1991, a parliamentary committee reviewed the detention provisions of the Parole Act, which allowed an inmate to be held until sentence expiry. While supporting the continuation of detention, the committee made numerous recommendations for reform, such as the expansion of the categories of offenders who could be eligible for such a finding.
CCRA - Groundbreaking Legislation
When CCRA was proclaimed law in November 1992, it signaled an important step forward for Canada's criminal justice system. CCRA replaced the outdated Penitentiary and Parole acts and consolidated corrections and conditional release. Under CCRA, public protection became the key consideration in decisions concerning the treatment and release of inmates.
The new act was recognized internationally as groundbreaking legislation. For instance, it contained a statement of purpose and principles; it put into law the common-law concept of the "duty to act fairly"; and it was one of the first pieces of legislation to reflect Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was enacted in 1982. For the first time, victims of crime were formally recognized in the federal corrections and parole process, as were the special needs of female offenders, Aboriginal offenders and others. Also, CCRA instated the long-standing Office of the Correctional Investigator as an ombudsman for federal inmates. …