Aboriginal Courtwork Program Evaluation
3. Evaluation Findings
This chapter presents the evaluation findings regarding program relevance and performance, including effectiveness as well as efficiency and economy.
3.1. Program Relevance
The evaluation questions related to relevance focus on the continued need for the Program and the extent to which it is aligned with departmental and federal government priorities, roles and responsibilities. The major findings are summarized below.
3.1.1. Continued Need for the Program
Aboriginal people continue to face significant challenges which can impact their access to fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment before the courts. Literature suggests that Aboriginal people continue to be overrepresented in the courts and face significant socio-economic, cultural and language issues.
The proportion of offenders incarcerated is higher among Aboriginal people than among non-Aboriginal people. Statistics show that in 2010/11, 27% of adults in provincial and territorial custody and 20% of those in federal custody were Aboriginal people, which is about seven to eight times higher than the proportion of Aboriginal people (3%) in the adult population as a whole Footnote 8. The Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview, Annual Report 2011 shows that Aboriginal people continue to be overrepresented in the justice system and that the number of Aboriginal offenders is increasing: Footnote 9 From 2001/02 to 2010/11, the Aboriginal incarcerated population under federal jurisdiction increased by 37%. The rate of incarcerated Aboriginal women increased steadily from 98 in 2001/02 to 182 in 2010/11 per 100,000 adults, an increase of 86% in the last ten years. The increase of incarcerated Aboriginal men was 35% for the same period. From 2001/02 to 2010/11, the number of Aboriginal people under community supervision increased 15%.
Numerous studies have identified cultural differences and social barriers that have an impact on the ability of Aboriginal people to access and use legal services. Aboriginal people have a greater need for legal services in areas such as criminal and child protection law, but also face greater barriers in accessing these services. Socio-economic and cultural factors such as history of residential schools lower rate of literacy, poverty and isolation contribute to lack of appropriate housing, health care and transportation, which can significantly impact access of the Aboriginal people to justice and legal services Footnote 10. Studies show that socio-economic factors such as alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, lack of information and understanding by the client, and insufficient community and criminal justice resources are major contributors to recidivism for relatively minor administration of justice offences Footnote 11.
Aboriginal people who do not speak English or French can face significant language barriers which could impact on their ability to communicate with judicial and court officials, and to understand their rights and responsibilities during the court process.
Data from the 2006 Census illustrate the significant inequalities that exist between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population with regards to education, employment and income. For example, in 2006, one-third (33%) of Aboriginal adults aged 25 to 54 in Canada (50% of the First Nations people aged 25 to 64 living on reserve) had less than a high school education (compared to nearly 13% of the non-Aboriginal population) Footnote 12. The employment rate for Aboriginal people of core working age (25 to 54) was 66% as compared to 82% for non-Aboriginal people Footnote 13, and the median total income of the Aboriginal population aged 25 to 54 in 2005 was just over $22,000 ($14,000 for people living on reserve) as compared to over $33,000 for the non-Aboriginal population. Footnote 14 Research indicates that young adults without a high school diploma or employment are more at risk of committing crimes that lead to being incarcerated Footnote 15.
The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and resulting socio-economic circumstances contribute to the higher level of incarceration of Aboriginal people. The Supreme Court has instructed that the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders must be considered in sentencing. In the decision R v. Ipeelee, judges are instructed that "when sentencing an Aboriginal offender, courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and of course higher levels of incarceration for Aboriginal people" Footnote 16.
Sub-section 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code states that "all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders" Footnote 17. In a landmark decision R. v. Gladue, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the law to mean that "in sentencing an Aboriginal offender, the judge must consider: (a) the unique system or background factors which may have played a part in bringing the particular Aboriginal offender before the courts, and (b) the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular Aboriginal heritage or connection" Footnote 18. Such considerations on the part of the sentencing judge require that the information pertaining to systemic and other background factors related to the circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court, as well as options for sentencing, be presented to the court. The ACW Program is intended to play an important role in providing such information to judicial and court officials.
Demand for services is a strong indicator of continuing need. In 2010/11, nearly 60,000 clients in over 450 communities received services from a Courtworker. The reported number of clients served has decreased since 2008/09, although this may be attributable to changes in the definition of client and data collection procedures. It may also be attributable to a drop in the number of Courtworkers providing services. For example, although the number of clients served has dropped almost 13.4% between 2005/06 and 2010/11, the number of Courtworkers has dropped by 12.9% over the same period. In 2005/06, the ACW Program served 67,921 clients with 210 Courtworkers (part-time and full-time), averaging 323 clients per Courtworker. By 2010/11, the number of Courtworkers was reduced to 183, which still averaged 321 clients per Courtworker. Thus, although the level of effort has remained constant per Courtworker, the number of Courtworkers providing services has dropped.
As indicated in Figure 2 below, the relative proportion of demand for Courtworker services has remained unchanged for male, female, adult and youth over the last three years (about two-thirds of clients were male and one-third female; and about three-quarters of clients served were adults while about one-quarter of all clients were youth). Courtworkers surveyed noted that the services requested by different types of clients were similar. Some notable differences were that referrals to legal services were more frequently provided to male clients, and emotional support and non-therapeutic counselling were more frequently provided to female clients.
Figure 2: National Number of Clients who Received Courtworker Services by Year with Gender and Adult/Youth Breakdown
Figure 2 - Text equivalent
In 2008/09, the total number of clients was 69,747. Out of this total number of clients, 60% were Adult/Male, 25% were Adult/Female, 9% were Youth/Male, and 5% were Youth/Female.
In 2009/10, the total number of clients was 58,643. Out of this total number of clients, 61% were Adult/Male, 26% were Adult/Female, 8% were Youth/Male, and 5% were Youth/Female.
In 2010/11, the total number of clients was 58,788. Out of this total number of clients, 58% were Adult/Male, 28% were Adult/Female, 9% were Youth/Male, and 6% were Youth/Female.
Source: Performance Measures National Roll-up, Justice Canada
The Client Survey shows that the need for Courtworkers' services remains strong amongst those who have previously received services and have previous convictions (about one-half of clients surveyed in 2007 and 2011 said they previously received services from Courtworkers; 68% of clients surveyed in 2007 and 55% in 2011 had previous convictions). Gender differences in services received were also observed in the Client Survey, as women were more likely to receive services for the first time. Clients reported most commonly seeking information and assistance related to the court processes (19%), how to find a lawyer (11%), preparing for court (8%), referrals to other resources/alternatives/restorative justice programs (8%), as well as general guidance and assistance (13%).
Almost all judicial and court officials (96%) indicated that Aboriginal persons appearing in court continue to need the services provided by the ACW Program. When asked where the greatest demand for services exists, judicial and court officials identified circuit courts (72%), followed by "base" courts (63%), and out of court and/or in the communities (44%). When asked to rate the need for the Program on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is a major need, key informants provided an average rating of 4.9 and Courtworkers provided an average rating of 4.8. Judicial and court officials, key informants and Courtworkers saw a strong need to support clients with information regarding the court process, their rights and responsibilities, and referrals to alternative programs and other services. About one-third of Courtworkers added that there is a strong need to address barriers to access to justice faced by Aboriginal persons before the court such as language or cultural barriers, financial barriers, limited education or literacy barriers, limited access to resources due to isolated location/community, drug and alcohol problems, mental health issues and learning disabilities. The need to provide information to clients and courts, to advocate on behalf of clients and connect them and their families to broader services, was emphasized by about half of the Courtworkers surveyed.
Almost 80% of key informants indicated that the challenges faced by Aboriginal persons before the court have increased in recent years, due in part to the increasing complexity of issues, changes to the Criminal Code, increased demand for Gladue reporting, and more limited access to other programming. For example, about one-third of Courtworkers noted that difficulties in accessing legal aid services in some jurisdictions, particularly in more remote areas, have placed increased pressure on Courtworker services. As a result, Courtworkers are involved increasingly in filling out applications for legal aid on behalf of clients.
3.1.2. Consistency with federal government and departmental priorities
The objectives of the ACW Program are generally consistent with the priorities of the federal government. Although recent Speeches from the Throne have focused more specifically on comprehensive law-and-order legislation to combat crime and protect the interests of law-abiding citizens who are victimized or threatened, they have also spoken to the need to address barriers to social and economic participation faced by Aboriginal persons. For example, the 2011 Speech from the Throne noted that:
"Canada's Aboriginal peoples are central to Canada's history, and our Government has made it a priority to renew and deepen our relationship. The contribution of Canada's Aboriginal peoples will be important to our future prosperity. Concerted action is needed to address the barriers to social and economic participation that many Aboriginal Canadians face."
The Government of Canada has also acknowledged the impact of historical injustices on Aboriginal people. For example, in the Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools (June 11, 2008), it was noted that "[t]he legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today" Footnote 19.
The objectives of the ACW Program are consistent with the Department of Justice strategic outcome to ensure "a fair, relevant and accessible Canadian justice system". The Department plays a major part by carrying out its fundamental role in establishing, maintaining and refining the Canadian legal framework. This strategic outcome is supported by the program activity, Stewardship of the Canadian Legal Framework, which includes four sub-activities, two of which are Access to Justice and Aboriginal Justice.
In the Department of Justice Program Activity Architecture, the ACW Program falls under the sub-activity of Aboriginal Justice. It is anticipated that, through the ACW Program, Aboriginal people in the justice system will receive fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment before the court, thereby increasing their access to justice. This ensures that Aboriginal persons before the court understand what is happening to them in the court and that judicial and court officials are able to take into consideration both the facts of the case and the personal circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court. The ACW Program's objectives are therefore consistent with attaining the Department's strategic outcome of a fair, relevant and accessible Canadian justice system.
3.1.3. Alignment with federal roles and responsibilities
The Government of Canada has the constitutional authority, under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, to make laws in relation to criminal law and procedure which apply to all Canadians. The federal government also has jurisdiction concerning "Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians" and criminal law and procedure in criminal matters under section 91(27) of the Act.
Under section 92(14) of the Constitution Act, 1867, provincial governments are responsible for the administration of civil and criminal justice, including policing and prosecuting most Criminal Code offences. Accordingly, the provinces have the authority to develop laws and policies in that area with respect to the delivery of justice-related services to their citizens. In the territories, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) is responsible for prosecuting Criminal Code offences.
As such, Aboriginal justice is a shared responsibility between the different orders of government. In 2008, FPT government ministers responsible for justice signed the Declaration on Collaboration regarding Aboriginal Justice Services and Programs, which expressed the desire of the governments to collaborate in order to better address Aboriginal justice needs. Through the Declaration, the FPT governments agreed to work collaboratively to provide predictable, sustainable and equitable justice-related services and programs to Aboriginal people.
3.2. Performance - Program Effectiveness
3.2.1. Achieving Expected Outcomes
Courtworkers are strategically positioned within the courts in order to provide timely information to clients and to judicial and court officials, which helps to address some of the underlying challenges, and serves as a bridge between the formal justice system and Aboriginal communities.
When considering the effectiveness of the ACW Program in ensuring that Aboriginal persons charged with a criminal offence receive fair, equitable, and culturally sensitive treatment by the criminal justice system, it is important to note that the challenges faced by Aboriginal people in the justice system are significant and multidimensional. Aboriginal persons before the court face unique challenges, as they are often both offenders and victims. With a budget of $5.5 million to support services in 450 communities, it is unreasonable to expect that the Program can fully address these challenges and bring about lasting systemic change given its narrow focus, scope and limited reach (e.g., level of engagement on a per-client and per-case basis). In addition, there are no objective, quantitative measures in place to assess fairness, equity and cultural sensitivity. Although data on the number of people who receive Courtworker services is available, comparable data on specific aggregate data elements is not available.
Consequently, the review of program effectiveness is based on the perceptions and experiences of the key stakeholders: ACW clients who have received services, judicial and court officials, Courtworkers, SDAs, government representatives involved in the system, and other Aboriginal community stakeholders. This section first reviews perceptions regarding the progress made toward achieving the purpose of the Program and then presents the major findings regarding the impact on clients, courts and communities.
The Program is perceived by most of those involved in the system as being somewhat effective in helping Aboriginal persons who are in contact with the criminal system to obtain fair, just, equitable, and culturally sensitive treatment. When asked to rate the success of the Program in achieving this outcome, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all successful, 3 is somewhat successful and 5 is very successful, the average ratings ranged from 3.6 amongst judicial and court officials, to 4.0 amongst Courtworkers, and 4.3 amongst SDA representatives. As indicated in Figure 3, the ACW Program is reported to achieve this by facilitating communication, the sharing of information and understanding between the client and the courts, by also facilitating a connection between clients and other resources in the community, and by bridging the formal justice system and Aboriginal communities.
Figure 3: Reported Impacts of Courtworker Services on Clients, the Justice System and Communities
Figure 3 - Text equivalent
In the centre of the figure is the ACW Program which ensures fair, just, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment; and more informed decisions/more appropriate outcomes (sentencing, bail, community service, etc). Leading to its left, the ACW Program provides meetings, referrals, translation, and other support to clients. This then leads to the reported impacts on clients and which are: increased understanding of/confidence in the criminal justice system; increased understanding of nature and implications of charges; increased awareness of rights and obligations; increased awareness of legal resources, alternative justice programs, and social services; easing of barriers to communication between the clients and judicial and court officials (emotional support, language, literacy, learning disabilities); and more informed decisions. The ACW Program also ensures for its clients increased access to legal resources, alternative justice programs, and social services in the community.
Leading to its right, the ACW Program provides dialogue, briefs, reports, translation, and in-court support to the courts. This then leads to the reported impacts on the courts and which are: increased understanding of the circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court among judicial and court officials; increased awareness of cultural and social considerations that are relevant to the decision-making process; identification of alternative/restorative justice programs and services and social resources available in the community; and increased efficiency/effectiveness of the court system. The ACW Program also serves as a bridge between the judicial and court officials and Aboriginal people and communities through advocacy, communication and understanding.
Between the reported impacts on clients and on the courts, the ACW Program facilitates communication, the sharing of information, and reductions in the gaps in understanding.
In addition, the ACW Program provides community forums, partnerships, committee liaison, and referrals to communities. This then leads to the reported impacts on the communities and which are: increased understanding of the criminal justice system/a court system that is perceived to be more fair, relevant and accessible to the communities; increased community capacity to identify and address issues which could end up in the courts or the community justice system; increased collaboration, coordination and referrals with community justice and social services programs.
Source: Interviews with Key Informants, Judicial and Court Officials, Survey of Courtworkers and Clients
The following paragraphs summarize the nature of the impacts the ACW Program is reported to have on clients, the courts and communities.
Impact on Clients
The services of the ACW Program are found to be responsive to the needs of Aboriginal persons before the court. Clients reported asking Courtworkers for assistance on a variety of issues, including information on court processes, guidance and assistance on how to find a lawyer and prepare for court, program referrals, and information on diversion or alternative justice programs. Over 90% of Aboriginal clients were satisfied or very satisfied with the information received, and 82% of the clients who were referred to legal resources were satisfied or very satisfied with the referrals.
The information and support provided by Courtworkers help Aboriginal persons before the court to understand their rights, obligations and the court process, and to make informed decisions with respect to their legal circumstances and about pursuing alternative measures or restorative justice programs. As illustrated in the following table, clients surveyed indicated that they most frequently receive information related to their charges, the court process, preparing for court, finding a lawyer, applying for legal representation, the meaning of their plea, and resources in the community.
|Type of Information Received by Clients||Percentage of Clients Surveyed|
|The Court Process||72%|
|Preparing for Court||69%|
|How to get a Lawyer||63%|
|How to Apply for Legal Aid||62%|
|Meaning of your Plea||54%|
|Accessible Resources in their Community||46%|
|The Alternative Justice Process/Diversions||36%|
Source: ACW Program Clients Survey, 2011
Apart from learning about the court process, clients also received guidance and support in terms of communicating with legal aid and lawyers. Approximately half of clients said that the Courtworker services helped them to better understand the information they obtained from court officials (45%), the judge (57%), and their lawyer (49%). Almost two-thirds of clients surveyed (59%) indicated that the ACW Program helped them have a better understanding of the justice system, and 39% were satisfied or very satisfied with the outcome of their case (49% did not know the outcome of their case at the time of the survey). Almost all clients (95%) said they would recommend Courtworker services to someone who is in similar situation because of the support, guidance and trust that Courtworkers have established with them.
Most Courtworkers (70%) reported that their services meet the justice-related needs of their clients by helping them to understand the nature of the charges against them, understand their right to speak on their own behalf or to request legal counsel, and be more informed about legal resources, social resources and alternative options (e.g., diversion programs, elder panels, sentencing circles, and Aboriginal youth committees). Others did not respond or noted that more could be done to ensure all clients are reached, and to increase level of support by increasing the number of Courtworkers and availability of programs and services. The following chart illustrates the average rating provided by Courtworkers regarding the effectiveness of the Program to achieve outcomes for their clients in various areas.
Figure 4: Courtworkers' Ratings regarding Program Effectiveness in Achieving Outcomes for Clients
Figure 4 - Text equivalent
The average ratings provided by Courtworkers regarding the effectiveness of the Program to achieve outcomes for their clients in various areas on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not successful at all, 3 is somewhat, and 5 very successful, were:
- Courtworker clients receive referrals to legal resources as well as social, education, employment, health, Aboriginal community and other resources, if required, with average rating of 3.9;
- Courtworker services increase awareness of the functioning of the criminal justice system, with average rating of 3.8;
- Courtworker clients are able to understand their right to speak on their own behalf or to request legal counsel, with average rating of 3.8;
- Courtworker clients are able to understand the nature of the charges against them, with average rating of 3.8;
- Courtworker clients are able to make informed decisions about pursuing alternative options (e.g., diversion programs, and sentencing circles) with average rating of 3.6; and
Courtworker clients charged with an offence receive information about their circumstances prior to appearing before the courts, with average rating of 3.6.
Source: Survey of Aboriginal Courtworkers, 2012
Key informants as well as judicial and court officials indicated that the Courtworker services generally meet the needs of Aboriginal persons before the court, to the extent that those services are available (an average rating of 3.4 by judicial and court officials and of 3.6 by key informants with the primary constraint being the availability of services). They explained that Courtworkers are trusted by clients, courts and communities and are effective in gathering information, creating linkages and providing advice and referrals.
When asked to rate how much of an impact the ACW Program has had in terms of helping Aboriginal persons before the court make better-informed decisions regarding their charges and about pursuing alternative measures, judicial and court officials provided an average rating of 3.8, on a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is major impact. Almost two-thirds of clients surveyed said they were referred to legal resources (63%) and slightly more than one-third (39%) were referred to community resources by the Courtworkers.
Courtworkers explain the court processes, charges and the meaning of the plea to clients in a language that is simple and easy to understand. Some Courtworkers (10%) reported that, without their assistance, clients would plead guilty more often without understanding the implications of the charges. Courtworkers also help Aboriginal persons before the court understand their rights and obligations to them. For example, they help clients apply for legal aid and explain the consequence of not appearing in court. Through their words and presence in the courtroom, Courtworkers can provide emotional support and comfort to Aboriginal persons before the court, which help make court appearances less intimidating and create an atmosphere of greater trust and confidence in the justice system.
Courtworkers link Aboriginal persons before the court to other programs and services by ensuring that they have the information necessary to make informed decisions about pursuing alternative options and other available programs and services that meet their needs. When asked to rate the extent to which Courtworker services link clients to programs in the justice system, key informants provided an average rating which ranged from 4.6 among SDA representatives to 4.3 among FPT representatives, and 4.1 amongst other stakeholders (including AJS representatives). They explained that Courtworkers inform clients about alternative measures (including community counselling, community justice, and job referral agencies) and advise on what programs are available and best suited for the clients. For example, Courtworkers help Aboriginal persons before the court to complete the paperwork necessary to apply for diversion programs and arrange for community service work, placement in a rehabilitation program, addictive counselling, or a bed in local shelters. Over half (54%) of Courtworkers surveyed said there were programs and services designed to meet the needs of their Aboriginal clients in the communities and jurisdictions where they provide their services. Of those, almost all (97%) said they refer their clients to those programs and services.
Impact on Justice System
The services provided by the ACW Program are found to be responsive to the needs of the justice system, as reported by judicial and court officials who emphasized the importance of the information provided to them by Courtworkers with respect to:
- Circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court as they pertain to the decision-making process in the court, such as details on employment status, family status (number of dependents, marital status, etc.) and health (any addictions or mental health issues) which can assist judicial officials in assessing risk and determining the most appropriate community service, sentencing and bail plans (the judicial and court officials rated the importance of information on the circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court as a 4.5, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is very important).
- Cultural and social considerations that are relevant to the decision-making process such as language abilities, literacy level, and links to the community (average importance rating of 4.4).
- Available alternative/restorative justice programs and services (average importance rating of 4.3) and availability of legal and social resources in the community (average importance rating of 4.0) which assist judicial officials in considering possible options for Aboriginal persons before the court other than incarceration.
- Other considerations relevant to sentencing (average importance rating of 3.5). Suggestions provided by experienced and well-respected Courtworkers regarding sentencing are taken into consideration by some judicial and court officials; however, others consider such input as less important given that it relates to legal matters which they do not view as an area for Courtworker involvement.
Judicial and court officials largely agreed that Courtworkers provide valuable services to the court, to other justice officials and clients, and help to expedite legal matters. In jurisdictions where Courtworkers services do not cover all court points, judicial and court officials did not agree that Courtworkers are available when they need them. The issue of unmet demand due to the lack of a resident Courtworker is discussed in greater detail later in the report.
The following chart illustrates the average ratings of agreement among judicial and court officials regarding Courtworker services.
Figure 5: Average Ratings of Agreement among Judicial and Court Officials
Figure 5 - Text equivalent
The average ratings of agreement among judicial and court officials regarding Courtworker services on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is strongly disagree, 3 neither agree nor disagree, and 5 is strongly agree, were:
- Aboriginal Courtworkers provide valuable services to the court, with average rating of 4.4;
- Aboriginal Courtworkers provide valuable services to other justice personnel and their clients (i.e., sheriffs, court registry, court clerks, etc.), with average rating of 4.1;
- Aboriginal Courtworkers expedite legal matters (or process) of Aboriginal persons before the court, with average rating of 3.9; and
Aboriginal Courtworkers are available when I need them, with average rating of 3.8.
Source: Judicial and Court Officials Survey, 2011
Most Courtworkers reported that their services meet the needs of the courts for information regarding their clients (67%), and the need for information and referrals (60%) to community and alternative measures, which help judicial and court officials build the case. In turn, judicial and court officials reported their satisfaction with the quality and type of information provided by Courtworkers (all sub-groups provided an average rating of 4 or above on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is very satisfied).
As illustrated in the diagram below, average ratings provided by the judicial and court officials varied somewhat across the different areas of program impact on the justice system. For example, judicial and court officials reported the highest levels of program impact with respect to strengthening communication between justice system professionals and Aboriginal persons before the court, and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts in dealing with them. Levels of program impact were rated somewhat lower with respect to the Courtworkers' role in increasing awareness of the social and cultural circumstances of Aboriginal persons before the court, and in helping to relay information about the availability/capacity of alternate justice services/options. Some judicial and court officials noted that the cultural and social issues relevant to the case are often known to them or provided in Gladue and other reports not prepared by Courtworkers. The perceived impacts of the Program among judicial and court officials vary across jurisdictions. Jurisdictional differences such as limited ability to meet the demand, limited resources, absence of other programs and supports, and high Courtworker turnover were often cited as factors constraining program impact.
Figure 6: Impacts of the Aboriginal Courtwork Program on the Justice System
Figure 6 - Text equivalent
The average ratings of program impact on the justice system provided by the judicial and court officials and using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is no impact at all, 3 is somewhat, and 5 is a major impact, were:
- Helping to relay information to justice officials on the availability and capacity of alternative justice processes/options in a given community and the potential benefit to Aboriginal persons before the court, with average rating of 3.2;
- Helping judicial and court officials to be more aware of cultural considerations and social issues (i.e., Residential Schools) when dealing with or sentencing Aboriginal persons before the court, with average rating of 3.3;
- Helping to relay information about the justice system to the community and other service providers, with average rating of 3.4;
- Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the court dealing with Aboriginal persons before the court, with average rating of 3.5; and
Strengthening communication and understanding between justice system professionals and Aboriginal persons before the court by supporting language and literacy challenges, with average rating of 3.8.
Source: Judicial and Court Officials Survey, 2011
The following table summarizes examples provided by judicial and court officials in support of their impact ratings and illustrates how information and services provided by Courtworkers are used by them.
|Impact In Areas (number of respondents)||Examples|
|Strengthening communication and understanding between justice system professionals and Aboriginal persons before the court by supporting language and literacy challenges (n=73)||
|Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the court dealing with Aboriginal persons before the court (n=79)||
|Helping to relay information about the justice system to the community and other service providers (n=40)||
|Helping judicial and court officials to be more aware of cultural considerations and social issues when dealing with or sentencing Aboriginal persons before the court (n=73)||
|Helping to relay information to judicial officials of the availability and capacity of alternative justice processes/options in a given community and the potential benefit to Aboriginal persons before the court (n=57)||
Some judicial and court officials noted other impacts of the ACW Program on the justice system, including increased trust and participation of Aboriginal people in the justice system (6%) and increased credibility of the justice system (10%). They explained that the Courtworkers' presence in the court creates a more trusting, open and inclusive environment, and builds stronger relationships.
Impact on Communities
The Program impacts communities by serving as a bridge or a link between the formal justice system and Aboriginal people and their communities. Over half of key informants noted that Courtworkers have impacted communities by raising awareness amongst judicial and court officials about the community programs and services available, while helping communities to better understand the criminal justice system and build the capacity to respond to the needs of clients involved in the justice system. Of judicial and court officials who are familiar with Aboriginal-specific programs, most (78%) stated that Courtworkers have demonstrated good knowledge of these services within their communities and contributed to the success of these services by presenting information in court which leads to referrals, building close working relationships with other service providers, and building trust and respect with communities, their clients, and judicial and court officials. About 10% of judicial and court officials noted that Courtworkers are successful because they have direct ties to the communities and relationships with families to help facilitate communication and public education on the justice system by explaining what is going on in the court and acting as a conduit for information sharing. Some also reported that Courtworkers are approachable and proactive, and assist family members by providing information about the status of the person in custody. The following chart presents the average ratings on the Program's effectiveness in terms of serving as a bridge between criminal justice officials and Aboriginal people and their communities.
Figure 7: The Effectiveness of the Aboriginal Courtwork Program in Achieving one of its Objectives
Figure 1 - Text equivalent
The average ratings provided by the various key informants on the Program’s effectiveness in terms of serving as a bridge between criminal justice officials and Aboriginal people and their communities and using a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all, 3 is somewhat, and 5 is very successful were:
- Service Delivery Agency Representatives provided an average rating of 4.4;
- Federal/Provincial/Territorial Representatives provided an average rating of 4.2;
- Other Stakeholders p provided an average rating of 4.0; and
Judicial and Court Officials provided an average rating of 3.6.
Source: Key Informants Interviews, 2012 and Judicial and Court Officials Survey, 2011
Courtworkers are involved in the Aboriginal communities and work closely with Aboriginal-focused services and other social programs serving Aboriginal people in communities where such services are available. Annual reports list involvement with over 600 working groups, partnerships, external committees, First Nations service agencies and local governments with which Courtworkers have been involved in various capacities. Involvement varies from taking a lead role to simply presenting information on the justice system and needs of the Aboriginal people in justice system.
Courtworkers participate in various initiatives and partnerships related to addictions and treatment, Aboriginal youth resources, school board alternative programs, safe houses, Aboriginal housing services, friendship societies, tribal councils and bands, a Gladue Operations Committee, as well as Aboriginal leadership and management and Aboriginal justice committees. When asked to rate the impact of the ACW Program in helping to relay information about the justice system to the community and other service providers, judicial and court officials provided an average rating of 3.4 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is a major impact.
In court, Courtworkers raise awareness about community services, particularly services that are designed specifically for Aboriginal people. Fifty-nine percent of the judicial and court officials interviewed were able to identify other Aboriginal-specific services available to Aboriginal persons appearing before the court. The types of services identified include legal and justice services (Aboriginal and First Nations legal services, justice committees/justice workers, and Aboriginal court held in the local language, with Aboriginal judges, counsel and court clerks, Aboriginal probation services and community reintegration officers); health and addiction services (on-reserve addiction services, and other band services including Aboriginal health and mental health services, detox/rehabilitation programs, treatment and addictions centers such as the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, and outreach workers); skills and job training services (Aboriginal skills training, employment counselling and job readiness programs); and Aboriginal translation and interpretation services.
In some communities, there has been an increase in collaboration between the ACW Program and other justice-related or social programs. About two-thirds of key informants reported some change in the level of interaction between the ACW Program and other justice programs providing services to Aboriginal people. Of those, most noted that the level of interaction and collaboration has increased over time, as the Program has gained more credibility and recognition in the court and the communities. This was largely attributed to the efforts, skills and level of community involvement on the part of the Courtworkers. The increase in collaboration resulted in a better understanding of the needs of Aboriginal people who come in contact with the justice system, as well as increased community involvement and engagement in the judicial process.
However, there are few other programs available in some communities. For example, only about one-half of the Courtworkers surveyed (54%) identified the availability of other programs and services designed to meet the needs of their Aboriginal clients in the communities/jurisdictions they serve. About 20% of judicial and court officials noted that there is a general lack of services available for Aboriginal people, particularly justice-related Aboriginal-specific services. Other factors that can constrain the level of interaction and collaboration between Courtworkers and other justice-related programs are the limited time Courtworkers may spend in the community, pressures and competing priorities, and turnover of Courtworker staff.
Most key informants (80%) noted that the ACW Program has generally contributed to the success of federally funded, community-based justice programs, where they are available, by referring clients and encouraging them to participate. The Program also creates stronger connections with justice-related services (probation, parole, legal aid, PLEI, etc.). Clients are often referred to legal aid services and other public social services including family advocate/family justice services, youth justice programs, legal services societies/legal aid, mediation programs, alternate measures/restorative justice programs, probation services, and community justice workers. Some key informants added that Courtworkers also refer clients, when appropriate, to health and mental health resources including health care workers, mental health programs, healing and wellness, pre-natal programs, homecare workers, and outreach and treatment centres including counselling (such as alcohol and drug counselling, high school counselling, grief counselling) as well as to housing programs, including shelters and homeless programs.
Most key informants identified opportunities to further increase collaboration between the ACW Program and AJS, with a few provincial and SDAs representatives suggesting at least partial integration of the two programs. This increased collaboration could take the form of greater sharing of resources, joint planning, and joint delivery of certain services in some jurisdictions. It was noted that, in response to unmet demand for Courtworker services in some jurisdictions, AJS community justice workers may provide information, assist clients with their case and provide referrals. In general, key informants noted that the respective roles and responsibilities of AJS community justice workers and Aboriginal Courtworkers are clearly delineated (e.g., Courtworkers operate within the court and AJS workers operate outside of the courtroom), although some noted that the lines may get blurred in underserved areas, for example where there is high demand for services and limited availability of the Courtworkers, or where one worker fills both positions (i.e., works part-time as a Courtworker and part-time as an AJS community justice worker).
Four-Year Project Fund
The evaluation of the Program conducted in 2008 highlighted the importance of increasing access to training for existing Courtworkers as well as new recruits. At the provincial and territorial level, a small amount of the program budget is used for training activities. From 2008/09 to 2011/12, this gap in funding was partially filled by the $2.25 million provided by the Department of Justice as part of the Project Fund.
The Project Fund provided the SDAs the opportunity to support their Courtworkers and undertake innovative pilots. Over 60% of the projects supported training/information sharing for Courtworkers. A further 24% supported pilots or feasibility studies to explore innovative delivery methods or expansion plans, and 15% of the projects supported TWG objectives such as research/data collection.
|Type of Project||Total number of Projects Funded||% of Total Number of Projects Funded||Amount of Funding|
|Training/Resources for Courtworkers||24||51%||$1,071,161|
|Pilot (Program Development/Expansion)||7||15%||$ 480,000|
|Data Collection/Intranet||3||6%||$ 120,000|
|Feasibility Study/Needs Assessment/Evaluation||4||9%||$ 183,600|
|Conference/Team Building/Info Sharing||5||10%||$ 92,849|
Examples of the training projects include national training projects supported by the TWG, a team leaders' training program in BC, provision of online training for Courtworkers in Quebec, and training designed to enhance skill-building and self-care amongst Courtworkers in the Yukon.
The Project Fund also supported other capacity-building activities such as research and the design of a Family Courtwork Program in Saskatchewan, the hiring of a dedicated youth Courtworker in Halifax, a joint service development project to provide justice services in remote areas of NWT, and other pilot projects and evaluation projects to identify needs and best practices.
The key informants (SDAs, provincial and territorial representatives, and federal government representatives) reported that the Project Fund played an important role by supporting training, filling gaps in services, and helping to raise awareness of services and promote the Program. When asked to rate the impact of the Project Fund on the Program, key informants provided an average rating of 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is no impact at all and 5 is a major impact. A key strength of the Fund was its flexibility, which enabled the provinces and territories to use funds for a wide variety of initiatives ranging from training on topics of particular interest (communication, child protection, family issues, anger management, Gladue) to developing training manuals, establishing databases, updating technology, conducting policy research, and testing promising practices. About two-thirds of key informants stated that there is an ongoing need for funding for training and capacity building; as such, there is strong support for continuation of the Fund. In the absence of continued funding (the Project Fund expired March 31, 2012), there is concern that the progress made will not be sustained.
3.2.2. Factors Affecting Program Effectiveness
Since the 2008 evaluation, the Program has made considerable improvement to its governance structure. The creation of the FPT Working Group, the addition of the third co-chair to the TWG, and an increased emphasis on the development and implementation of annual work plans have improved the governance structure and strengthened collaboration. Federal and provincial representatives reported that the creation of the FPT Working Group improved communication and collaboration among FPT partners by serving as a formal channel of communication and an effective forum to engage provincial and territorial partners in decision making, share information and ideas, and build strong relationships.
According to the TWG members who were interviewed, the addition of the third co-chair in the TWG to represent the SDAs improved communication and collaboration by ensuring SDA representation and a voice in discussions and the setting of agendas, inviting broader perspectives on the Program, and increasing awareness of the issues faced by SDAs. Reporting to the FPT Working Group, the TWG serves as an important forum for addressing a range of policy and program issues with a focus on developing innovative approaches, sharing information, resources and best practices, undertaking research, and investigating the need for and implications of services. Some members suggested that, although considerable progress has been made, further effort is required to facilitate broader input and improve the level of collaboration (e.g., facilitate more regular communication and ensure all voices are heard), improve the productivity of the meetings, and increase the relative emphasis on issues related to service delivery, policy and communities.
The members indicated that the TWG has been successful in setting priorities and accomplishing the activities outlined in its work plans, providing an average rating of 4.2 (on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is to a great extent). Priorities are set in a collaborative manner and updated twice per year. Through the TWG, the federal, provincial and territorial governments and SDAs have collaborated on a wide variety of issues and initiatives such as the development of a training policy framework, the development of a training tool and the implementation of a training survey, the definition of core competencies for Courtworkers, the staging of National Training Development Camps in 2009 and 2010, the development of a renewal strategy for the Program, and efforts to improve collaboration with other Aboriginal justice initiatives.
Performance Measurement and Reporting
The 2008 evaluation of the ACW Program identified a number of issues related to performance measurement and reporting. It was noted in the evaluation that only a few jurisdictions provided annual performance reports for 2006/07, and recommendations were made for greater standardization and efficiency in reporting (e.g., implementing common approaches to the collection of data, ensuring that Courtworkers understand the definitions and nature of the data they are collecting, and streamlining the data collection, reporting and administrative requirements for Courtworkers). The evaluation recommended that the Department of Justice continue to work with the TWG to develop consistent and clear definitions for national data elements within the performance measurement strategy and create templates for the reports.
Since the 2008 evaluation, considerable progress has been made towards strengthening the reporting system. Members of the TWG have played an important role in improving the reporting system for the ACW Program. The challenges associated with reporting are now better recognized and understood by the FPT representatives. All jurisdictions now report annually on a series of performance indicators (a requirement for funding). After a series of bilateral discussions with jurisdictions and SDAs as well as multiple TWG meetings in 2010 and 2011, a common definition of a client was approved in October 2011: a client/case is defined as "an accused person receiving services at any time during the course of a fiscal year in relation to a charge or a set of charges that are processed concurrently in court (but not necessarily with the same end date)." In May 2012, the TWG decided that "no National Database System will be developed in the short or medium term. National Data Requirement information will continue to be shared through annual P/T reporting using an updated draft aggregate data form that will be agreed to by the TWG." Footnote 20 Standardizing reporting of other data elements was under consideration, including the number of repeat clients/persons before the court (accused), non-accused clients/persons, offence/charge information, information on services to (accused) clients, and implementation.
Some of the key issues associated with the reporting system remain and were identified by key informants. These include differences in data collection processes, database systems and technical capabilities across jurisdictions (e.g., many of the systems still rely on manual record keeping); differences in local versus national requirements (e.g., SDAs collect data for their own purposes as well as to meet the needs of other funders, which has made it difficult to agree on a standard 'one size fits all' approach towards data); the time and costs associated with collecting and reporting data; and the commitment to data collection and the completeness of the data reported (e.g., difficulties in encouraging Courtworkers to place a priority on data collection given their other priorities and limited resources).
Other reporting issues have been identified in this evaluation, including the absence of complete data regarding the number of clients Footnote 21 served by the Program and a lack of data on the types of services provided by Courtworkers (such data would better enable the Program and evaluators to determine the extent to which specific services are provided and to compare and contrast the nature of interventions across jurisdictions and over time). In addition, some of the performance measures are very time-consuming to collect, difficult to roll up, and not very useful for a national review of the Program performance. These include performance measures regarding partnerships (performance measure #4), common training provided to Aboriginal Courtworkers (performance measure #5), and training survey responses (performance measure #6). For example, in performance measure #4, jurisdictions are expected to report on the name and purpose of partnerships, external committees, councils, task forces, commissions and formal networks on which the Courtworkers sit during the reporting period. This data is very detailed, difficult to interpret (it counts situations where the Courtworkers have only limited involvement equally with those where they may play a lead role), and relates only indirectly to key evaluation questions. The information on these indicators could be collected more effectively through surveys conducted every five years.
Evolving Role of the Courtworkers
Courtworkers face considerable pressure to expand the scope of services provided from judicial and court officials as well as from clients. Sixty-two percent of judicial and court officials identified important gaps that could be filled by Courtworkers, recommending expansion of existing services (e.g., the addition of more Courtworkers), increased support for judicial and court officials (e.g., assisting with bail hearings, trial, sentencing/decision-making process and individuals with indictable charges); increased support services for witnesses, victims, family law and youth appearances; and increased involvement in making referrals to services in community and public education, developing sentencing alternatives, and preparing Gladue reports.
About half of Courtworkers reported that their role has changed since they first became involved in the Program. Due to the fact that they serve as part-time AJS Community Justice Workers and because of their liaison role, Courtworkers are perceived by their clients as a "go-to contact" for any needs they may have, such as identifying goals, skills and training programs, or advocating on behalf of Aboriginal people in family courts. There are pressures for them to spend more time with clients due to increasing complexity of the process, calls for tougher sentencing, and changes in the system that are not accompanied with new investment in other justice and social services. Aboriginal persons before the court are increasingly dependent on Courtworkers to understand the process and make decisions. Clients identified areas where they would like more assistance: understanding charges and communicating with lawyers and judges (26%); additional information on the court process (22%); more referrals to other programs (13%); general guidance and assistance (12%); and more information on how to find a lawyer (12%). It was also suggested, for example, that Courtworkers could play a more active role in linking female and youth clients to counsellors, educational programs, sexual assault treatment, family mediation, and advocacy services.
Key informants highlighted pressures to expand services across a range of areas including PLEI (89%), family justice matters (particularly child protection, 86%), Gladue information (such as assisting by gathering information for checklists and make applications for Gladue considerations, 75%) and services for specialized courts (60%). Most jurisdictions are supportive of the involvement of Courtworkers in family justice matters, although they may be considering different approaches to implementation (consultation, pilot, and provision of services). It was also suggested that Courtworkers could participate in Elders' panels and sentencing circles; help prepare pre-sentencing reports and more detailed after-care plans; assist in developing sentencing alternatives and more choices for alternative resolutions, diversion programs and healing circles for Aboriginal people; and work more closely with communities and other justice committees to increase knowledge and referrals to other services.
Similarly, about one-third of Courtworkers themselves identified gaps in particular communities, segments (e.g., youth), and services (e.g., family justice matters, Gladue information, and PLEI). Most jurisdictions have court points and communities that do not have access to Courtworker services. Funding is limited for Courtworkers to travel on circuit courts and there are difficulties in covering large geographic areas with existing resources. Some Courtworkers explained that they are being asked to spend more time networking and promoting services (e.g., through newsletters and emails, outreach at schools, colleges, treatment centres, and First Nations organizations, by sitting on boards and committees, or by attending community workshops and functions).
According to key informants and Courtworkers, the roles of Courtworkers vary across jurisdictions depending on their level of experience and skills, expectations of the court, jurisdictional differences in the services provided (e.g., family law) and the programming environment. For example, some Courtworkers play a more active role than others in areas such as promoting and coordinating links to Aboriginal and community justice programs and providing detailed information on the life circumstances of their clients (this information is often used in setting conditions, during bail hearings and as considerations during sentencing). In some jurisdictions, the Courtworker's role has evolved to include family law services and the provision of services to specialized courts, such as domestic violence and drug treatment courts.
Increasingly, Courtworkers are expected to have a broader range of skills to deliver a growing number of services to a wider range of clients. Courtworkers are now, for example, expected to have good knowledge of the Criminal Code to deal with clients with complex issues, facilitate translation and communication, advocate for clients, serve the courts, and be involved in community activities. Key informants including judicial and court officials argued that the expectation that Courtworkers can provide a wide spectrum of services to a wider range of clients is unreasonable given the demand that already exists for services, the relatively small number of Courtworkers, the limited training that is provided, and the complexity of issues already presented by clients.
3.3. Performance - Efficiency and Economy
3.3.1. Program Cost to Federal Government
The budget for the ACW Program has remained at $5.5 million annually since last being increased in 2002, even though the number of Aboriginal offenders has increased significantly. Strong demand combined with limited resources requires the Program to be very lean. According to key informants, increasing demands on Courtworkers at a time when resources are fixed has encouraged greater efficiencies. When asked to rate the efficiency of the ACW Program on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all efficient and 5 is very efficient, SDA representatives, provincial/territorial government representatives, and federal government representatives provided an average rating of 4.1. The efficiency was attributed to lean operations (e.g., most of the resources are invested in the frontline staff); the determination, commitment, experience, skills and professionalism of the Courtworkers; the credibility and visibility of the Courtworkers and the rapport they build with clients, judicial and court officials and communities; the flexibility of the design which enables services to be tailored to the needs of the clients; the level of collaboration and coordination with other programs and resources at the community and provincial level; and the increasing use of technologies.
The extent to which the federal funding is leveraged with funding from other sources, most notably the provincial and territorial governments, also contributes to its efficiency. The leverage ratio increased from $0.99 per $1 in budgeted federal contributions in 2005/06 to $1.18 in 2010/11 (based on the total program budget in each jurisdiction).
The low federal overhead associated with the ACW Program also contributes to the Program's efficiency. The federal operating and maintenance costs associated with administering the ACW Program totaled $193,798 in 2010/11, which is equivalent to only 4% of the Program budget.
The budgeted cost of the Program to the federal government (based on the amounts allocated to each province and territory and reported numbers of clients and Courtworkers) is equivalent to approximately $88 per client served (based on a national total of 58,788 clients served in 2010/11) and $29,600 per Courtworker Footnote 22. The average cost of delivering the Program has increased by 11% per client (the cost was $79 per client in 2005/06), and by 16% per Courtworker over the five-year period (the average cost was $25,634 per Courtworker in 2005/06).
|Federal contribution allocated to jurisdictions||$5,383,098||$5,425,000|
|Total Program budget||$9,960,466||$11,259,041|
|Leveraged funding per dollar of federal funding||$0.99||$1.18|
|Estimated number of clients served||67,921||58,788|
|Approximate cost to the federal government per client||$79||$88 Footnote 23|
|Total Program approximate cost per client||$146.65||$191.52|
|Number of Courtworkers (full-time and part-time)||210||183|
|Federal cost per Courtworker||$25,634||$29,645|
|Total Program approximate cost per Courtworker||$47,431||$61,525|
As noted earlier in the report, the level of effort per Courtworker (measured by the average number of clients served per Courtworker) has remained constant between the two evaluations. However, as shown in Table 12, the costs per Courtworker have increased during this period. The average cost of the Program to the federal government varies widely by jurisdiction, ranging from $14,527 to $53,106 per Courtworker and from $58 to $222 per client. Jurisdictional variations can be a function of factors such as the balance between full-time and part-time Courtworkers, the size of the geographic area served (and the time and costs associated with travel), the level of demand for services and the needs of the client groups, the range of services provided (e.g., whether Courtworkers are involved in family court and youth court), the extent to which federal funding is leveraged with funding from other sources, and the availability of other resources, alternative measures, and community programs which complement the Program.
Program expenditures consist primarily of salaries and benefits (representing 72% of the Program budget for the provinces), indicating that most of the Program budget is invested directly into program delivery. The data also indicates that very little of the Program budget at the jurisdictional level is invested into training activities (1%). In the absence of the Project Fund, limited resources are available for training.
Factors that can influence the efficiency of the Program in a given jurisdiction include the availability of alternative measures, community programs, and other supporting resources to complement the Program, as well as the level of collaboration with those measures, programs and resources; the extent to which the Courtworkers are established and recognized in the communities and the courts (which is closely related to the skills and experience of the Courtworkers); the geographic territory that is served (and related travel costs and time commitments); and the scale and scope of services provided (e.g., the needs of the clients and whether Courtworkers are involved in family courts and youth courts,). Some of these factors present significant challenges to the Program economy, as discussed below.
3.3.2. Issues associated with Program Economy
Economy focuses on the relationship between inputs (resources allocated to a program) and the achievement of expected outcomes, while efficiency focuses on the relationship between inputs and outputs (e.g., services provided). The operations of the Program are lean and efficient in that the jurisdictions have been able to largely maintain or even expand the services provided with the same level of resources. However, there are concerns that, over time, the resource limitations associated with the Program will limit its ability to achieve the expected outcomes.
More specifically, the Program will face some significant challenges in the future. There are strong pressures to increase the level and scope of services, which place greater stress on the Courtworkers and may not be fully consistent with intended outcomes. The stresses associated with the Courtworker position combined with, at least in some jurisdictions, comparatively low wages, increase the potential for staff turnover and represent a constraint to attracting new workers. In addition, the limited funding available for training and other support makes it more difficult to both support existing workers and to prepare new workers for their positions.
Meeting Demand for Services
Differences in client needs, Courtworker roles, and the delivery model of the Program mean that the nature of the challenges can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, particularly those that cover a large geographic area and require more resources for travelling, a major challenge is meeting the demand for services in remote and isolated communities and covering all court points. Almost half of key informants (48%) said that the Program is not meeting the demand for services. When asked if all court points in their jurisdictions have access to service, half of provincial representatives said no and the rest said mostly yes. Courtworkers in many jurisdictions are facing significant pressures from clients, courts and communities to expand the scope and range of services. Over time, the range of services provided by Courtworkers has tended to expand as other programs were scaled back. This is due, in part, to Courtworkers gaining experience and confidence, being increasingly recognized and valued by judicial and court officials, and developing stronger linkages with the communities and other programming. The expanded role has enhanced the services provided, improved coordination across programming, and given the Program more credibility. However, it has also placed greater stress on the Courtworkers.
The flexibility of the Program, particularly its ability to tailor services to the needs of clients, the capacity of the Courtworkers, and the availability of other resources are frequently identified as strengths of the Program. However, some key informants and judicial and court officials recommend that, given the pressures and the limited resources available, the Program would benefit from more narrowly defining the role of the Courtworkers. For example, when asked to provide recommendations about enhancing the skills of the Courtworkers, about a quarter of the judicial and court officials noted that the mandate of the Program may need to be revisited and the boundaries of the roles and responsibilities of the Courtworkers may need to be more clearly defined. Most key informants (75%) said that the Program does not have the resources it needs to achieve its objectives. Of those, about 10% said that the objectives of the Program are too ambitious and expectations placed on the Courtworkers are too high (e.g., the Program is too limited and the issues too complex for it to contribute to a fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment of the justice system).
Although a flexible model has some obvious advantages, it can also pose some additional challenges associated with providing consistent services, staying focused on key priorities and intended outcomes, measuring results, establishing a clear identity, and training and orienting new workers. As a result, some key informants and officials suggested that the Program should establish clear priorities regarding the services to be delivered and the target groups for those services. Others noted that the role of the Program vis-à-vis other services in the community should be more clearly defined. Improving the level of coordination with other programs and resources could increase the effectiveness of all justice programs. The credibility of the Program within the justice system could be reinforced by establishing a more formal role for the Courtworkers in the courts and court proceedings.
Apart from narrowing the scope of services, other potential strategies which were suggested to respond to the pressures to expand services were to increase coverage by increasing the number of Courtworkers in areas where demand is high and creating more part-time positions; increase the use of technology (e.g., videoconferencing); work in association with communities and other resources to deliver the services; and increase the level of coordination with other services available in the community and the jurisdiction (e.g., legal aid, AJS) through joint planning, increased sharing of resources, development of formal referral protocols, increased communication and community capacity building.
Difficulties in Staff Retention and Recruitment
Over 40% of the key informants identified the resource constraints, and particularly the impact of those constraints on Courtworkers, as a major weakness of the Program. It was noted that, in some jurisdictions, resource constraints result in understaffing (which increases pressures on individual Courtworkers), wages and benefits that are not competitive with other positions in the community, and difficulties in both retaining existing workers and attracting new workers. Given the importance of the skills, experience, connections and credibility of the individual Courtworker to the achievement of the intended outcomes, turnover can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the Program.
Some jurisdictions have experienced persistent difficulties in recruiting Courtworkers with the right skills and experience within current salary levels. Key informants noted that these challenges have extended the length of time needed to fill positions (particularly in smaller communities, in remote areas, and in jurisdictions where the economy is strong), reduced the quality and access to services, and contributed to burnout and frustration among Courtworkers (which, in turn, contribute to turnover and further difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers).
Training and Other Support
Limited funding for training and other support makes it more difficult to facilitate the further development of existing workers and to prepare new workers for their positions. About two-thirds of key informants and judicial and court officials, and about 20% of Courtworkers stressed the need to provide ongoing training for Courtworkers covering a wide range of topics, including training on legal issues such as changes to the Criminal Code, policy, the structure of legal system, the sentencing process and Gladue principles, as well as legal documentation, advocacy, ethics and professionalism. Training is also needed for the job-specific skills such as data collection, referrals, advocacy, negotiation, communication, public speaking, outreach skills, presentations, conflict management training, and training regarding use of new technologies (court technology such as video streaming). Courtworkers need to be better prepared to provide advocacy and client support for issues highlighted in Aboriginal communities such as addictions, family violence and child welfare issues, how to deal with victims, cultural sensitivity training, dealing with substance abuse and trauma (such as intergenerational trauma). It was noted that there is a need for a greater presence of addictions workers and outreach workers in the courtroom. Other topics identified for training include community-related training focused on issues such as needs assessment, community services, networking, the role of the Courtworker vis-à-vis other justice program representatives, working with the community to address problems such as drug use and addiction, and any emerging issues (e.g., drugs or crime).
The need for training is driven by the evolving role of Courtworkers, the level of turnover, and changes in the operating environment (from changes in the justice system to technological changes such as the increased use of videoconferencing). It was suggested that some of the training needs could be addressed through the increased use of distance education and undertaking joint training in association with other programs (such as AJS). Courtworkers would also benefit from sharing experiences, strategies and best practices with each other; developing closer relationships with other service providers, including justice-related programs and communities through one-on-one meetings, joint meetings in the community, national conferences and outreach; and participating in or reviewing the results of capacity-building activities such as conferences, pilot projects, research and evaluations.
Summary of the Effects on the Program
Although the cost varies significantly across the jurisdictions, the ACW Program has been shown to be efficient overall in terms of per-client costs. However, the limited resources combined with the demand for services and the evolving and heightened expectations of Courtworkers, particularly amongst judicial and court officials, make it increasingly difficult to achieve the expected outcomes and respond to ongoing challenges. Resource limitations constrain the level of interaction between clients, Courtworkers and the judicial and court officials, community organizations and other key partners. The growing demand for enhanced services creates stress for Courtworkers, particularly in jurisdictions where salaries and benefits are uncompetitive. Low salaries mean that Courtworkers seek other employment opportunities and the Program must use limited training dollars to train new recruits. The level of remuneration also challenges the recruitment of new Courtworkers. The low cost of the Program limits the availability of training, which is needed to support any significant changes to Courtworker roles and responsibilities. The level of resources also constrains the capacity of Courtworkers to travel to serve clients in remote communities, although some of this service can now be done by videoconferencing. In summary, although the fixed budget contributes to overall efficiency, over time it also diminishes the capacity of the Program to respond to the myriad demands of clients, judicial and court officials, and other partners.
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