Aboriginal Courtwork Program Evaluation

4. Conclusions, Recommendations and Management Response

4.1 Conclusions

1. There is a continuing need for services that facilitate fair, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment of Aboriginal persons before the court.

There is a strong need to provide Courtworker services to Aboriginal people who continue to face significant challenges which can impact their access to a fair, equitable and culturally sensitive justice system. The literature shows that Aboriginal people continue to be overrepresented in the justice system and face socio-economic challenges, language and cultural barriers to accessing legal and social services. Recognizing that the history of colonialism, displacement and residential schools and the 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. There is continued demand for Courtworker services and broad recognition of the need for those services that facilitate fair, just, equitable and culturally sensitive treatment for Aboriginal people in the justice system.

2. The Program is aligned with the strategic outcome of the Department of Justice and with the roles, responsibilities and commitments of the federal government related to Aboriginal justice.

The Program is directly aligned with the Department of Justice strategic outcome to ensure "a fair, relevant and accessible Canadian justice system". Aboriginal Justice is a shared responsibility between the different orders of government. Under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government has jurisdiction concerning "Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians" and concerning criminal law and procedure in criminal matters under section 91(27) of that Act. Provincial governments are responsible for the administration of civil and criminal justice, including policing and prosecuting most Criminal Code offences.

The Program is also consistent with the Declaration on Collaboration regarding Aboriginal Justice Services and Programs, signed by the FPT government Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety in 2008, 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.

The objectives of the ACW Program are also consistent with the broad priorities and commitments of the federal government to Aboriginal people. For example, in the Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools (June 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". 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 Canadians.

3. Services provided by Courtworkers benefit clients, the courts, and communities.

Responding to challenges faced by Aboriginal people in the justice system, the mandate of the ACW Program is to ensure that Aboriginal persons charged with a criminal offence receive fair, equitable, and culturally sensitive treatment by the criminal justice system. Towards this end, Courtworkers are strategically positioned within the courts to provide timely information to clients and judicial and court officials, which may help to address some of the underlying challenges, and serve as a bridge between the formal justice system and Aboriginal communities.

When considering the effectiveness of the ACW Program in achieving its objectives, it is important to note that the challenges faced by Aboriginal people in the justice system are significant and multidimensional and the resources of the Program are limited. Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrates that the Program is well utilized (nearly 60,000 clients are served annually in over 450 communities). Clients report that the information and support provided by Courtworkers helped them to understand their rights, obligations and court process; to better understand the information they obtained from court personnel, the judge and their lawyer; and to make informed decisions with respect to their circumstances before the court and about pursuing alternative measures or restorative justice programs. Key informants as well as judicial and court officials indicate that Courtworker services, where available, meet the needs of Aboriginal persons before the court. However, the Program is not able to fully meet the demand for services in terms of the level of service provided, the range of services provided, and the capacity to provide services in all communities.

Judicial and court officials reported that the Program helps to enhance the justice system by ensuring officials are informed and take into consideration the particular circumstances of the clients, their culture and traditions, and available legal and community resources, including alternative and restorative justice programs, when making a decision. By providing information, assisting on client files, facilitating meetings, ensuring the client is informed and present, and helping to ease cultural and language barriers, the ACW Program helps to improve the efficiency of the court.

Courtworkers have been effective in raising awareness amongst judicial and court officials about the community programs and services, while helping communities better understand the criminal justice system and build the capacity to respond to the needs of the clients involved in the justice system.

4. Since the last evaluation, the Program has made notable improvements to its governance structure and program reporting, although further improvements regarding strengthening performance measurements and reporting are needed.

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. The members of the TWG have also played an important role in improving the reporting system for the ACW Program, particularly with respect to identifying the challenges associated with reporting and standardizing reporting across jurisdictions. Strengthening of performance measurements and further standardization of the data requirements and data collection are needed.

5. The four-year Project Fund was effective in responding to the needs for training and other supports.

The need for training is driven by number of factors such as the evolving role of Courtworkers, the level of turnover (need to train new workers), and changes in the operating environment (from changes in the judicial system to technological changes such as the increased use of videoconferencing). 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. This gap in funding was partially filled by the $2.25 million in one-time funding provided by the Department of Justice for the Project Fund. Under this Fund, 24 training projects were supported, both at a national and a jurisdictional level with funding totalling over $1,000,000. The Fund was perceived as effective in supporting a number of training activities such as 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 flexibility of funding helped other jurisdictions utilize the funds to meet their specific needs for capacity building.

6. The challenges of meeting the significant demand for services while operating within a fixed budget has resulted in a program that operates efficiently.

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 incarcerated has grown significantly (from 2001/02 to 2010/11, the Aboriginal incarcerated population under federal jurisdiction increased by 37%). Demands on Courtworkers to provide a wide range of services at a time when resources are fixed have contributed to lean operations. The efficiency of the Program has also benefited from the experience, commitment, skills and credibility of the Courtworkers, the flexibility of the design, the leveraging of federal funding with funding from other sources, and the level of collaboration and coordination with other programs and resources at the community and provincial levels.

7. Although the Program is efficient, it faces some significant challenges and pressures which may limit its ability to achieve its expected outcomes in the future.

More specifically, there are strong pressures from both clients and the justice system to increase and broaden the level of service. The evolving role of the Courtworkers contributes to the effectiveness of the Program but also places increasing stress on workers and may not be fully consistent with intended outcomes. Furthermore, the stresses associated with the Courtworker position combined with, at least in some jurisdictions, comparatively low wages, increase the potential for staff turnover and are a constraint to attracting new workers. Limited funding available for training and other support makes it more difficult to further develop existing workers and to prepare new workers for their position. The capacity of the Program to continue meeting its objectives is undermined by all of these factors.

4.2 Recommendations and Management Response

This section discusses two issues arising from the national evaluation of the ACW Program and proposes two recommendations. It also contains the management responses to these recommendations which were prepared by the Policy Implementation Directorate.

Issue 1: Update of the Roles and Responsibilities of Courtworkers

The evaluation found that in many jurisdictions, Courtworkers are faced with significant pressures from clients, courts and communities to expand the scope of their services. Over time, the range of services provided by Courtworkers has tended to expand as other programs have been scaled back. Accordingly, a number of additional services have been identified by judicial and court officials, Courtworkers and the clients. At the same time, however, the number of Courtworkers has decreased. In turn, this has resulted in a reduction in the total number of clients served annually, even though the need for Courtworker services has remained constant and Courtworkers are working at the same level as they did in 2005/06, in terms of number of clients served per Courtworker.

Current expectations of the Program exceed its capacity to produce the desired results, particularly in under-served remote areas. Given the pressures to expand the scope of services, the resources available and the demand for Courtworker services, the Program would benefit from a review of the roles and responsibilities of Courtworkers and what it will mean in terms of the scope of their work in the current operational context. Any significant change in the roles and responsibilities of Courtworkers should be supported with the appropriate training.

Recommendation 1:

It is recommended that, in consultation with the provinces and territories, a review of the roles and responsibilities of Courtworkers be undertaken to determine which Courtworker services can reasonably be delivered in the current operational context.

Management Response:

We agree with the conclusion and recommendation and will work with the provinces, territories and service delivery agencies to review the roles and responsibilities of Courtworkers.

Issue 2: Performance Measurement

The evaluation found that 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 evaluation found that the performance measurement strategy needs to be reviewed and updated to ensure that the performance measures are consistent with the priorities and intended outcomes of the Program. In addition, the updated performance measures should be cost-effective to collect.

Recommendation 2:

It is recommended that the ACW Program performance measurement strategy be reviewed to ensure that relevant information is being collected to support ongoing monitoring and reporting activities and future evaluations.

Management Response:

We agree with the conclusion and recommendation and will continue to work with the provinces, territories and service delivery agencies to update the performance measurement strategy and implement new national performance measures (referred to as the Aboriginal Courtwork Program National Data Requirements).

Date modified: