Op-Ed: Board Member Diversity

From: Parole Board of Canada

Full title: Op-Ed -Diversity of Parole Board members critical in parole decision-making

Originally published October 6th, 2020 in the Moncton Times and Transcript, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, Fredericton Daily Gleaner, and Charlottetown Guardian.
(Unabridged version)

As several high profile incidents on both sides of our border have reminded us recently, there is still much work to be done to address issues of systemic bias and racism within Canadian society. This issue resonates within Canada’s corrections and conditional release system as well, where a significant proportion of federally incarcerated offenders continue to come from racialized communities that are over-represented in the federal prison population – fully 29% of incarcerated offenders are Indigenous, and 10% are Black.

The Parole Board of Canada, an independent administrative tribunal responsible for the timely, gradual and safe reintegration of offenders back into society, recognizes the importance of tackling these issues in carrying out its important public safety mandate. In fact, our governing legislation, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, requires that Board members be sufficiently diverse in their backgrounds to allow them to represent community values and views in their decision-making. The PBC is, in effect, a “community board”, and as such must represent the full diversity of Canadian society. In recognition of this, over the past two years the PBC has taken steps to increase the diversity of its Board members through expanded recruitment efforts among Indigenous people, visible minorities, LGBTQ2+ and women. Of the PBC’s 77 current Board members, 62% are women, 12% are Indigenous and 9% are visible minority, compared to just 5% (Indigenous) and 1% (visible minority) back in 2014.

Board members come from many different backgrounds, including criminology, law, policing, social work, medicine, education, business and others. Regardless of their background though, every Board member appointed to the PBC receives extensive,  evidence-based and ongoing training on relevant law, policy and risk assessment in partnership with key academics and practitioners in the field of criminal justice. As part of our commitment to bias-free and evidence-based decision-making, Board members also receive training in cultural competency, overcoming unconscious bias, as well as Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training.

In reviewing cases for conditional release, our Board members are trained in the use of a highly structured risk-assessment framework to meet the diverse and complex needs of the offender population. Board members also consider systemic and background factors that have contributed to bringing an offender into interaction with the criminal justice system. These include, but are not limited to, systemic discrimination, racism, family or community breakdown, unemployment, poverty, or lack of employment or education opportunities. Systemic background factors must be considered in cases involving Indigenous offenders, but also apply to other groups of diverse offenders. The PBC also offers alternate models of hearings for Indigenous offenders – Elder-Assisted Hearings and Community-Assisted Hearings – to provide a more culturally responsive process to these offenders, while at the same time adhering to the criteria for conditional release decision-making. The PBC has also recently begun to implement more gender-responsive approaches in its operations to improve the parole process for women offenders.

The Parole Board of Canada does not look the same as it did 10 or even two years ago. This is in part a function of long-standing 3- and 5-year appointment terms for Board members, but is in larger part a function of our increased efforts to ensure our organization better reflects Canada’s rich diversity of people and communities, and that our decision-makers are reflective of the Canadians they serve. It is a positive evolution, one that is founded in legislation, and one to which my senior management team and I are fully committed.

What has not changed is our commitment to public safety through high quality decision-makers and decisions, which is reflected in our outcomes. Last year, 99% of day parole supervision periods and 98% of full parole supervision periods were not revoked for re-offending. These numbers have remained consistent over the past 10 years.

Increased diversity can and is playing an important role at the Parole Board of Canada, and in the public safety of all Canadians.

Jennifer Oades,

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