Aboriginal Justice Strategy Evaluation, Final Report

4. Key Findings (continued)

4.2 Effectiveness

The key findings regarding the performance of the AJS focus on its effectiveness in achieving intended outcomes as well as the efficiency and economy of program delivery.

The effectiveness of the AJS refers to the achievement of its intended outcomes, specifically to contribute to: increased capacity to implement community-based justice programs and other community-based justice services; access to and participation in community-based justice programs and other community justice services tailored to Aboriginal needs; Aboriginal communities' increased involvement in local justice administration; relevant Aboriginal cultural values reflected in the Canadian justice administration; reduced crime and incarceration rates in communities with funded programs; and safer and healthier communities.

4.2.1 Capacity Building Fund

Capacity building funds increase communities' capacity to implement community-based justice programs, but the funds to implement programs in these communities are lacking

Interviewees indicated that capacity building funds are provided to communities exploring the possibility of launching a community-based justice program in the future. Funds are used to research traditional practices surrounding justice and to assess and enhance community capacity for, and interest in, a community-based justice program. These funds are widely seen as building capacity in communities and, more generally, in sparking interest in traditional cultural practices.

The Capacity Building Fund does achieve the initial AJS outcome to increase capacity in communities not previously in a position to launch community-based justice programs, but the fixed level of funding precludes launching new AJS-funded programs in these communities. When the AJS received enhanced funding in 2007-08, new programs were able to launch across Canada in areas where a high need for community-based justice programs had been identified.

However, the capacity to expand the Strategy's reach into additional communities is currently limited. Interviewees indicated there is a waiting list of communities interested in launching community-based justice programs, and numerous interviewees indicated that large geographical gaps in access to community-based justice programs remain.

Capacity building funds contribute to learning and support opportunities for community-based justice program staff, which enhance their capacity to provide justice programs

One of the most frequently cited successes of the Capacity Building Fund is its provision of funding for events and gatherings that promote networking and relationship building. Interviewees indicated that part of the Fund's success was building connections between staff of different programs, allowing for the sharing of information and best practices.

The AJD hosted a series of dialogue sessions with AJS stakeholders including funding recipients, provincial and territorial partners, Elders, Crown, and other mainstream justice partners, between February and July 2011. The sessions were led by Aboriginal facilitators identified in partnership with provinces and territories. The cross-country dialogue sessions held in 2011 between community-based justice programs, the AJD and provincial/territorial partners are an example of the types of gatherings funded and the benefits derived.

The purpose of the dialogues was to disseminate information on the upcoming renewal work of the AJS and on evaluation work underway, and to identify community trends and successful community-level practices. Most key informants indicated that the sessions had benefits beyond information-sharing, allowing funding recipients to connect with one another and with AJD staff, and allowing AJD staff to understand better the challenges faced by communities and the operational reality of community-based justice programs; there were also opportunities for greater partnership with the AJD's provincial and territorial partners.

With a focus on keeping cost low, the dialogue sessions were built around existing opportunities such as site visits or regional gatherings. In many cases, this also allowed for greater participation of stakeholders, especially in rural and remote communities, as they were already meeting for regional training events

Capacity building funds are also provided to community-based justice programs for staff members' training, both to learn methods useful to the provision of justice programs and for self-care/vicarious trauma training. The latter is meant to relieve program staff who, it was indicated, are prone to overwork, stress and burn-out. By increasing program staff knowledge and relieving stresses, capacity building funds enhance the ability of these staff to be involved in the local administration of justice.

Ongoing, rather than one-time, training and development for community-based justice program staff are a necessity to maintain the capacity of AJS-funded programs

Many respondents indicated that staff training was not a one-time need, as program staff turnover and emerging issues in communities (with respect to the nature of offences committed, or the underlying factors affecting offenders) necessitated ongoing learning opportunities for program staff. However, the Capacity Building Fund is designed to provide funds for short-term, one-time projects.

The program policy team within the AJD has recognized this gap in community-based program staff training, and as of July 2011 are developing training materials that will be shared with all community justice program staff as a hard copy reference document.

Capacity building funds are an effective means for community-based justice programs to access funds for equipment and materials required to improve program capacity

All key informants with knowledge of capacity building funds used for program equipment and material purchases (such as computers, office equipment) indicated that these purchases represented an efficient use of funds, as they often represented significant improvements to community-based justice program facilities, were relatively inexpensive, and were managed through grants that were simple to administer, both for the AJD and the programs receiving funds.

Changes to the assessment and selection criteria of the Fund, as well as the timing of the call for proposals, have improved access to the Capacity Building Fund

Improvement of the selection and assessment criteria of the Capacity Building Fund was a recommendation of the AJS 2010 mid-term evaluation, as these elements had been identified by key informants as being unclear and informal. The AJD modified and piloted newly improved Capacity Building Fund tools, including a new application form, a guide for applicants, and rating guides. In spring 2011, the AJD established a working group whose mandate is to: review the piloted tool; improve the clarity of the tools based on feedback received; and formalize the call for proposals, funding application and assessment processes. The new tools are expected to be used in 2011-12.

Most respondents had noticed an improvement in the administration of the Fund, though some indicated it was not sufficiently advertised to allow communities to apply for funds.

The lack of dedicated capacity building funds and the level of funding limit communities' ability to access funds that enhance programs

The Capacity Building Fund does not have a dedicated allotment of funding; rather, the amount of funding allocated to it is determined after the commitment of funds to the community-based justice programs. As the AJD must first determine the level of unused funds, the call for proposals for capacity building funds occurs relatively late in the fiscal year. Thus, the level of capacity building funds is not consistent year over year. Though nearly all key informants identified this lack of dedicated funding as a major weakness of the Fund, one benefit was noted: the provision of unused community-based justice program fund resources for capacity building maximizes the utility of AJS funds, and prevents funding from being lapsed.

The limitations of the Capacity Building Fund identified by key informants include the lateness of the call for proposals (which has historically occurred in late fall), and the short time period for project completion (once approved, projects must be completed by the end of the fiscal year, which usually gives communities two to three months to complete the project). The time pressures associated with the Capacity Building Fund limit the proposals that can be approved, and several key informants noted that the end of the fiscal year is the busiest time for community-based justice programs, which often do not have the resources to implement a project in addition to end-of-year reporting. It was noted that the work completed by the AJD to improve the administration of the Capacity Building Fund, referenced above, also focused on launching the call for proposals earlier in order to mitigate these challenges. Work was underway to launch the call for proposals earlier in 2011.

The lack of dedicated funding precludes advertisement of the Fund, which provincial and territorial representatives cited as the primary reason communities and community-based justice programs are not able to plan for funds in advance. An unintended outcome of this late call and inconsistent level of funds, as indicated by multiple key respondent groups, is that the Capacity Building Fund proposal process can favour communities with higher capacity, as they are the ones able to complete proposals and projects in such a short timeframe. Due to the short window between the call for proposals and the deadline for applications, some interviewees indicated that those programs most in need of funds do not have the resources to complete an application.

Respondents were unanimous in reporting that the level of AJS funds provided for capacity building was not sufficient to achieve the intended outcomes of the AJS. Each year, numerous applications for capacity building projects are not approved due to lack of funds, and the Fund is not sufficiently advertised to ensure all communities can access it.

4.2.2 Community-based Justice Programs

Access to and participation in community-based justice programs continue to improve

As of 2011-12, 214 AJS-funded community-based justice programs serve 634 communities by providing access to alternative, culturally relevant justice programming. Funding for these programs was identified by many interview respondents as the cornerstone of the AJS who indicated that, without the Community-based Justice Program Fund, programs either would not exist or their capacity would be reduced, in either case reducing access.

Improvement in access to community-based justice programs since the previous mandate of the AJS was made through program enhancement and expansion of the AJD regional office in the North, as well as new community-based justice programs launched across Canada. Key informants with knowledge of these enhancements to the AJS coverage indicated that they had improved access to and participation in AJS-funded justice programs. However, many noted that since this enhancement, there have not been sufficient funds to launch additional programs while maintaining the effectiveness of existing programs.

Several key informants in the provinces and territories noted that the community-driven nature of AJS-funded programs leads to improved access to programs, as communities often target outreach initiatives in areas they have identified as having lower rates of participation in the programs. They also work with other community organizations to promote the program, raising the awareness of potential clients.

The increased buy-in of mainstream justice partners over the lifetime of programs leads to increased referrals, thus improving access to community-based justice programs. The 13 AJS-funded programs that participated in the case studies indicated that the relationships with mainstream justice partners are essential to ensuring access to programs, as it is the police, Crown, judges and probation officers who in many cases refer clients to programs. Key informants indicated this increased buy-in occurred as community-based justice programs became more established and demonstrated effectiveness in their holistic approach to rehabilitating offenders, and through program outreach to mainstream justice partners.

One unintended impact of this increased mainstream system respect for community-based justice programs is that in some cases it has increased demand for services beyond the capacity of the program. In these cases, the programs will turn away potential clients, and this hinders access to and participation in community-based justice programs.

Additionally, some key respondents noted that recent federal policy and legislative changes aimed at "tackling crime" have created additional pressures on community-based justice programs, as higher numbers of charges for administrative offences and the increased possibility of more severe consequences in the mainstream justice system have led to an increased number of referrals. It was noted that these pressures, which were perceived as increasing demand for the services of community-based justice programs, are not mitigated with additional resources to the AJS.

Community-based justice program staff members are essential to ensuring the capacity of and participation in programs, but face challenges that could limit their effectiveness

According to findings from the case studies, the programs that were most successful attributed their success to dedicated and competent staff committed to long-term change. Offenders, victims and their families respond well to staff that are also 'approachable and trustworthy'.

A challenge to community-based justice program effectiveness noted by nearly all key informants, and supported by case study findings, is the high level of program staff turnover and burnout. Key informants noted that this challenge was a result of both insufficient funds to retain qualified program staff and the stress of program coordinators' participation in the healing process of so many program participants. This was cited as a significant challenge as most programs have only one paid staff member, who is essential to the success of the program; interviewees cited differences in programs' effectiveness depending on the longevity of their staff members, as well as the time it takes for new coordinators to be trained following turnover.

A factor contributing to rates of turnover and burnout was the fixed nature of funding to programs, which precludes salary raises linked to the cost of living. Key informants stated that this lack of salary increase led to many negative consequences for justice program coordinators, including: staff taking on full-time work with the program, while being paid for part-time work; effective coordinators accepting higher-paying positions elsewhere; and in one case, accepting social assistance. It is important to note that this was not the case in all jurisdictions; one key informant noted that justice program coordinators' salaries were competitive in that region.

Community involvement in the local administration of justice has increased through community-based justice programs

Many respondents indicated that the community-based and community-driven nature of AJS-funded justice program development was essential to the success of the programs. The nature of the AJS allows Aboriginal communities to tailor their programs to meet the particular needs of their communities, resulting in unique programs. Results from the case studies indicated that many programs adapt to the cultural diversity among community members by providing a blend of both traditional and contemporary practices.

Interviewees indicated that the community-driven nature of AJS-funded programs promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility for the program in the community.Case study interviews revealed that justice program committee members, who are usually volunteers from the Aboriginal community, are highly motivated by the need to restore balance.

Community-based justice programs increase involvement in the local administration of justice in many other ways: case study and interviewee informants overwhelmingly reported that the inclusion of Elders and other community organizations in justice programming increased the involvement/investment of the community in the program, and more generally that justice programs' utilization of traditional cultural practices led to a revitalization of tradition in communities. Several interviewees noted that community-based justice programs increased community interest in taking responsibility for additional social services in the community - an impact that goes beyond the intended scope of the AJS.

The quality of relationships between mainstream justice partners and community-based justice programs influences the level of access to and participation in the latter

Acceptance of community-based justice program effectiveness by the mainstream justice system is essential to ensure access to and participation in programs; as mentioned above, referrals need to be made from the mainstream system to ensure participation in justice programs.

A survey of police and Crown prosecutors working in the vicinity of an AJS-funded program, conducted in 2009, showed that all Crown respondents were aware of one or more community-based justice programs operating in their region. In the same survey, 25.7% of police respondents working in regions where such programs are offered were not aware of the program's existence. Some 34.8% of the police and Crown respondents indicated that they have participated in the Aboriginal justice programs offered in their communities. These results indicate that involvement of mainstream justice partners in the community-based justice programs could be strengthened, although it is not known whether this participation rate has changed since 2009 or whether the sample of respondents was representative.

Each program participating in the case study had undertaken a variety of measures to educate mainstream justice personnel about their restorative justice program, with varying outcomes. The education measures included: newsletters, presentations, workshops, luncheons, judges' conferences and brochures. One site was described as supplying a 'tremendous amount' of these awareness activities. Others were similarly described. The outcomes of such efforts were described as leading to 'trusting relationships', 'respect for the Justice Committee', 'increases in referrals', and 'increasingly happy to turnover cases'. There was a feeling that some justice personnel understand the program process and impact but not the cultural underpinnings that make it effective.

Key informants cited other ways in which community-based justice program staff built relationships with the mainstream system, including training provided to mainstream system partners by programs, program coordinators' presence in court, and program participation in selecting referrals.

A positive relationship between community-based justice programs and mainstream partners is key to improving access to and participation in community-based justice programs, especially when mainstream partners are willing to make concessions to ensure participation. An example mentioned by some key informants was "on the land" programs in which clients travel to remote locations and survive alone on the land, giving them time to reflect and teaching them survival skills. To work, such programs must work with clients' probation officers to adjust reporting and other conditions for "on the land" program participants. For instance, clients are not required to contact their probation officers during their time on the land, and they are given permission to carry weapons required to hunt their own food.

Many respondents noted that the rate of referrals to community-based justice programs was increasing, an indication that mainstream partners trust the effectiveness of the programs. In some areas, mainstream partners have requested that programs enhance and expand service delivery in order to serve a greater number of clients.

The extent to which community-based justice program activities encourage Aboriginal cultural values to be reflected in the Canadian justice administration differs across communities

As mentioned above, in many communities, justice programs have the support of their mainstream partners, which allows for referrals to be made and for programs to provide a culturally relevant alternative to the mainstream justice system for Aboriginal persons. However, the extent to which key informants noted an inclusion of Aboriginal cultural values within the mainstream system itself was less clear.

Many interview respondents indicated that Aboriginal values were increasingly reflected in the Canadian justice system at the local level when communities built effective relationships, but those effects did not extend to the Canadian justice system at the macro level. However, some key informants noted that other factors have increased the mainstream justice system's acknowledgement of Aboriginal cultural values, such as the increased use of restorative justice, the implementation of courts centered on Aboriginal culture, and higher rates of Aboriginal persons working in the mainstream system than in the past.

In some communities with AJS-funded programs, program staff are invited to participate in justice-related meetings and working groups; they sometimes have a voice at the provincial policy table and can influence policy. For instance, one key informant noted that Aboriginal community-based justice programming was entrenched in the province's alternative measures policy as a means of reflecting the continued need for these programs.

Community-based justice programs have a positive impact on the individuals and communities they serve

The Justice Committee members interviewed as part of the case studies overwhelmingly agreed that their community-based justice programs are addressing the needs of individuals, families and, to some extent, communities. This opinion was reflected by all key informants interviewed in 2011. The sub-sections below provide more detail on the reported impacts of community-based justice programs on particular groups.

Offenders:

The focus of community-based justice programs is on healing and addressing the root causes underlying an offence, and not simply the offence itself. In alignment with Aboriginal cultural values, programs generally use a holistic approach and seek to restore balance in the offender's life. For many offenders, the experience involves a profound transformation of self-understanding and feelings of self-worth. Within the concept of Aboriginal community justice, individuals are held accountable for their actions, and this is the starting point for many on their journey toward healing and reconnection with self, their identity, other organizations and the entire community. Case study interviewees indicated that when the offenders heal, harmony between the offender, victim and community is made possible.

Case study interviews with offenders who had participated in community-based justice programming noted that, for offenders, successful participation in culturally relevant and community-based programming requires reflecting on and acknowledging their personal responsibility for the offence, which does not necessarily occur in the mainstream system. Community-based justice programs require as conditions of participation that offenders take responsibility and make reparations.

Many community-based justice program participants have underlying issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, any of which can complicate healing and the restoration of balance. An interview respondent also mentioned the rise in the number of participants with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Community-based justice programs, being holistic in nature, focus on addressing these issues to get to the root of behaviours and to assist participants in making long-term changes.

Youth:

Youth programs were identified by key informants as being particularly effective, especially for first-time offenders. As this was a focus of enhancement funding in 2007, it is important to assess the impact of community-based justice programs on young offenders.

Aboriginal youth, much like all Aboriginal persons, are over-represented in the criminal justice system. Although Aboriginal youth accounted for 6% of all youth in the general population (according to the 2006 Census), they represented 27% of youth remanded, 36% of youth admitted to sentenced custody and 24% of youth admitted to probation in 2008-09. Aboriginal youth are not only over-represented in the criminal justice system, they also face more negative outcomes: Aboriginal youth spent an average of nine days in remand, while for non-Aboriginal youth the average was six days. This finding held regardless of violation type[13].

The AJD created a "success stories" document, which highlights examples of how community-based justice programs provide an alternative to the penal system. These programs offer first-time young offenders the opportunity to change/heal without the long-term consequences of a criminal record, which would hinder their future chances for success. These stories include those of offenders who have participated in on-the-land and other programs, accepted responsibility for their behaviours, made restitutions, and gone on to play productive roles in their families, communities and careers.

RCMP officers interviewed as part of the case studies indicated that program principles have guided them with respect to the appropriate actions to take with youth. However, one key informant noted that pre-charge youth referrals are a challenge to obtain in some areas, as invoking alternative measures post-charge allows for charges to proceed in court if the youth does not comply, which is not the case with pre-charge referrals. Research indicates this perception might be supported in some jurisdictions. Since the coming into force of first the Young Offenders Act, then the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the proportion of apprehended youth charged in some provinces increased, as post-charge alternative measures were invoked. However, research also indicated that nearly half of a sample of police officers favoured informal, pre-charge referral to a program[14].

Through the case studies, many key informants noted that community-based justice programs were effective at reducing rates of recidivism among youth. This finding was supported by an analysis of rates of re-offending, which demonstrated that youth[15] who participated in a community-based justice program were significantly less likely to re-offend than youth who were referred to, but did not participate in, a program, as will be seen later in this section.

Victims:

Some AJS-funded programs are intended to address the needs of the victims, but there were conflicting reports among case study respondents as to whether this is indeed happening. A number of community-based justice programs do not have mechanisms or capacity for addressing the needs of victims and rely on other community programs to do so.

Most victim case study respondents were satisfied with the restorative justice process and felt they could live harmoniously with the offender in the community. However, respondents indicated that the majority of non-Aboriginal victims were not satisfied with the outcomes of the restorative justice programs, specifically when restitution for vandalism and other property crimes was not paid directly to the victim.

Some key informants indicated an interest in expanding the mandate of AJS-funded programs to address victims' needs as well as offenders, in order to align the program with the holistic approach to healing. Some community-based justice programs have begun to address these needs.

Community-based justice programs appear to contribute to a reduction in recidivism among program participants

The qualitative evidence that community-based justice programs reduce recidivism rates in participants is supported by quantitative analysis of criminal records of program participants and non-participants. The lower rates of re-offending, as indicated by this analysis, contribute to achieving the long-term outcomes of the AJS of reducing crime and incarceration rates in communities with access to funded programs.

Results of the recidivism study indicate that AJS-funded program participants are significantly less likely than comparison group members to re-offend. In order to determine this relative likelihood, a Cox regression analysis was utilized (see Section 3.5 and Appendix A).

Table 5: AJS Average Recidivism Rates[16], by Time and AJS Program Participation
Time after Program Completion Cumulative Percent who have Re-offended
Participants Comparison Group
1 year 10.9 18.2
2 years 17.6 28.5
3 years 22.0 35.1
4 years 24.8 39.1
5 years 27.2 42.4
6 years 28.7 44.5
7 years 30.4 46.7
8 years 32.0 48.8

Note: Recidivism rates are fitted from the proportional hazards model and are based on the average characteristics of the national sample:

  • number of prior convictions - drug (mean=0.09)
  • number of prior convictions - violence (mean=0.63)
  • number of prior convictions - non-violent (mean=1.41)
  • age (mean=27)
  • gender balance (0.58)

Graph 1: Percentage of Offenders who have Recidivated, by Time and AJS Program Participation

img/graph1.jpg

Rates of re-offending were found to be significantly lower among program participants at every point in time after completing the program:

  • At one year, 18.2% of comparison group members had been convicted of at least one other crime compared with 10.9% of AJS program participants.
  • At four years, 39.1% of comparison group members had re-offended compared with only 24.8% of AJS program participants.
  • At eight years, 48.8% of comparison group members had re-offended compared with 32.0% of AJS program participants.

Although these findings should be interpreted with caution, given the methodological limitations described in Section 3.5, they suggest that AJS-funded programs are associated with the intended long-term outcome of reducing crime. These findings are in line with results of recidivism studies conducted in 2000 and 2006.

A separate analysis of the rates of re-offending for youth participants found that participation in an AJS-funded program was a significant factor associated with reduced recidivism over time (see Table 6).

Table 6: AJS Average Recidivism Rates - Youth Under 20
Time After Program Completion Cumulative Percent of Youth Who Have Re-Offended
Participants Comparison Group
1 year 12.0 17.3
2 years 18.3 26.0
3 years 23.6 33.0
4 years 27.4 7.9
5 years 30.2 41.3
6 years 32.6 44.3
7 years 34.9 47.1
8 years 36.3 49.1

Note: Recidivism rates are fitted from the proportional hazards model run separately for youth under 20 and are based on the average characteristics of the youth sample only:

  • number of prior convictions - drug (mean = 0.01)
  • number of prior convictions - violence (mean = 0.15)
  • number of prior convictions - non-violent (mean = 0.29)
  • age (mean = 17)
  • gender balance (0.61)

The impact of community-based justice programs on the perceived safety of communities varies by community

Based on interviews and site visits conducted with 13 community-based justice programs, it was perceived that the programs had made a substantial contribution to an increased sense of community safety. One community in particular noted that prior to the program, there had been no victim services for community members, and the addition of this community service was an important factor in increasing perceived community safety. For another community, family group conferencing for families experiencing domestic violence had helped community members be less fearful.

The following is a list of factors that were perceived by key informants to have contributed to increased community safety:

  • Reduced recidivism rates among program completers
  • Community curfew for youth
  • Elder involvement
  • Increased support for program participants
  • Increased anger management among program completers
  • Community conflicts solved through the program
  • Program credibility in the community
  • Promoting the value of positive choices
  • Increased community accountability
  • Increased victim support
  • Providing education about restorative justice program and community safety initiatives, such as Crime Stoppers and Citizens on Patrol

Two of the 13 programs did not report changes in the level of perceived community safety, for different reasons: one stated the community had always been safe; however, it now had increased awareness of crime and justice. The other program raised concerns regarding increased community fear due to the reintegration of some offenders into the community.

Although there was a general belief among the communities that participated in the case studies that community-based justice programs had contributed to decreased crime and recidivism rates, many communities noted pre-existing problems that maintained some level of community crime such as poverty, cigarettes, gaming and violence. Some programs were equipped to deal with violent cases within the restorative justice program while others were not, and some programs were working toward the inclusion of violent cases. Overall, it was noted that while programs could have an impact on participants, some issues were beyond the scope of the AJS.

4.2.3 Aboriginal Justice Strategy Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group

All key informants indicated that the structure of the AJS FPT WG and the level of communication between working group members have significantly improved

All key informants reported that the structure of the AJS FPT WG had improved over the period covered by the evaluation, particularly over the past two to three years. The regular meetings held by teleconference, the open communication on the part of the AJD and the WG's co-chairs, the opportunities for FPT collaboration, and the supporting documents provided to WG members, such as agendas, were all cited as significant improvements.

These improvements, as well as the improved communication on behalf of the AJD, were credited with improving relationships between the AJD and its provincial and territorial partners. All respondents indicated the WG was effective as a means of sharing information.

Numerous respondents indicated that the face-to-face working group meetings were more effective than the telephone calls, though most acknowledged budgetary constraints at the FPT levels limited the frequency of these meetings. Holding in-person meetings at least once annually was a priority for most members of the WG.

Increased sharing of issues and initiatives that impact community-based justice programs could be beneficial to the AJS FPT WG

Although all key informants reported significant improvements to the AJS FPT WG, many noted that further improvements could be made. The first area noted for improvement was the sharing of information from other federal departments and sections working in community and Aboriginal justice. Several key informants noted that the various FPT working groups on Aboriginal justice issues, of which there are several, tend to work in silos, and greater communication of emerging issues and upcoming initiatives would benefit WG members.

The second area for improvement related to the operational side of the AJS. Several key informants noted that the AJS FPT WG could focus on the challenges faced by and promising practices of programs, to ensure that all jurisdictional representatives are aware of these. It was indicated that provincial and territorial partners could share stories and learn from one another. Currently, the focus of AJS FPT WG meetings is on sharing information at the federal level.

The level of participation in the AJS FPT WG could be improved

Some key informants noted that some jurisdictional representatives participate more fully in the AJS FPT WG than others. It was suggested that this might be due to varying levels of capacity. Since full provincial and territorial participation was noted as important to the success of the WG, participation of all provincial and territorial partners should be encouraged. Participation rates could be improved by having a back-up representative for each province and territory, so that they are represented even if someone is unavailable; having AJS FPT WG meeting dates for the year set in advance to allow representatives to prepare to attend; and having regional coordinators remind their provincial and territorial counterparts in advance of AJS FPT WG meetings.

4.2.4 Aboriginal Justice Directorate

Human resource capacity and stability within the Directorate has improved over the period covered by the evaluation

The stability of the AJD staff was cited as a challenge to effectiveness in the 2010 AJS Mid-term Evaluation, and the AJD's response to the evaluation report included a commitment to reduce staff turnover. Key informants interviewed in 2011 unanimously agreed that the AJD staff stability has greatly improved since 2008. Staff members have been hired, trained and grouped into teams to improve the stability of the Directorate. The AJD's response to this mid-term recommendation has been successful and has had a positive impact on the relationships between the AJD and its key partners.

Opinion was mixed as to whether the level of human resources was sufficient in the AJD; many key informants indicated that additional regional coordinators would be useful as the workload of current regional coordinators is heavy, while some others noted that additional support staff for the Directorate would ease workloads. However, most respondents agreed that given the current economic climate, the Directorate had sufficient staff to carry out its activities.

Some areas of improvement were noted, specifically with respect to AJD staff knowledge of relevant policies and of the communities served by the AJS. One key informant suggested more training for AJD staff on how to directly support communities, and a respondent suggested internal cross-training be used to create developmental opportunities for AJD staff. One respondent suggested creating a comprehensive resource book, including policies and legislation relevant to the AJS and descriptions of how they apply to communities, to assist AJD staff in supporting community-based justice programs.

Annual in-person gatherings are an effective means of connecting AJD staff

It was noted by several respondents that the geographic dispersion of AJD staff in headquarters and regional offices can lead to feelings of isolation in regional staff, which is addressed by annual face-to-face gatherings for all Directorate staff. These meetings are generally timed to coincide with the Programs Branch all-staff meeting so regional AJD staff can attend both. This annual gathering was cited by many regional AJD staff members as an important means for them to connect with the Directorate.

4.2.5 Communications

Communications internal to the Directorate have improved over the period of the evaluation and are perceived as enhancing the effectiveness of the AJS

The importance of internal communications to the achievement of the intended outcomes of the AJS was cited by numerous key informants. Many noted that AJD staff must be knowledgeable about the AJS, the communities and programs funded through the AJS, as well as many other policies and initiatives relevant to Aboriginal justice, in order to effectively assist community-based justice programs. Key informants from the Directorate noted that internal communications had improved over the period and, in 2011, included formalized measures such as regular meetings within and between teams, various working groups, and meetings between headquarters and regional staff.

Communications between the AJD and ALSP are sufficient to achieve the intended outcomes of the AJS but could be enhanced

Collaboration between the AJD and ALSP is essential to the achievement of the intended outcomes of the AJS, as the groups share responsibility for the implementation of the AJS. Some barriers to communication noted by key informants were the reporting structure that separates the AJD and ALSP under different branches within the Department, and the high levels of staff turnover in both groups.

AJD staff members who work closely with ALSP noted there was little duplication of work between the two groups, as ALSP works on high-level Aboriginal justice policy issues, while the AJD is focused on the funding of the AJS and program policy. However, some federal respondents were unaware of these distinctions and were unable to describe the initiatives undertaken by ALSP over the period of the evaluation. Some respondents noted that there was a lack of communication between the two groups beyond the AJD's policy team, which had sometimes led to additional work being completed when it was not necessary.

One regional AJD staff member stated that ALSP staff was accessible and open to answer questions when contact was initiated. The other regional coordinators did not communicate with ALSP, though the experience of one respondent suggested ALSP would be open to requests for information.

Several key respondents noted that ALSP staff involved in work related to the AJS demonstrated a willingness to learn about the community-based justice programs, and in some cases had travelled to communities to better understand the operational reality of the programs.

The area for improvement most frequently cited by key informants was the lack of AJD participation on the FPT Working Group on Aboriginal Justice chaired by ALSP. Several respondents indicated that AJD staff seem unaware of the work taking place in this working group, which can hinder their ability to implement the AJS as effectively and efficiently as possible. Some respondents noted that the AJD not being included on working groups relevant to the Strategy results in provincial and territorial representatives at times being more aware of federal initiatives in the area of Aboriginal justice than the AJD staff.

Communications with provincial, territorial and community partners have improved significantly over the period of the evaluation

Though provincial and territorial partners were not aware of a formal communications strategy, they all agreed that their communications with the AJD had improved significantly since 2008.

Communications between the AJD's program and policy staff and the communities was cited as an area for improvement by numerous key informants. The dialogue sessions were noted as a positive example of the relationships that develop and the information that is shared when the federal government and community justice programs meet in person, and as an example of how these relationships are strengthening.

An unintended, positive aspect of the strong relationships between the AJD and the communities is the assistance the AJD provides to community-based justice programs in finding additional sources of funding. For example, the Government of Canada's Initiative on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women was noted by a few respondents as an initiative for which the AJD provided support in connecting the Department with Aboriginal communities.

Responses were mixed with respect to the level of communication between AJD regional coordinators and the communities. Again, all respondents indicated improvements over the current mandate, with some indicating that regional coordinators regularly visited community- based justice programs. Others cited limited travel funds and high workloads of regional coordinators as challenges to community visits. All provincial and territorial key informants were satisfied with the responsiveness demonstrated by regional coordinators to issues arising in communities.

Some provincial and territorial partners mentioned that they felt they had to initiate contacts with their regional coordinators, and wanted more proactive communications on the part of the latter. It was also suggested that communications be used more effectively to inform and update new provincial and territorial partners, who are not aware of the processes and operations of the AJS. However, in general, provincial and territorial respondents noted positive relationships with their regional coordinators, and often cited their heavy workloads as a reason communications were not as proactive as would be ideal.

Communications in some areas of the Strategy could be improved

Although all federal key informants were aware of the AJD's activities over the period covered by the evaluation, most provincial and territorial partners cited evaluations and the AJS FPT WG as the major activities of the Directorate, and many were unaware of other activities. Better communication of the AJD's internal activities was requested by some key informants.

Many respondents noted that although the AJS was effective in communities, these results were not communicated beyond the Strategy's partners. Several respondents indicated that communication of community-based justice program results to Aboriginal leadership and within the federal government and Department of Justice should be a priority of the AJD. Others suggested working in collaboration with Justice's Communications Branch to promote the benefits of the Strategy. It should be noted that the AJD is currently developing a "Success Stories" document meant to communicate to a wider audience the effectiveness of the community-based justice programs.


  • [13] Statistics Canada, Youth Custody and Community Services in Canada, 2008-09, Juristat 30(1), Spring 2010.

  • [14] Department of Justice Canada, Police Discretion with Young Offenders, 2003.

  • [15] In order to ensure a sufficient sample size for analysis, "youth" in the context of the recidivism study is defined as under 20 years of age. The sample size for this analysis was 1,546.

  • [16] Recidivism rates are cumulative over time and are adjusted to control for underlying differences in characteristics between the program and comparison groups. The adjustment uses Cox regression fitted to the total sample means for number of prior convictions, age, and gender (where 0 is woman and 1 is man).

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