Reduction of Recidivism Framework Act

An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Richard Bragdon  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Report stage (House), as of March 26, 2021

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the development and implementation of a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

April 14, 2021 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:25 p.m.
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Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and to the Minister of Digital Government

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to participate in this debate on a private member's bill.

I am especially happy to support my hon. colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac's Bill C-228. He contacted me when he began drafting his bill and asked for my feedback and support. It is my great pleasure to support this bill, and I hope other members of the Black community will support it too.

I think this bill reiterates the government's commitment to ensuring public safety and preventing crime and recidivism. It can help us move forward on work we are doing to fulfill our throne speech pledge to address the overrepresentation of indigenous individuals and Black Canadians in the criminal justice system. This bill will help the government get a broad range of stakeholders involved in defining the framework and examining existing strategies and tools to reduce recidivism and prevent crime. It will help us learn more about this important issue. Lastly, it will help us identify the gaps we need to fill.

Overall, I think reducing recidivism would enhance community and public safety, which could in turn result in savings within the criminal justice system. This is a win-win situation, which is why I am pleased to say that the government supports this legislation.

One point that has come up repeatedly throughout this debate is the fact that indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and other racialized people face systemic racism and unequal outcomes in the criminal justice system. Any efforts to reduce recidivism must draw on the lived experiences of incarcerated people to reduce systemic barriers such as discrimination and racism. That is why my remarks will focus on that aspect.

The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that systemic racism exists in every corner of our great country. This includes our criminal justice system, our correctional system and our law enforcement agencies. That is an indisputable fact. I repeat, it is an indisputable fact.

It is not enough to simply look at the numbers, when we examine the Canadian prison system. Several studies conducted in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have shown that Black people are no more likely to commit a crime than non-Blacks—or white people, to put it bluntly. The same is true of indigenous people: They are no more likely to commit a crime.

However, the proportion of Black people in Canada's prison system is three times greater than their demographic weight. That is terrible; it is serious. The situation is even worse for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people represent nearly 30% of the male prison population in Canada at the federal level alone, while they represent not even 5% of the Canadian population. For indigenous women it is even worse. They represent 44% of the female prison population.

As I said in the beginning, indigenous and Black individuals are not more likely to commit a crime. Why, then, is their demographic weight so much more significant in our prisons in Canada? That is a very good indication of the systemic racism and discrimination that exists. When we look for problems we find them and when we decide not to look for them in certain communities we do not find them. That is why I think Bill C-228 gives us the opportunity to reduce the likelihood that people will reoffend after their incarceration.

I congratulate my Conservative colleague on his bill. I know that it is based on his experience. He is a man of faith who is very involved in his congregation and I am very happy that he is using his knowledge to introduce a very reasoned bill.

My only suggestion to improve or amend my hon. colleague's bill would be that, although it is commendable to introduce a bill that addresses what to do with people after they are incarcerated, I would also like us to look at other solutions to address this issue earlier on, to stop people from being incarcerated in the first place.

If we were to create relationships and partnerships with community organizations and non-governmental organizations, if we were to tell these young indigenous people or young Black people that their community is ready to welcome them, they would see that there is another path.

I think there is a lot we can do to counter the fact that these people are overrepresented in our correctional and criminal justice systems. I am not trying to saddle my colleague with all of this, but I hope that members from all parties who support this private member's bill will not stop at what happens after people are incarcerated, but also focus on what happens before incarceration.

I hope that will encourage all members to support bills that address this issue, and that includes government bills. We need to look at how to help people choose a better path, instead of allowing them into the correctional system. We need to find a better way to embrace them and support them, so that they can learn how to make positive contributions to our society. A federal framework to reduce recidivism, as proposed in this bill, could truly change things.

That is why I am proud to say that I support this bill. I hope my colleagues will follow suit.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, like my colleague, I am going to speak to what is in the bill. I will even go a little further, just to give it a little more thought and plant some ideas.

I will obviously talk about pilot projects during incarceration, but I will also talk about what can be done after incarceration and what can also be done as an alternative to incarceration.

In terms of pilot projects during incarceration, one of the last places someone would want to refer to is our neighbour to the south, since the Americans do not necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to detention and the prison system.

However, in 1975, something quite extraordinary happened. One day, an inmate found an injured bird on his windowsill and began to care for it. It was later found that not only did the inmate have better social skills and behaviour, that he was less violent and less medicated, but that this had a positive effect on the entire cell block.

That experience gave rise to a series of pilot projects in the United States. There is now a project running in 290 correctional facilities across the 50 states to teach inmates to become dog trainers. An individual comes to train the inmates, and then they are assigned a dog. The inmates learn how to train the dogs over a period of 12 to 18 months, depending on the type of pilot project. In some cases, the dogs even live with them in their cells.

In the case of almost every inmate who participated in these pilot projects, there was a very significant reduction in medication needs, a decrease in suicide attempts and suicides in jail, a marked reduction in violence and, later, a decrease in recidivism.

This type of pilot project benefits not just the inmates, but the animals as well. The dogs chosen to participate often have behaviour problems and are not suitable for adoption. These dogs are assigned to the inmates, who train them so they can be adopted. In other cases, dogs with better social skills are trained by inmates to become service dogs.

In addition to helping inmates reintegrate, these projects benefit the community. Not only do inmates have a better success rate with the animals than outside volunteers, for example, but many inmates decide to continue training dogs after they get out of prison.

That is a success story that we can learn from, even though, as I mentioned, the United States does not necessarily have the best track record when it comes to prison conditions. The other good thing is that inmates have to exhibit good behaviour in order to qualify for this program, and that generally acts as an incentive for inmates to behave better while they are in prison.

That being said, the absence of recidivism does not automatically mean that an inmate has been rehabilitated. An inmate is not necessarily rehabilitated just because they have not reoffended. I have a rather striking example to give in that regard. One of my colleagues was walking down the street with a former inmate who had served a long sentence for murder. When they came to a red light with no one else around, she crossed the street, but the former inmate remained rooted to the spot. He did not want to jaywalk. The rule was clear: crossing the street when the light is red is not allowed. He absolutely did not want to break the rule. That shows that prison teaches inmates to follow many rules to the letter, but they may be losing some of the social skills they need to be properly rehabilitated.

Obviously I am not trying to say that jaywalking can be used to measure rehabilitation, but I wanted to show that when inmates get out of prison, they often do not have all the skills they need to perfectly reintegrate into society.

I said I would talk about post-incarceration support because that is just as important. The bill introduced by our colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac raises the possibility of joining communal and faith-based initiatives and getting support from various organizations, but that means being close to those organizations, which remains problematic.

It is a real problem for offenders who live in the far north, especially in Inuit communities, and who have to serve time in detention centres far from home.

Around Montreal, we often see a high proportion of Inuit and indigenous individuals in the homeless population. What are these people doing in Montreal?

In many cases, they are people who were sentenced to serve time in detention facilities near Montreal. The plane ride to jail is covered, but once they have served their time, nobody pays for the return flight, which is often prohibitively expensive.

Once these people get out of jail, they are thrust into another kind of prison, the prison of poverty and homelessness on the streets of an unfamiliar city, instead of being given the opportunity to get into rehabilitation and reintegration programs that could be offered in their communities.

If we want the pilot projects proposed in the bill to work, we have to make sure all the options and tools are available to run them. That is something else we will have to think about.

We also need to look at alternatives to incarceration, which is not always the appropriate solution. I have some more examples to share, including in connection with the indigenous community.

The Gladue reports really emphasized the need to include indigenous peoples in the sentencing process. I had the privilege of attending a conference on indigenous law where it was explained that, in some countries, there are actually blended courts that take a blended approach by incorporating indigenous law.

I have an example of something fairly unusual that was done here, when a judge came up with an innovative sentence. Rather than imposing a custodial sentence on someone convicted of rape in his community, the judge made him live outside his community and become the designated hunter for a women's shelter.

For two years, that individual lived apart from his community and served another community by hunting for people who were essentially victims of the same kind of crime he had committed. At the end of his sentence, he was allowed to return to his community because it felt that he had paid the price for his actions. His reintegration was much easier because it was done in collaboration with the community, which would not have been the case if that individual had had a sentence imposed that did not align with the community's values.

Another example illustrates what can be done. It involves the PPTCQ, the drug treatment program of the court of Quebec. Section 720 of the Criminal Code allows for sentencing to be delayed in cases where people are struggling with substance use problems. Often, these people will not use drugs during their sentence. However, upon release, some will not comply with the conditions of release and will use drugs again at the first opportunity.

Rather than announcing the sentence immediately, this program examines whether the person is progressing well in detox and adjusts the sentence accordingly. The sentence may even be cancelled altogether if their progress has been good.

For these initiatives to work, however, there must be no minimum sentences. Minimum sentences are a barrier that can prevent some projects from being implemented, and they do not always work.

For example, at one time, during the famine in England, turnip thefts were common. The turnip growers asked the authorities to increase penalties to deter people from stealing turnips. The authorities made it a capital offence to steal a turnip. After that, there were more turnip thefts than ever, because no one was afraid of being sentenced to death just for stealing a turnip. Sometimes, instead of serving as a deterrent, a denunciatory sentence can have the opposite effect.

What I want to say is that I welcome the bill. I especially hope that we can learn from these examples that one-size-fits-all, universal solutions are not necessarily the ones that work best. I hope that this is what emerges from our future reflections on detention, on sentencing, and on criminal law in general.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to address Bill C-228, which was introduced by my friend and colleague, the member for Tobique—Mactaquac. I had the distinct opportunity before COVID to tour this region and connect with organizations helping transition inmates to a new life after serving their time.

Ensuring a successful return to society is in all of our best interests and can help tackle the many systemic issues facing Canada. The ability for those who have served their time to succeed is an important issue. It is a poverty issue. It is an education and training issue. It is an opportunity issue. It is a program delivery issue and a public safety issue. As I have said many times in this House, the top priority of the government is the safety and security of Canadians.

As a former police officer, as a member of community boards and as a member of Parliament, I know that putting reformed criminals on a better path after serving their time requires many things. There are a number of strong organizations providing these different and successful approaches.

The theme that I have seen which often underlines these programs is trust. Trust is essential to a strong public safety and community safety system. Canadians need to trust that someone who breaks the law will be found, brought to justice, have a fair trial and will face the appropriate punishment. However, that they will be reformed and prepared to have a successful reintegration back into society is more important than punishment.

Today, Canadians have lost faith in our justice system. More and more Canadians see crimes unsolved. Victims see criminals go free. Accused persons are awaiting trial and are out on bail to potentially revictimize others. Dangerous people are being released from prison, despite being a serious threat to others.

Bill C-228 is a plan to find the best programs that restore the trust and support a transition from inmate to productive citizen. Reducing repeat offenders would reduces costs on social systems, and reduce burdens on the justice system and the backlogs that exist there. The criminal justice system, police across the country and the rising level of crime all tell us that action is needed today to tackle a growing crime rate and the heavy costs law-abiding citizens pay for these crimes.

In the face of this rising crime, fear and number of victims, we have seen little action from the Liberal government. Crime rates have climbed every year for the last five years. Violent crime continues to grow quickly across Canada. Rural crime is growing faster than urban crime. Gang-related shootings are at all-time highs. Addiction rates, no doubt affected by the anxiety of the current times, are way up. Also, Canada's opioid overdoses are only getting worse.

Police and communities are seeing a growing trend, a revolving door of justice, and it is returning. Criminals are being caught, and then they are back on the streets, sometimes within hours, by being released on bail to go back and commit more crimes and victimize more innocent people. Police rearrest the same people over and over again to just see them out the next day. I remember back in the days when I was policing, we said that 20% of the people commit 80% of the crime, and it is so true.

The last five years we have seen the approach of the current government fail and it will continue to fail Canadians unless there is a change. Canadians do want to see a response to crime, a response to addiction and an end to the cycle of violence and victim suffering. Part of that response is this exact legislation, which reforms those who have committed crimes from offenders into productive members of our communities.

That reformation of offenders starts in correctional services. If convicted offenders return to the community as a threat to others, the system has failed the victims, the community and everyone the system is supposed to protect. If offenders are not given the opportunity to prepare for life outside the prison walls, the system has failed them just as much as it has the rest of society. Instead of reform and transition, we have dangerous offenders out on early parole.

As we know, as many as 10 terrorists connected to Islamic extremist groups have been released on statutory parole from prison in the last two years, despite everyone knowing they are a high risk to reoffend and that they hold extremist ideologies. These are the exact people we should not be putting out into the community.

Last month, the correctional investigator again called for reforms to training and education in prisons. Training is outdated, and the government has essentially ignored all the warnings and recommendations. The results are clear: nearly half of all of those released from prisons return within a few years. There is a better way, one that meets with support from ex-offenders, police and justice system officials alike. It is not big government programs, but community-driven and donor-supported programs that are leading efforts to train, support and reintegrate.

In New Brunswick, as I said, I met with Harvest House, along with my hon. colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac. Harvest House holds to Christian values and reaches out to those who are working to rejoin society. It operates on the principle of three, which I found intriguing, and has had great success stories. In the first three minutes after getting out, offenders need someone to trust and support them as they re-enter society. In the first three hours, they need a place to call home. In the first three days, they need life skills and someone to help them access essential services, navigate the government and government programs, and adjust to a new life. In the first three weeks, they need to get training, education and a job, something that can be challenging when someone has just been released from prison and has a criminal record. In the first three months, they need support in making those real, permanent transitions, when their new lives have started to take hold and they are settling in to those new lives. In three years, once they have been shown to be successful, they can pay it forward and help others who are leaving prison themselves and are ready to remake their lives into something new.

Harvest House supports those committed to a good life through these challenges. Programs such as these may not be perfect for all offenders seeking better lives, but it is one of a few good examples by many who are developing programs to give inmates opportunities. They offer security, trust, stability and opportunity for those willing to work for it, and they perform much better than the existing federal program.

If Canada could cut those numbers, we would avoid much higher costs, both in terms of lives lost and money spent. The cost of prevention and successful reintegration saves many victims from lives of fear and pain, saves already stretched resources in the justice system, saves the costs associated with returning to prison and saves the costs of parole and offender monitoring. Equally as important, it gives an opportunity to those who want to turn their lives around. They just need a helping hand to do so.

In conclusion, organizations such as Harvest House are doing the work that big governments fail to do. Investments in these programs and prevention programs cost pennies compared with the dollars that they save. As a former police officer, I have had reformed offenders, whom I had a hand in sending to prison, approach me after they were released and thank me. In prison they got clean, were offered education and career training and had their lives put onto a new path, but that was many years ago. That was what the correctional system was designed to do, but that is not happening today as consistently as we would like or as we would hope. However, it is something that can happen again, with appropriate approaches to reducing recidivism.

I strongly support this bill. I commend my colleague for bringing it forward, and I hope to see everyone in the House rise to support this bill when it comes to voting.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, when I was reading through the preamble of the bill, I was really struck by some of the passages. For example:

Whereas the purpose of the correctional system is in part to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by assisting the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens through the provision of programs in penitentiaries and in the community.

Another one is:

Whereas people who have been incarcerated should have the necessary resources and employment opportunities to be able to transition back into the community and avoid falling back into their old ways;

These passages gave me a sliver of hope that despite Stephen Harper's best efforts with the Reform Party, the Progressive Conservative Party was not yet dead and still lived on. The irony, of course, is that this bill is being introduced by a member of the Conservative Party, which previously prided itself on a “lock them up and throw away the key” approach to justice.

When in power, the Conservatives also had a love affair with mandatory minimum sentencing, which is also shown to increase recidivism. Evidence suggests that lengthier sentences increase recidivism rates, especially for lower-risk groups, which are the ones most affected by mandatory minimum sentences.

This is the same Conservative Party that, when in power, attempted to balance its budget in fiscal year 2014-15 with an order to the Correctional Service of Canada to make budget cuts, which were taken from the very programs that actually helped reduce recidivism. This is precisely what Bill C-228 attempts to achieve.

What programs am I referring to? Correctional Service of Canada's contribution to the Conservative deficit reduction action plan was long. It included the closing of prison farms and the elimination of CSC funding for lifeline and circles of support programs. There were additional deductions made from inmate pay for food and accommodation. It collapsed core programs into one-size-fits-all models. It eliminated incentive pay for work in prison industries. There was a reduction of library services. Three institutions were closed. The list goes on.

Again, the irony of bringing this bill before the House just eight years after the member's party slashed funding to many of the rehabilitation programs this framework may end up reinstating is almost too much. I thought it was important to point this out, because, as I have found in my five years as a member of the House, memories here can be very short.

Let me turn to Bill C-228, which, if implemented, directs the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in collaboration with the provinces and in consultation with indigenous groups and other relevant stakeholders, such as non-governmental, non-profit, faith-based and private sector organizations, to develop and implement a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

The bill goes on to state that the framework must include measures to initiate pilot projects, develop standardized and evidence-based programs. It wants to promote the reintegration of people who have been incarcerated back into the community by ensuring that they have access to adequate and ongoing resources as well as employment opportunities.

It also wants the framework to support faith-based and communal initiatives that aim to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated, but also to review and implement international best practices related to the reduction of recidivism. If we look at countries around world and how they administer their justice systems, there are certainly some very valuable lessons that Canada could learn.

We know that education, training, employment programs and services during and post-incarceration are absolutely key to rehabilitation. However, many of the programs and services available to inmates are severely under-resourced and in definite need of modernization. We also know that improving outcomes for inmates will require political will and funding reallocation.

In addition to programming during and post-incarceration, the government should look at sentencing policies and social and economic risk factors for reoffending, such as poverty, mandatory minimums and over-policing. Again, the reference to mandatory minimums has been mentioned during the government's five years in power on many different occasions.

While we definitely support the bill in principle, our intention is to strengthen and improve it at committee. In particular, we want the committee to hear from indigenous, Black and racialized Canadians as well as organizations working with inmates, to ensure that the bill is more than just good intentions and would actually help improve outcomes for inmates.

Recidivism rates tell us part of the story, but we would like to see the framework consider other metrics as well, such as graduation and employment rates and whether an inmate is living independently post-release. It is important to note that recent research has suggested that correctional services should transition away from a focus on recidivism and instead focus on supporting desistance, which is the process by which a person arrives at a permanent state of non-offending.

While recidivism is binary, either an individual does or does not recidivate, desistance allows for degrees of success even if there are occasional setbacks. I believe this is incredibly important, because many issues in our justice system are not black and white. There are many grey areas, and we have to allow some flexibility if our overall goal is to have successful reintegration into society.

We would like to see an overhaul of the risk assessment system in federal prisons, which are used to give inmates security classification and a reintegration score that follows them throughout their incarceration and determines almost everything about their time in prison. Among other things, the security classification determines which treatment programs an inmate will have access to, and the reintegration score affects whether they will be given parole. These assessment tools have been shown to be significantly biased against Black and indigenous inmates, thus reducing their odds of having access to the very programs and services that would help with their rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community.

I know this is beyond the ability of a private member's bill, given the need for a royal recommendation, but appropriate funding would also be an important part of implementing the effective framework. I would love to see a commitment from the Government of Canada to ensure that funding would follow the development of this framework.

I will close with a quote about Bianca Bersani and Elaine Doherty's 2017 article entitled “Desistance From Offending in the Twenty-First Century”. It reads:

It’s much easier to stop committing crimes if you have an income, a place to live, a sense of belonging and people who care about you. The stigma of having a criminal record can itself make it much harder to go ‘crime-free’. ...recent research implies that contact with the criminal justice system, ironically, may have 'a causal role…in perpetuating criminal careers' rather than in helping to end them.

I would like to congratulate the member for Tobique—Mactaquac for bringing the bill forward for the House to consider. I look forward to supporting its passage to committee for further study.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 6:05 p.m.
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Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate virtually in this debate on Bill C-228. This is an important bill. As my colleague from Hull—Aylmer already said, the government will support this bill and will recommend that it be referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for a more in-depth study.

I also want to thank my colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac for his work on this issue. He is a perfect gentleman who worked with all parties in the House to draft and introduce this bill.

The idea of a federal framework to reduce recidivism makes complete sense. This bill is in line with our commitment to provide resources that support reintegration, to support community programs and community justice centres, and to address the fact that Black and indigenous people are overrepresented in our justice system. These priorities were recently reiterated by our government in the throne speech, as part of our plan for criminal justice reforms.

A framework like the one proposed in the bill will enable us to effectively address the various factors that play a role in recidivism.

Building on what we discussed the first hour, I think it is fair to say that we can all agree on a number of principles the bill presents. We need to make sure that we are doing all we can to reduce recidivism. Crime inflicts harm on victims and families. It impacts communities and threatens their safety and well-being, and recent history shows that as many as one-quarter of those released from federal custody were reconvicted of a federal or a provincial offence within a few years of their release. As such, we need to make sure that we are addressing the unique risks and needs of those incarcerated to support their rehabilitation and reintegration back into society.

I do not mean this as a criticism of the member opposite, as he was not an elected member at that time, but I would be remiss if I did not reference, as did my NDP colleague, the impacts the massive cuts under the Harper Conservatives' deficit reduction action plan had on the services and programs to inmates. Many programs that specifically worked to achieve successful, supervised and gradual integration into the community had their funding eliminated.

Dr. Zinger, the correctional investigator, said that these cuts were tragic and very unfortunate because they dismantled employment opportunities. I do appreciate the member for Tobique—Mactaquac is very sincere and genuine in his proposition of a practical deal that seeks to offer solutions toward our complex situation and complex problems. This is because we all know that at some point almost everyone incarcerated in Canada will return to the community. That happens either through conditional supervised release or at the completion of their sentence. They often have unique challenges and needs that, if left unaddressed, can impede their successful reintegration and increase the likelihood of their reoffending

The challenge of recidivism is truly how multi-dimensional the issue really is. It is shaped by a variety of factors, both socio-economic and within the criminal justice system itself. That includes factors such as health, education and access to employment and housing. That is why I am pleased to see the bill calls for a broad, multisectoral approach to the issue. Should the bill be passed, it will be important to engage a range of stakeholders. We will need to hear from those who deliver services to those incarcerated or previously incarcerated, for example.

We also need to reach out to our provincial and territorial partners to share information and lessons learned and where possible, identify opportunities for future collaboration. We will need to hear from diverse groups of the incarcerated population, such as indigenous people and Black Canadians who continue to be sadly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. We will need to hear from those with lived experience, the victims and their families.

The bill recognizes the key role that the government plays in the success of reintegration and crime prevention efforts. We will bring in an effective way to achieve this objective, for example by eliminating the stigma associated with having a criminal record through an improved records suspension system, which is commonly known as a pardon.

We know that a criminal record can create barriers for those trying to reintegrate into the community. It can prevent people from securing a job, housing or access to educational programs. Pardons help facilitate that reintegration. That way, a successful reintegration has a positive impact on public safety and enables individuals to participate constructively in society and achieve their full potential.

Over the last decade the Criminal Records Act, which is the backbone of the pardon system, has undergone significant legislative change. Unfortunately, some of those changes had the effect of limiting access to pardons, and of lengthening the waiting period before individuals could apply. There was a significant increase of the application fee from $50 to $150 in the year 2010 and then to $631 in 2012, which meant a further barrier to those seeking pardons.

Our government remains committed to reviewing the program as a whole. Indeed, that commitment is reflected in the Speech from the Throne, which stated that we will introduce legislation and make investments to take action to address the systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, from diversion to sentencing, and from rehabilitation to records.

The Parole Board of Canada began by conducting online consultations on the user fee, and it is no surprise that most respondents found the user fee to be a barrier in applying for a pardon. Public Safety Canada consulted online with stakeholders, partners and the public on the review of the Criminal Records Act. The results of those surveyed found that the process for obtaining a record suspension was overly complex and the waiting periods were too long.

The follow-up to these consultations was in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security's 2018 report on the record suspension program. It recommended to reform the pardon system, including reviewing the process and making pardons automatic in specific circumstances. In its response, the government reaffirmed its commitment to a pardon system that is both fair and proportionate, and that achieves the goal of promoting public safety by allowing people who are living crime-free to be fully contributing members of society.

Making pardons more accessible would help some members of marginalized and racialized communities who face additional barriers when they have a criminal record. As I noted, all these measures are consistent with the Speech from the Throne, as is Bill C-228. The bill is also consistent with our commitment to maintaining public security and safety, particularly by reforming the criminal justice system and by facilitating the reintegration of incarcerated people.

Creating a federal framework to reduce recidivism would contribute to advancing the commitment of our government to remedy the systemic inequities that exist at every step of the criminal justice system.

That is why I encourage every member of the House to join me and the government in supporting Bill C-228 today and to recommend that it be referred to committee.

Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for your attention, and while I have the floor, I wish you, all members and all the staff happy holidays.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 6:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I, too, would like to begin my speech by acknowledging the outstanding work done by all of our colleagues, regardless of their political affiliation. This was a difficult session and one that will not quickly be forgotten.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-228, which seeks to establish a federal framework to reduce offender recidivism. I am pleased to speak to this bill mainly because I did my first undergraduate degree in criminology, an applied science that seeks to analyze criminal behaviour and the rehabilitation of offenders.

This bill responds to the horrible murder of Marylène Levesque by recidivist Eustachio Gallese. Her murder shows that there are gaps in the existing mechanisms that show that the government seems to have truly failed to protect this woman and the population in general. This is one case among many in recent years.

The October 27, 2020 report from the correctional investigator of Canada, Ivan Zinger, shows that the federal government is not doing a good job of managing the social reintegration of offenders. In fact, it is doing a very poor job of it. This is a scathing report for the government, and it brings to light a number of problems, one of which is the almost total lack of training for inmates in federal penitentiaries. The report notes that, although there are jobs in federal penitentiaries, they generally do not enable inmates to develop useful labour market skills. Inmates told the correctional investigator that they take those jobs to avoid spending time in their cells.

The report notes that there are very few opportunities for inmates to take post-secondary training in penitentiaries. It also indicates that, while there are libraries, the books available are out of date. In short, the federal government is failing miserably when it comes to the rehabilitation of offenders, because it is not giving them any useful tools to help them reintegrate into society. It is important to point out, however, that social reintegration is not easy, and it is not something that we have been dealing with for 100 years.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill at second reading. However, we wish to warn the federal government against the temptation to impose a federal model in prisons that are provincially run. On this point, by the way, let's recall that the federal government manages sentences of two years or more, while the provincial government manages sentences of two years less a day. We must not tolerate in the slightest that a federal framework dictate to the provinces what they must do, as this government often does.

In addition, a recent study by the CIRANO research group finds that Quebec is doing much better than the rest of the world in terms of social reintegration. Of course, I am talking about advanced countries. Bill C-228 must therefore focus on reintegration in federal penitentiaries without dictating to the provinces what they should do.

In order to be constructive in the context of this bill, the Bloc Québécois believes that the framework of this legislation should take into account the following elements. First, pilot projects should be put in place and standardized programs should be developed to reduce recidivism. Second, it is necessary to promote social reintegration by ensuring that inmates have access to adequate resources and employment opportunities. In addition, the project should support faith-based and community-based initiatives aimed at reintegrating former inmates into the community.

Finally, it should study international social reintegration practices and, of course, implement only proven practices.

The Department of Justice should also work with the provinces to establish this framework because, even though we have concerns about interference, there are federal penitentiaries in all provinces, including Quebec.

Bill C-228 should also call on the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to table a report in Parliament in the year following the passage of this bill.

Again, according to a study by CIRANO, the Center for Interuniversity Research and Analysis of Organizations, social reintegration programs significantly reduce recidivism. Not only do programs that facilitate the social reintegration of inmates in facilities run by the Government of Quebec reduce recidivism, but, as I just mentioned, they do so far more effectively than all known countries with such programs.

CIRANO researchers obtained data on the programs at the prisons in Montreal, Quebec City and Saint-Jérôme. They compared these prisons to others under the authority of the Quebec justice department.

They found that over a period of five years, the recidivism rate in Montreal for inmates participating in these programs was 10%, compared to 50% for those not participating. At the two other institutions, the result was slightly lower at 6% and 35%. Implementing these programs results in extraordinary outcomes compared to not implementing them.

Researchers found that the more the inmates participated in programs during their incarceration, the less likely they were to reoffend. Given the results of this study, it is clear that the best way to reduce recidivism among offenders is to provide or expand social reintegration programs.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 6:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues who are participating this evening and who have participated in our discussions and deliberations to this point. I am very thankful and have a lot of gratitude this evening to have had this kind of response from all parties. Very positive and helpful input and suggestions have been made, and I welcome that kind of feedback and input.

I am looking forward to hopefully seeing this at committee and continuing the work we have begun on this journey. I do believe it has been a journey we have all taken together, and I am very thankful for that. It has been an incredible experience for me and my staff, and I want to thank my staff for all their work behind the scenes in helping make this happen.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the many volunteers who are continuing to do tremendous work with those who are on the pathway to full recovery and reintegration back into communities, who oftentimes are the unsung heroes of our communities. They do not get a lot of public recognition and oftentimes do it on a volunteer basis. I simply want to thank all of them.

During my first comments at second reading, I talked about my friend, who has since passed, Monty Lewis, and his wife Lynda. After confronting his personal demons and struggles while in a prison cell, with the help of a Salvation Army chaplain who happened to visit him at that time, he had an incredible change in his life and in the direction of his life as a result. Once having served time and paid his debt to society, he worked with his wife Lynda upon his release to help others who experienced similar pathways in their lives.

I remember visiting prisons with Monty at Christmas, in particular, and that was a very important time. He said to me that there was no greater time of loneliness than at Christmastime in prisons, not only for those who are on the inside but also for the families who are left at home. Oftentimes there is a lot of separation, a lot of reflection and a lot of loneliness.

I will never forget visiting near Christmas, just two or three days before Christmas, a prison in my region. I got to hear the story of a man who was there, and he had been serving time and was now kind of volunteering through the chaplaincy program. He was telling me his story and sharing his experiences. He said to me that when folks like me came to visit, we saw the brave exterior of the guys who were serving their time. He said that they put on their best fronts and that was what we saw. He said that what we did not see, and what they did not want us to see, were the tears that fell from their faces. At night, one could hear the sobbing that came from the halls and from within the prison cells. He said that was the side of the story many people did not see. They were living under the cloud of what once was and the regrets they faced, and I could sense that overwhelming loneliness.

This time of year not only provides loneliness for many people within prison and without, but it is also a time of hope. One can see that people are looking for hope during this time of year, and it can bring a lot of hope. I think this bill offers, for many people, hope for a fresh start, for a second chance and for freedom and peace. I can think of no better way to be finishing the second reading of this bill than during the Christmas season. We, today, can offer a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel for many people.

Colleagues, this bill aims to give those who served their time the best possible chance at success post-release through effective partnerships between public sector, private sector, non-profit and faith-based communities, indigenous communities and NGOs. By working together, we can create a pathway and begin to move the needle in the right direction. We can take steps to end the revolving door of our prison systems and make positive changes to our criminal justice system.

I thank everyone, and I want to take this opportunity to wish everybody, their family members and all members of the House a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

moved that Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great joy to rise this evening to speak on behalf of my private member's bill, Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

For those who may not be aware, recidivism is defined as “The tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend”. We know that nearly one in four, 25%, of those who have been released from federal prison end up back in federal prison within two years, and the rates among indigenous communities is nearly 40%. It is also a sad reality that the children of those incarcerated are seven times more likely to become incarcerated themselves. We must stop this cycle

The bill is not about reducing sentences or the amount of time served. The bill aims to address the ever-revolving door within our prison system and break this perilous cycle that sees individuals consistently reoffend. Lasting societal change can only be accomplished when we work across different sectors to come to meaningful solutions. We must find partners of like mind that will look at this and say it is a problem we can all address, whether they be at the governmental level, in the private sector, with non-profits and NGOs, in faith-based communities or indigenous communities, those who have a desire to see this revolving door stopped and the cycle broken.

I believe this bill would provide a framework for not only that discussion and dialogue to begin in earnest, but also enable some potential pilot programs to be launched across this country based on best practices and models that have been rolled out in other jurisdictions.

I will never forget my first time visiting a federal prison. I would like to think I am still somewhat of a young man, but in my younger years I was travelling with gentleman by the name of Monty Lewis. Monty ran a local non-profit organization in my area that worked with those who were incarcerated and their families.

He said something to me that day on the way to the prison that has always stuck with me. He said I would never be in a place where there was a higher concentration of the worst kinds of dysfunction, symptoms of societal and family breakdown, violence, victims and perpetrators of abuse, addiction, emotional and mental heath-related struggles, and so much more, than could be found within the walls of the place we were visiting that day. He then went on to point out that I would also never visit a place where I would find a greater opportunity to witness the powerful effect of what hope, compassion, forgiveness, encouragement and the opportunity for another chance can do.

I have seen, personally witnessed, some tremendous working models, at various stages of development, that are seeing good results. There have been pilot projects, some of which I have witnessed and visited, and policies that have been tried around the world, some of which I would like to see more of and have all of us hear more about. We can look them and perhaps pattern after or adopt some of those best practices to help establish a national framework that combines the best practices from all around the world.

I think of one, for example, in the U.K. that has been referred to as the “Peterborough model”. It incorporated 14 different service providers. It made several initial contacts with social workers, employers, private sector developers and skills developers. They worked with them while they were still in prison and upon release, after their time had been served. They also piloted some unique social finance programming and initiatives, things like social impact bonds. They successfully implemented that program and incorporated private investment, and obviously local authorities and law enforcement, and had all these different sectors working together to have a good outcome. They saw a 9% reduction in the rates of reoffending. It is a really good news story and I think there are some things that perhaps we could look at in that model.

I will refer to another one, which is a model in the “get tough on crime” state of Texas, of all places. There were some who were part of a smart justice type of initiative, where a non-profit organization worked at helping those who had been released from prison or were getting out of prison. It mentored them, sometimes while they were still in prison, for periods of up to 18 months and continued this program post-release for another 12 months.

What happened was it helped to integrate back into community, developed necessary skills, helped people find job placements, get back into community and find support groups. It involved regular checkups. At the two-year point, it did a review and when it looked at the rate, they were 60% less likely to be reincarcerated. That is a true good news story.

In fact, the lady who championed this is Tina Naidoo. I happen to know her personally now. I met her through my previous work in the non-profit sector. In 2016, then President Obama, awarded her a champion of change award from the White House for the great work she and her organization were doing. It was effective partnerships through private sector, government and local non-profits. It had some great results.

Those are a couple of examples of models we perhaps could look into and maybe implement them as pilots or similar-type initiatives with some great Canadian input, non-profit service providers and local private sector employers, working in conjunction with provincial governments to help roll out some of these across the country to see if we could see our rates of recidivism start to drop quickly.

I base all of this on that principle of three. It has been known and it has been out there for some time. If members have not heard it, it kind of helps make this stick.

The first three minutes after people are released from prison, it is so important they have someone trustworthy to meet them at the gate to start that reintegration back into community process. Within three hours, it is trying to enure they have living arrangements in place and good support networks available to them to help them make that transition. Within three days, life skills development, employment and other addiction-type programs, whatever may be needed, could be getting under way.

Within three weeks, hopefully there is some form of education completion or maybe they are starting a job somewhere with a great job placement. As we know, many people who are released from prison have a criminal record and it is hard for them to find meaningful employment. Then within three months, there should be remarkable and notable progress, with transitions starting to take place. Over three years, we hope to see a tremendous change and a life well on its way to wholeness and now helping others to make a successful transition.

I have received widespread support for the bill from representatives from all relevant stakeholders. One is former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, former provincial court judge and former chair of native studies at St. Thomas University, the Hon. Graydon Nicholas. He said, “this bill is a step toward helping the walking wounded in our society.”

Former minister of public safety for New Brunswick and retired police officer, the Hon. Carl Urquhart, said, “through collaboration and consultation, as outlined by [the member's] bill, relevant stakeholders will provide key insights in the development, and ultimately, implementation of a federal framework that is effective in reducing recidivism in a measurable way.”

Executive Director of the John Howard Society Catherine Latimer said, “This bill would allow many Canadians concerned about the waste of lives and resources resulting from inadequate supports for those returning to community and help develop a framework to reduce recidivism.”

Mitch MacMillan, a retired police chief from our region and RCMP officer of 35 years as well as a former member of the national Parole Board of Canada, gave this bill his full endorsement and said, “I would like to encourage you to continue on this path as I feel it is certainly needed to ensure that focus is maintained.”

I would also like to refer to a local businessman, farmer and egg producer in my community, David Coburn. He is an apple grower and an egg producer. He has on several occasions, in conjunction with a local non-profit, the Village of Hope, provided meaningful employment opportunities for men who were in transition in that program. He helped in their finding meaningful employment and developing valuable skills. He is very much in favour of initiatives like this.

There is a desire among many of the relevant stakeholder groups to work together to find a solution and establish a federal framework based on best practices around the world. The key will be to study the results of any pilot project that is developed. This is so we can evaluate what works and what does not work and how we can work together with the various stakeholder groups to come to a national framework in conjunction with provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

I would like to say, as I move to close, that the gentleman I was referring to earlier, Monty Lewis, has now passed. His story is remarkable and has had a big impact on my life. He grew up in Cape Breton in very challenging circumstances. His dad was a coal miner. As he grew up, he got around some not-so-pleasant influences in his life and started down a pathway of substance abuse and addiction. It started to lead to criminal activity and he ended up doing time in prison. In fact, through various times spent inside, he eventually ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. His story is encapsulated in the book he wrote several years ago, called The Caper.

Monty found himself in a very dark place. In fact, he was suicidal and, at one point in the hold of a prison cell, he tells this story. There came a chaplain down into the hold of the prison cell where he was, to make his rounds and visit. Of course, Monty, in a dark place, started swearing at him and cursing, and was not very nice to him. He wanted him to be gone, but the chaplain kept on visiting. He kept coming back. Monty would describe him as a messenger of hope at just the right time.

After a time, Monty's life began to change and he started looking at his life differently. He got released and he went to work. He ended up meeting the love of his life, Lynda. He had this ember in his heart. He said that he wanted to start an organization or a group that would provide support for others, like him, who have been inside and are coming out, and that he wanted to help them be able to have the supports that they need. He founded an organization along with his wife to help those who were transitioning from incarceration back into the community. They started on a shoestring budget and just did the best that they could to help.

I must say I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to the legacy of my friend Monty than by implementing this national framework for an overall reduction in recidivism. By doing this, I believe we, as parliamentarians, are helping to foster an atmosphere through which many other Montys and Lyndas can be afforded another opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams. The impact of Monty's and Lynda's lives has gone far beyond their humble beginnings and regrettable decisions.

I cannot help but wonder how many others are out there, needing the power of a second chance, needing simply someone else to believe in them and believe that their story is far greater than the regrettable decisions that they had made at some point in the past, that their life will no longer be forever defined by what was or what once happened or the wrongs that they have committed, but instead, their lives will be transformed through the power of what new opportunities and a fresh start can afford.

We have an opportunity, with this bill, to provide a bridge of hope to those who need it most, an outstretched hand to those who feel left behind and a pathway forward for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable among us. We, together, can end the spiralling cycle of recidivism by providing the most powerful agent of change in our world, and that is hope.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:40 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his compassion in sharing Monty's story. It is exceptionally admirable, what the member has been able to do over the last 15 minutes.

I have more of a comment than a question. I recognize how important it is for us to work within the system to try to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. I respect the amount of effort and time the member has put into this. He might want to provide some thanks to those other individuals who helped him put this bill together.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, there are so many I would like to thank for their contributions to helping make this bill possible. I think of my legislative assistant, Jesus Bondo, who put in countless hours, helping make this happen with many calls and a lot of engagement, a lot of study and a lot of research. He is a fine young man who put countless hours into this, and I am very thankful for that.

I thank my colleagues in my caucus, who have been unanimously supportive of this, and my friend and colleague who seconded this, the hon. member for Fundy Royal, who has been a tremendous source of insight and wisdom. I thank my wife and family, who have helped me through this and were very patient as I spent the extra hours in trying to make this happen. I want to thank also all those who are continuing to volunteer and serve with the non-profits and service providers and charitable organizations who go into the places of shadows where people are, where sometimes they feel pretty hopeless, but yet these messengers, oftentimes they are volunteers, keep going, because they believe that every person is worth it, no matter what their past may have been.

I cannot thank all of them enough, and I appreciate the good work that they do.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. I was deeply moved by his personal story.

I want to talk about a part of his speech when he gave examples of places elsewhere in the world that are doing much better than Canada. He mentioned the United Kingdom, but there is an example closer to home. In Quebec, the Commission québécoise des libérations conditionnelles is doing significantly better than other systems, according to several studies. Canada should take a page from their book.

The bill raises some concerns because it would establish a framework in collaboration with the other provinces. We simply want to ensure that this will not infringe on provincial jurisdictions. The framework should not cover prisons that are under provincial jurisdiction.

I would like to hear his thoughts on that.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely believe we would only work in total conjunction with the provinces. The intent of this bill is not to supersede the areas of provincial jurisdiction. It would, in large part, at the beginning relate to federal prisons and federal inmates returning. If a province would like to roll out a pilot that would affect its provincial institutions and those incarcerated within its provincial jails, then by all means it can, but we would not go in and override, in any way, provincial jurisdiction. We will totally respect that and—

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Tobique—Mactaquac for his heartfelt speech and for introducing this bill.

He should know that I could not agree with him more about the importance of the programs he is talking about. I came to this House after 20 years of teaching criminal justice, but in my first term in Parliament, it was the Harper government, I was the public safety critic for the official opposition. I watched a Conservative government destroy the very programs that he is talking about. It closed down prison farms, cut apprenticeship programs and did everything it could to make sure these programs were not available in our prison system, and to focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation. I also watched the Conservatives institute mandatory minimums that placed inordinate numbers of indigenous people, Black Canadians and poor Canadians in the prison system.

Therefore, my question to the hon. member is: does he have the support of his caucus, because this is an about-face for a Conservative party that has always favoured the exact opposite of what he is talking about?

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I can honestly say to the hon. member that I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the support that I have received from my own caucus in this. It has been tremendous. The support of my leader as well as our entire caucus has been nothing short of absolutely remarkable.

I cannot speak to the decisions made by previous governments at a previous time. All I can do is speak from this moment forward. I think, as parliamentarians who are here today in this season and in the House, we have a responsibility to act now upon what we can do to make things different and better. I hope that the hon. member, as well as all other members of the House, can look at this bill and see the heart and desire behind it, and that we can work from this point forward to bring about positive change, and—

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for Tobique—Mactaquac for bringing this private member's bill forward.

My colleague for Winnipeg North asked if the member wanted to say anything more about those who had helped him, and I just want to say that I had the opportunity of meeting one of the people he mentioned in his presentation today, David Coburn, on two occasions; once in an agricultural situation and again with the member in his riding. I wonder if he could elaborate a little. He mentioned that his family has helped.

Can the member name others who have helped, and in what way did they help make sure that these recidivism issues are not repeated by the persons who have fallen out of line with the law in the past?