Corrections as a Societal Driver: The Case for Modernization


Simon Bonk

Arun Vanapalli, Manager – Strategy and Consulting, Accenture
Laura McManus, Strategic Program Coordinator, Correctional Service Canada

Why modernization, and why now?

A number of drivers have been emerging that are affecting the need for modernization within the industry of corrections. From a technology lens, advances in virtual reality, digital delivery, artificial intelligence, and wearable technology (such as electronic monitoring and body cameras) are emerging and impacting business processes.

From a societal perspective, digital disruption and pace of change, value for taxpayer investment, and demand for sustainability, are amongst a number of factors influencing decision-making. Alongside the continued reaction to and management of COVID-19, the modern correctional operating environment is cluttered with competing elements that are influencing the way forward.

With all of this in mind, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is exploring thinking in two spaces that may help us chart our strategic path.

Firstly, holistic modernization, which may be loosely defined as an evolution of the organization from an enterprise perspective, has become an ongoing conversation at the executive level.

Our discussions around modernization are an expansion of our discussions around digital; this means that modernization encompasses digital, but also considers other key aspects of the business, including culture, real property, policy, and others.

Secondly, informing modernization thinking, CSC is looking at its desired outcomes and determining how these outcomes could lead to stronger societal and economic benefits. In other words, how can corrections in Canada leverage modernization efforts to ultimately enhance the safety and prosperity of Canadian communities?

Creating linkages between desired correctional outcomes and potential economic and societal benefits may be an avenue towards building the business case for investment in corrections, which has traditionally been a difficult industry for generating financial commitment or fostering political interest. By taking an elevated outcome approach, correctional jurisdictions can start to tell a story that illustrates the value of a robust system in which institutions can contribute to economic growth and foster community, as opposed to being undesirable-but-necessary components of a safe and civil society. Making these elevated outcomes something grounded and specific for the culture within the corrections industry is critical to success.

There is an internal development opportunity for employees in corrections to think and act in an enterprise fashion as opposed to remaining insular and operating in a “silos”.

Within the Canadian jurisdiction, federal government priorities are also critical considerations with respect to investigating and planning for a correctional future state. The recent speech from the Throne outlined federal priorities that will shape decision-making for the current government; although there are traditional priorities aligned to public safety around creating safer communities, I believe that corrections can be a driver for advancing the government’s broader agenda. In particular, I think there are opportunities for corrections to contribute to the economy, diversity, and climate in tandem with its mission critical public safety goals through the lens of modernization.

Understanding how modernization can help drive progress against these other priority areas, and in turn create linkages to elevated outcomes, can be described through a series of illustrative examples.

It must be noted that the actions necessary to realize these examples may not be underway currently, but that exploration of the technological foundations required to realize them is in its infancy.

Corrections and the economy

Beginning with economy, corrections can start to build their case for investment by framing the offender journey as a cost analysis.

Care and custody of offenders carries a load of costs, from basics such as food and shelter, to less obvious expenses related to healthcare, program delivery, security, and infrastructure. Add to this the costs associated with parole services, including those of parole violations, and the total cost of offender care across the criminal justice continuum is significant.

In corrections, the most universal success metric is a reduction in recidivism. However, I am suggesting that a more compelling argument for investment of taxpayer dollars can be made by extrapolating our analysis past recidivism and into GDP contribution.

The most straightforward path to this measurement is through viable post-incarceration employment. In order to enable the path from the institution to the workforce, corrections must rethink how it delivers programming. Modernized rehabilitation and education programming must be able to accommodate the needs of an increasingly complex and diverse offender population and the demands of the workforce, while simultaneously fostering a culture of empathy and compassion amongst all stakeholders in the corrections ecosystem.

Expanding our ambition beyond recidivism also means creating continuity and consistency across the criminal justice system, to ensure that the experience of the offender from the courts, while incarcerated, and during probation is oriented towards releasing a person that can be a contributing member of society.

Additionally, making any part of this notion a reality would require an ecosystem of collaboration and partnership between corrections, vendors, researchers, and professional organizations.

Corrections and diversity

Delving further into the complexity of the offender population naturally leads to the governmental priority of diversity.

Variation amongst offenders has evolved past race, creed, or religion; in order to maintain a respectful and inclusive environment, consideration must be paid to gender identity, LGBTQ+, and a myriad of other factors.

These considerations move beyond the walls of the correctional institution as well, and must become components of establishing a welcoming culture for employees, clients, and stakeholders within corrections.
There are simple amendments from a technology perspective that can be made to begin a journey of inclusion; for example, gender identity fields in forms for offenders can be more accommodating.

However, the true opportunity is for corrections employees to develop a mindset of diversity, so that design decisions and behavioural interactions reflect the goals outlined by the government.

From a benefits perspective, a diversity mindset when applied to offenders can help these individuals define and explore their identities, and connect with their communities. The downstream outcomes of this community connection could be a greater sense of ownership in a functioning society, potentially reducing risk of reoffending.

For employees, a diversity mindset can establish a respectful and inclusive working environment, and perhaps better enable service and program delivery to offenders thanks to the creation of a safe workspace.

Corrections and the environment

The environment is an established priority at the global scale, and the Canadian context is no different. CSC is amongst Canadian government departments with the highest carbon footprints.

To deliver against our mandate, physical infrastructure must exist to accommodate a variety of offenders, services must be delivered to these offenders, staff are required to support institutions on-site and remotely, and technology services are critical to enabling the business.

However, modernization provides an opportunity to rethink the business, and the eco-agenda is imperative in future decision-making.

There are established tech-focused ways of conducting a greener business, including the migration to Cloud and the utilization of Edge computing, which should eliminate the need for energy intensive infrastructure such as data centres.

However, recent lessons from the pandemic may provide more environment-focused inspiration. Can corrections leverage online meeting platforms to deliver services, thereby reducing the number of employees required to commute on-site, and reducing the real estate demands? Can robust 4/5G networks be utilized, eliminating the need for hardwired internet connections, leading to leaner and more efficient physical site development? Modernization provides a lens that will allow corrections to rethink the business, with factors such as the environment supporting delivery of elevated outcomes.

Training and development to realize the future

At this juncture, these notions around realizing modernization are broad, but are within the realm of possibility. However, the need for cultural modernization, or more specifically, employee development with respect to modernization, underpins any potential success.
Training and development are critical components of modernization, and modernization is an organizational shift that impacts all areas of the business, with the potential to elevate correctional outputs into societal and economic outcomes.

Simon Bonk

Simon Bonk is the Chief Information Officer at Correctional Service Canada (CSC). In his role, Simon is responsible for engaging with his business partners to identify opportunities where the enablement of technology and information management services can address business challenges.
Simon is currently exploring thinking in the space of digital strategy and industry modernization. Through technology, data, and modern business processes, he sees opportunities to continue to revolutionize business and societal outcomes.

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