Aboriginal Justice Strategy Evaluation, Final Report


1. Introduction

The Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS) is intended to provide timely and effective alternatives to the mainstream justice system in appropriate circumstances, in order to increase the involvement of Aboriginal communities in the local administration of justice and to decrease rates of crime, victimization and incarceration of Aboriginal persons in communities with AJS-funded programs. The AJS pursues four core objectives:

  • to contribute to decreasing the rates of crime and victimization in Aboriginal communities operating AJS programs;
  • to assist Aboriginal communities to take greater responsibility for justice administration;
  • to provide better and more timely information about community justice programs funded by the AJS; and,
  • to reflect and include relevant Aboriginal cultural values in Canadian justice administration.

The Aboriginal Justice Directorate (AJD) and the Aboriginal Law and Strategic Policy (ALSP) Group are both involved in the management of the AJS. AJD has responsibility for managing the funding allocation and contribution agreements signed under the AJS, and works with governmental and non-governmental organizations to ensure that funding agreements are fulfilled in accordance with program compliance requirements, that planned outcomes are achieved, and that those results are communicated to the policy community. The Director of the AJD co-chairs the AJS Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group. ALSP is responsible for the departmental policy function with respect to Aboriginal justice, including securing policy renewals of the AJS and promoting the program at the national level.

The evaluation of the AJS was conducted between 2010 and 2011. In accordance with the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation, the evaluation addresses the core issues of the relevance and performance of the AJS.

2. Methodology

The evaluation methodology consisted of review of publicly available documentation on the AJS, case studies with 13 community-based justice programs in 2010-11, 25 interviews conducted by telephone in June and July 2011, a review of AJD administrative files, a recidivism study, and a cost analysis of the AJS. Triangulation was used to verify and validate the findings obtained through these methods and to arrive at the overall evaluation findings.

3. Findings and Conclusions

3.1. Relevance

The AJS was created by the federal government in response to the disproportionate number of Aboriginal persons involved in the criminal justice system, both as offenders and victims. As the continued over-representation of Aboriginal persons in the justice system underscores, there remains a need for culturally relevant alternatives to the mainstream justice system.

The AJS is clearly aligned with federal roles and responsibilities, as the policy mandate for which the Minister of Justice is responsible includes Aboriginal justice, while the day-to-day administration of justice is the responsibility of the provinces and territories. The AJS is delivered in a manner consistent with this constitutional division of powers, as the federal government funds the delivery of community-based justice programs in the area of Aboriginal justice.

The objectives of the AJS are consistent with the priorities of the Department of Justice and align with the Department's strategic outcome to "create a fair, relevant and accessible justice system that reflects Canadian values".


Achievement of Initial Outcomes

The AJS was described by all key informants as essential to Aboriginal community-based justice programs; without the AJS, access to community-based justice programs would be limited. Access to and participation in community-based justice programs is enhanced by the community-driven nature of AJS-funded programs, which allows programs, sometimes in collaboration with other community organizations, to target outreach initiatives to those most in need in their communities.

Funds provided for gatherings through the Capacity Building Fund increased capacity of community-based justice programs to provide effective services, by offering opportunities for training, networking and support. The use of capacity building funds for the purchase of office equipment and other materials was seen as an efficient means of improving the capacity of community-based justice programs. Capacity building funds are provided to communities exploring the possibility of launching a community-based justice program in the future, fulfilling the intended outcome of the AJS to "increase capacity to implement community-based justice programs and other community-based justice services". However, the fixed level of funding available within the AJS precludes launching new AJS-funded programs in these communities.

Achievement of Intermediate Outcomes

The AJS was found to be effective in achieving its intermediate outcome of involving Aboriginal communities in the local administration of justice, as the community-driven nature of AJS-funded programs promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility for the community-based justice program; program staff and volunteers are highly motivated and dedicated to assisting their communities. The inclusion of Elders and other local organization in programs further increases the local administration of justice and the investment of the communities in the programs.

Positive relationships between AJS-funded program staff and mainstream justice partners was cited as essential to ensuring access to and participation in community-based justice programs. It was determined that the AJS was effective in achieving its intermediate outcome of relevant Aboriginal cultural values being reflected in the Canadian justice administration at the local level when community-based justice program staff had established positive relationships with mainstream justice partners.

Achievement of Long-term Outcomes

Evidence that the long-term outcome of the AJS of "reduced crime and incarceration rates in communities with funded programs" is being achieved is evident through the results of the recidivism study, which found a significant difference between rates of re-offending of AJS-funded program participants and a comparison group.

To a certain extent, it was found that community-based justice programs contributed to achieving the long-term outcome of the AJS of "safer and healthier communities". Community-based justice programs utilize holistic methods that reconnect offenders with themselves, their families, and the community as a whole. As well, the perception of most key informants was that communities were safer as a result of AJS-funded programs. However, it was noted that some factors affecting crime were beyond the control of community-based justice programs, meaning their impact was limited.

3.3. Efficiency and Economy

Results of a cost analysis based on 2008-09 data demonstrated that the average cost per community-based justice program participant was lower than the average cost of sending an offender through the mainstream justice system. This was especially true when considering the future cost savings to the justice system represented by the reduced rates of recidivism following participation in a community-based justice program. These findings indicate that the AJS is a cost-efficient alternative to the mainstream justice system.

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