Aboriginal Justice Strategy Evaluation, Final Report

5. Conclusions

This section provides conclusions based on the findings related to the relevance and performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy) of the AJS between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

5.1 Relevance

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". The AJS is consistent with these aims to the extent that it provides a culturally relevant alternative to the mainstream justice system. According to the Department's 2011-12 Report on Plans and Priorities, Aboriginal justice is one of the five core priorities of the Department. The AJS is also well aligned with the priorities of the federal government, as it contributes to ensuring the safety of communities and to reducing and preventing crime.

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 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.

5.2 Effectiveness

Effectiveness of the Capacity Building Fund

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 of the AJS has precluded launching new AJS-funded programs in these 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 cross-country dialogue sessions held in 2011 between community-based justice programs, the AJD and provincial/territorial partners are an example of successful gatherings funded through the Capacity Building Fund.

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, while requiring a minimum of reporting on the parts of both the programs and the AJD.

The lack of a dedicated Capacity Building Fund, which has resulted in late calls for project proposals and inconsistent levels of funds year to year, has led to limited access to the Fund for those communities and programs lacking the resources to complete proposals and projects in such short timeframes.

Each year, numerous proposals for capacity building projects are not approved due to a lack of funds.

Effectiveness of the Community-based Justice Programs

The AJS was described by all key informants as essential to Aboriginal community-based justice programs; without the AJS, it was noted that programs either would not exist or would exist at reduced capacity. In both cases, 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.

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. Key informants noted an increase in referrals to programs over time, an indication of increased trust of mainstream partners, and a measure of improved access to community-based justice programs. In some jurisdictions, mainstream partners have requested expanded community-based justice program services in order to accept a greater number of referrals, which would further increase access to and participation in AJS-funded programs.

The high level of community-based justice program staff turnover and burnout were both cited as impediments to program effectiveness. Key informants noted that this challenge was a result of the inability to provide cost of living salary increases and, in some cases, for full-time salary, as well as the stress faced by program coordinators participating in the healing journey of so many participants.

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 allow Aboriginal communities to tailor their programs to meet the particular needs of their communities. This, in turn, 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.

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. This reflection of Aboriginal values in the Canadian justice administration was evidenced by increased buy-in for programs and increased participation of program staff in working groups and in provincial meetings related to policy. Although several key informants noted an increasing reflection of Aboriginal values in the mainstream justice system, this was attributed to several factors and not the AJS alone.

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.

Evidence that the second long-term outcome of the AJS, "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.

Effectiveness of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group

All key informants reported that the structure of the AJS FPT WG had improved through the period covered by the evaluation, particularly since the previous mid-term evaluation. Improvements include regular meetings, open communication, provision of information and supporting documents, and improved relationships between the AJD and provincial and territorial partners.

Full participation of provinces and territories in the AJS FPT WG was underlined as being essential to the success of the group. It was noted that capacity issues might hinder the participation of some jurisdictions.

Effectiveness of the Aboriginal Justice Directorate

Since 2008, the AJD has focused on reducing rates of internal staff turnover, and on improving training and Directorate structure to ensure staff are able to effectively meet their responsibilities.

Collaboration of the AJD and ALSP is essential to the effectiveness of the AJS. AJD and ALSP staff members who work closely together noted that there was no duplication of work between the two groups, and that communications between groups were sufficient. However, many key informants noted having only limited contact with ALSP and being unaware of their initiatives. It was noted that there was a lack of communication between the two groups beyond the AJD's policy team.

It was noted by both federal and provincial/territorial key informants that the lack of AJD representation on the FPT Working Group on Aboriginal Justice hindered the effectiveness of the AJD as they were not always aware of new federal issues and initiatives.

5.3 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.

Some key informants noted that the work undertaken by the AJD and ALSP to support the AJS could be conducted more efficiently if staff in both groups were more aware of the initiatives and priorities of the other; otherwise, work could be completed that does not align with the expectations of one or both groups.

The AJD's implementation of the Treasury Board Secretariat's Policy on Transfer Payments was found to have improved the efficiency and economy of the AJS by reducing the administrative burden of both community-based justice programs and the AJD. In addition, it was unanimously noted that the implementation of multi-year funding agreements had also improved the efficiency of the AJS.

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