Mr. Speaker, the Department of Justice is committed to this Assembly’s goals of healthy, educated people and vibrant, safe communities. We contribute to achieving these goals by offering a range of programs and services that give individuals the tools and support they need to address the challenges and poor choices that often result in criminal charges and incarceration. As with any organization, we are always looking for ways – big and small – to improve our programs and services to better help people make healthy choices. Given that commitment, we welcome the report and recommendations of the Auditor General tabled in this House last week.
This performance audit provides us with valuable feedback on our programs and services, many of which are consistent with our own recent observations and the continuing evolution of corrections across Canada. I have accepted all of the recommendations in the Auditor General’s Report. I can assure everyone we will address the issues raised. The OAG recommendations allow us to refine and focus our ongoing work to modernize and continue to improve support for inmates and to ensure public safety.
Earlier this Session I spoke about the Performance Assurance and Accountability Framework the Department is advancing. This Framework will be fully implemented by 2016 and will address how we support our staff as they carry out their duties. It will address the ethics and values they bring to their work, inject accountability into the processes in our system, and allow us to apply policies and directives efficiently and effectively using best correctional practises.
We have a strong commitment to do whatever we can to prepare those who enter Northwest Territories Correctional facilities to come back to live in our communities. We believe that people want to live full and productive lives and we will fulfill our role to offer every opportunity for that to happen. We also know we cannot support change by ourselves. It takes the support of you as leaders, our communities and many other service providers.
One of the reasons we work so hard to keep NWT residents here in the North is so they can get support from their families, their communities and ourselves as they work to change their lives. Keeping inmates in the NWT means they can continue to access cultural land activities, traditional and Elder counsellors, healing and spiritual ceremonies that are effective and speak to the healing that NWT residents need to advance their rehabilitation.
I look forward to discussing the Auditor General’s Report and the work that we are doing in Corrections in more detail with the Standing Committee on Government Operations during the hearings in May.
Corrections is only one part of the equation, Mr. Speaker. Helping people make better choices that keep them out of trouble with the law is another critical aspect of our work. I would like to tell Members today about some of the other actions the Department is taking to find solutions for our residents besides entering a Correctional facility.
As Members know, the Wellness Court began sitting in Yellowknife last year, with the support of partners in the Public Prosecution Service and the judiciary. This alternative court focuses on the offender rather than the offence. It addresses people’s underlying issues, such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and cognitive challenges. Through this program, individuals receive help to address their specific needs in the community rather than in a Correctional environment.
The first sitting of the Wellness Court occurred on October 2, 2014 and it continues to sit every second Thursday. As of late February there are five people participating in the program and 13 individuals have been referred. The Department continues to refine the program with the judiciary, as well as with other GNWT departments and community stakeholders.
I also want Members to know of a new development with another specialized court, the Domestic Violence Treatment Court. The eight-week program to support this Court has been running in Yellowknife since 2011. It provides low-risk offenders who have accepted responsibility for their actions peaceful alternatives to violence in their domestic relationships. Training sessions for staff are scheduled to start this month and, by the end of April, this valuable program will be offered to residents of Hay River, the Katlodeeche First Nation and Enterprise.
Members will also want to know that we have established an agreement with the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife to once again provide a healing program for men who use violence in their intimate relationships. “A New Day” healing program is a part of larger system of accountability and safety to provide men with an alternative way of behaving with their partners and children. It was developed specifically for NWT residents with input and support from the Coalition Against Family Violence. To date, we have 12 clients who are attending individualized counselling sessions and 20 men who have been referred to the program.
Mr. Speaker, I remain committed to supporting the people of this territory and ensuring the Department of Justice is providing the best programs and services possible, delivered by our dedicated and professional staff. This recent report of the Auditor General was timely and will help further focus the work we were already doing to improve our offerings. We are confident this work will be done and I look forward to providing updates to Members as we proceed.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.