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RESEARCH REPORT

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2009 Victim Questionnaire Results

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Tara Beauchamp
Policy, Planning and Operations
Parole Board of Canada

Dmytro Hys
Policy, Planning and Operations
Parole Board of Canada

October 2010

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to offer a special thanks to the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) and Correctional Service Canada (CSC) staff and students who assisted in the development of the research instrument, the distribution of the questionnaire, and the data collection and entry process.

We would like to acknowledge and thank all registered victims who completed the questionnaire. Without their participation, this project would not have been possible.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The victims’ questionnaire was conducted collaboratively by the Parole Board of Canada1 (PBC or the Board) and the Correctional Service Canada (CSC or the Service) in order to measure the extent to which the PBC and the CSC meet the information needs of victims, to evaluate the level of satisfaction of victims, and to identify areas for improvement and ways to respond effectively.

Measures to address the needs of victims of crime have been a priority in Canada for many years. In the early 1990’s, measures for victims were considered essential for reinforcing the openness and accountability of the PBC and the CSC, and for creating a more effective foundation for program delivery. With the introduction of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA)in 1992, the government more formally recognized the interests of victims in federal corrections including allowing for the provision of information to victims by the PBC and the CSC.

As a result of the CCRA, victims could, upon request, receive certain information about the offenders who harmed them, attend Board hearings as observers, as well as receive copies of the PBC decisions that provided the reasons for the PBC decision (CCRA, 1992). The Board, through policy, has also enabled victims to present statements at hearings about the continuing impact of the crime since sentencing and any concerns they have for their safety or the safety of the community. These written statements can be presented in person or the victim can choose to have these statements presented by means of an audio or video recording (NPB, 2010c). In January of 2008, the Board also implemented a policy that enables the use video conferencing by victims who, due to various hardships, would otherwise be unable to attend a hearing in person (NPB, 2010c). In support of the Board's commitment to raising awareness and assisting victims to better understand the information and options available, the PBC also conducts community outreach activities (NPB, 2010a).

As a result of these initiatives, victims’ involvement in federal corrections and conditional release has grown extensively over the last decade. Since the introduction of the CCRA, the number of victims seeking offender information has increased exponentially as well as their increased interest in observing PBC hearings. From 1992 to 2009, the number of registered victims increased fivefold from 1,200 to 5,898 (NPB, 2010b). In 2009/10, the Board had over 22,000 contacts with victims; an 11% increase from the previous year (NPB, 2010b).

The Victims’ Questionnaire was a large-scale, in-depth study of the programs, services and initiatives that are offered through the PBC and the CSC to registered victims’ of crime. Although the Victims’ Questionnaire was launched jointly by the PBC and the CSC, this report focuses solely on the findings related to the PBC. The Victims Questionnaire results will serve to support the continuation of effective services to victims as well as guide the Board to areas where further improvements can be made.

The questionnaire was distributed in 2009 to a random sample of 3393 registered victims and agents. Eight hundred and forty completed questionnaires were returned by August 30, 2009, generating a response rate of 26%2.

Victims indicated that overall, they were satisfied with the Board’s services. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported that they were very satisfied or satisfied with their overall experience in dealing with the PBC (15% were neutral and the remaining 12% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). Respondents also provided satisfaction ratings for individual services: 71% were either satisfied or very satisfied with their experience of observing a hearing (18% were neutral and the remaining 11% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied); 70% were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience of presenting a statement (18% were neutral and the remaining 12% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied); and 82% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience of requesting a decision (8% were neutral and the remaining 10% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

One of the reoccurring themes noted throughout the questionnaire was the staffs’ excellence. Eighty-one percent of individuals were satisfied or very satisfied with the PBC staff. Furthermore, respondents continually reinforced their appreciation and satisfaction with the staffs’ knowledge, sensitivity and competence. Additionally, the Board proved to be timely in providing information to victims. Eighty-five percent of respondents received a response from the PBC within a 10 day time frame, 33% of which received an answer immediately.

A further observation consistent throughout the questionnaire was that respondents feel their voices are being heard and their rights recognized. This however, was also stated as a concern, noting their rights are not as great as those of the offender. Moreover, victims would like to have their rights improved upon, in order to have a greater impact on the parole hearing process. Although this was identified as an area for further advancement, it extends beyond the Board’s ability to implement due to legislative parameters.

Areas which potentially point to the need for additional efforts by the PBC include outreach and awareness. The reported number of users of information sessions was low, only 6% of respondents were aware of information sessions. Similarly, the reported number of website users was low; 10% of respondents had accessed the PBC website within four months prior to receiving the questionnaire. Additionally, only half (56%) of the respondents were aware of the decision registry. Although respondents who used these services were generally satisfied, the findings related to attendance at information sessions and access to services and information should be highlighted as an area for further consideration. Moreover, the Board could benefit from further inquiry into outreach and awareness approaches.

In summary, staff excellence was one of the most prominent achievements noted throughout the questionnaire. More specifically, respondents appreciated the staffs’ expertise and professionalism. A further significant finding was that respondents felt that the services provided by the PBC gave them a voice within the criminal justice system; through the services of the Board, their rights were being acknowledged and voices heard. Although it was recognized by many as one of the qualities that contributes to the Boards success, it was also mentioned that victims should have more rights and a stronger voice. The overall level of satisfaction with the Board was high, though victims identified some areas where the PBC could develop initiatives further. Most notably, responses indicate that outreach and awareness could be improved upon (e.g., information sessions and website). Moreover, the findings of this report suggest that the Board has made some significant achievements in assisting victims of crime; however, they must continue their efforts to enhance and build upon their accomplishments.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES

  • FIGURE 1: PBC CONTACTS WITH VICTIMS
  • FIGURE 2: MOST COMMONLY REQUESTED INFORMATION SERVICES
  • FIGURE 3: SOURCES OF INFORMATION
  • FIGURE 4: RESPONDENTS’ PREFERENCE FOR VENUES FOR PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION

LIST OF APPENDICIES

INTRODUCTION

Measures to address the needs of victims of crime have been a priority in Canada for many years and victims’ involvement in federal corrections has grown extensively over the years. The Parole Board of Canada3 (PBC or the Board) and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC or the Service) share responsibility under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) to provide information services to registered victims of crime and to provide the general public with outreach and education.

Under the CCRA, victims have a right to certain information about the offender who harmed them while that offender is under the jurisdiction of the CSC or the PBC4. The information to which a registered victim is entitled includes the offender’s name, offence and court of conviction, sentence start date and length, and offender’s eligibility and review dates (NPB, 2010a). In addition, there is some discretionary information that the Board can release to victims, if the victim’s interest clearly outweighs any invasion of the offenders privacy from the disclosure5 (NPB, 2010a).

The PBC is also exclusively responsible for several agency-specific services. For example, the Board assists victims to understand the conditional release process and the outcome of its decisions, notifies victims of relevant information relating to PBC hearings, facilitates victim attendance at hearings, and provides copies of its decisions through the decision registry (NPB, 2010a). The Board, through policy, has also enabled victims to present statements at hearings about the continuing impact of the crime since sentencing. These written statements can be presented in person or the victim can choose to have these statements presented by means of an audio or video recording (NPB, 2010c). In January of 2008, the Board also implemented a policy that enables the use video conferencing by victims who, due to various hardships, would otherwise be unable to attend a hearing in person (NPB, 2010c). Additionally, the PBC conducts community outreach to raise awareness and assist victims and the public in better understanding the information and options that are available to them (NPB, 2010a). By working closely with victims of crime, the PBC promotes its commitment to openness, accountability and understanding of the Board’s decision-making process.

As a result of these initiatives, victims’ involvement in federal corrections and conditional release has grown extensively over the last decade. Since the introduction of the CCRA, the number of victims seeking offender information has increased exponentially as well as their increased interest in observing and participating in PBC hearings. From 1992 to 2009, the number of registered victims increased fivefold from 1,200 to 5,898 (NPB, 2010b). In 2009/10, the Board had over 22,000 contacts with victims; an 11% increase from the previous year (NPB, 2010b). Figure 1 presents the number of contacts that PBC has had with registered victims since 1993/1994.

Figure 1: PBC Contacts with Victims

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In 2009/10, the Board had over 22,000 contacts with victims. This is an 11% increase from the previous year and a 700% increase since 1993/94. As noted in the Performance Monitoring Report (2010b), most victims requesting information from the Board were victims of violent crimes such as sexual assault, or the family of murder victims.

Since July 2001, victims of crime have been permitted to read prepared statements at PBC hearings. Up until then, victims could only submit written statements and attend hearings as observers, but they were not allowed to speak (NPB, 2010b). Since victims have been able to read prepared statements at PBC hearings the number of presentations has increased from 135 presentations at 90 hearings in 2002/03 to 231 presentations at 127 hearings in 2009/10 (NPB, 2010b). Of the presentations made in 2009/10, 91% were in person, 4% were by video conference, 3% were on audiotape and 2% were by videotape or DVD (NPB, 2010b). Of this group, most had been family members of victims of murder (28%) or manslaughter (24%) (NPB, 2010b).

Effectiveness and client satisfaction in the area of victim services and information services is a crucial part of the Board’s efforts to be accountable to the public and to build credibility and understanding for the conditional release program. The Victims’ Questionnaire was a large-scale, in-depth study of the programs, services and initiatives that are offered through the PBC and the CSC to registered victims’ of crime. The objective of the questionnaire was to measure the extent to which the PBC meets the information needs of victims, to evaluate the level of satisfaction of victims, and to identify areas for improvement and ways to respond effectively. The Victims’ Questionnaire was launched in 2009 jointly by the PBC and the CSC. This report however, focuses solely on the findings related to the PBC.

It is important to note that the PBC conducted a similar questionnaire in 2003. This questionnaire was less extensive than the one produced in 2009 and although both questionnaires assessed victims’ satisfaction with PBC information and services, a direct comparative analysis is not possible. Questions were updated in the 2009 questionnaire and in most instances, asked in a different manner (i.e., scale versus yes/no response options). Although this limitation exists, a summary of the 2003 key findings has been included here.

In general, respondents of the 2003 questionnaire were satisfied with the service they were provided. The majority (>90%) of respondents found PBC staff were readily accessible, knowledgeable, and considerate. Similarly, 87% of participants stated that they received a response from the PBC in a timely manner (NPB, 2003). Of those who had observed a hearing, 86% indicated that they received sufficient information to prepare them for observing a hearing (NPB, 2003). Similarly, of those who had presented a statement at a hearing, the majority (89%) felt that they had received sufficient information to prepare them for making a presentation (NPB, 2003). When asked if they had accessed the registry of decisions, 84 respondents had accessed the registry at least once in the past; of those who had accessed the registry of decisions, 61% stated that the decision met their expectation (NPB, 2003).

Overall, results of the 2003 questionnaire demonstrated that registered victims express a high level of satisfaction with the Board. Although the general findings indicate satisfaction, respondents also identified some areas for improvement. Moreover, issues related to victims of crime are an ongoing priority for the Board. Although the PBC has done a great deal to assist victims of crime, there are more discussions to have, more experiences to hear and more issues to understand. There have been many changes and improvements to the services offered by the PBC in the past decade. Given that the last questionnaire was completed over five years ago, the PBC felt it was timely to undertake a questionnaire in 2009.

The following sections of the report describe the methodology, the findings (as they relate to PBC), and provide a discussion and conclusion which focuses on the key successes and areas for improvement, possible limitations of the questionnaire, and areas for future research.

METHOD

The questionnaire was designed to address three key areas: PBC services, CSC services and demographic information (see Appendix A). The questions relating to PBC services were organized in the following subsections: 1) accessing PBC information services; 2) observing hearings; 3) presenting statements at hearings; 4) decision registry; and 5) the PBC overall. As discussed above, the questions related to CSC are not included in this analysis. Demographic information was asked in order to establish a profile of those who responded and to determine if the sample reflects what is commonly known about the larger victim population6. Due to sample size, demographic data was not used in any comparative analysis (i.e., between regions, age groups, genders, etc.); however, descriptive characteristics have been included in the analysis below.

The questionnaire consisted of both closed and open-ended questions and was distributed to a random sample of 3393 registered victims and agents7. Participants were made aware that the questionnaire would take approximately 20 minutes to complete. They were also informed that their participation was voluntary and all responses and other information would remain confidential (see Appendix A). Eight hundred and forty completed questionnaires were returned by August 30, 2009, generating a response rate of 26%. Some attrition occurred because of incorrect and out of date addresses, and a small number were returned because the victim did not want further contact. A response rate of 26% exceeds expectations for a large scale mail-out questionnaire.

The overall objective of the questionnaire was to measure the extent to which the PBC meets the information needs of victims, to evaluate the level of satisfaction of victims, and to identify areas for improvement and ways to respond effectively.

The questions use a five-point scale to measure the level of satisfaction of the respondents with the PBC services, namely a likert scale of: very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied, and very unsatisfied; and a rating scale of: poor, fair, neutral, good and excellent, respectively.

Quantitative responses were analyzed using SPSS software. Validation of data indicated a margin of error of 0.25%8. A content analysis was completed with the open-ended qualitative responses and a general picture was mapped out to provide a better understanding of those responses. Different techniques of qualitative analysis were used such as coding, recursive abstraction and content analysis.

Limitations to the questionnaire will be presented in the discussion section; however, it is important to note one in advance. That is, certain sections of the questionnaire did not receive enough responses to provide a percentage value9. In these sections the data are presented by number of respondents and should not be used to make statistical inference or generalizations. Sections with this limitation are highlighted within the report.

Demographic Analysis

A series of descriptive analysis were completed in order to examine the characteristics of the sample of registered victims who responded to the questionnaire. Since 2008, the PBC has been collecting demographic data on registered victims of crime; however, the requirement to provide such data is voluntary. Moreover, it is not possible to indicate if the sample population is reflective of the total registered victim population, though we can look to other populations for comparison.

Of those who responded to the questionnaire, the majority resided in Ontario (37%), followed by British Columbia (18%), and Quebec (15%). This is somewhat reflective of the general Canadian population (Ontario 38.5%; Quebec 23.9%; British Columbia 13.0%) (Statistics Canada, 2006).Three quarters (75%) of the respondents were female, while the remaining 25% were male. When compared to the total Canadian population (male 49%; female 51%) and the General Social Survey- Victimization (GSS10) (male 50.5%; female 49.5%), the ratio of female respondents is significantly higher (Statistics Canada, 2006; Statistics Canada 2009). This however is not surprising, given that the majority of registered victims are victims of violent crimes such as sexual assault, or the family of murder victims (NPB, 2010b).

Only 5% of respondents identified as Aboriginal. This is slightly higher than what is reported among the total Canadian population (3.8%) (Statistics Canada, 2006); however, it is much less than what is reported in the federal offender population (17.3%) (Public Safety Canada, 2008). Research has shown that Aboriginal people are disproportionately represented as victims of crime, and that under-reporting of victimization is more pronounced among Aboriginal peoples (Scrim, 2010). One reason for this is their lack of confidence in the criminal justice system (Chartrand and McKay, 2006). It may follow that Aboriginal victims are less inclined to register with the PBC and the CSC and/or that they are choosing not to respond to the questionnaire. Further insight in this area may help the Board when targeting their outreach activities.

Similarly, 4.5% of respondents indicated they belonged to a visible minority group; which is significantly lower than both the total Canadian population (16.2%) and the total federal offender population (12.3%) (Statistics Canada, 2006; Public Safety Canada, 2008). Of those who specified which visible minority group they belong to, the most common responses were Asian and Black11. Similar ethnic groups were reported most frequently in both the total Canadian population and the total federal offender population (Statistics Canada, 2006; Public Safety Canada, 2008). The low number of respondents belonging to a visible minority group could be for reasons similar to those listed above (e.g., visible minorities not registering as victims of crime or choosing not to complete questionnaire itself).

Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated English was there preferred language of choice, while 15% stated French. This is comparable to what is reported as home language12 among the total Canadian population (English 67.1%; French 21.6%; other non-official language 11.3%) (Statistics Canada, 2006).

The majority (72%) of respondents were over the age of 45. This is slightly higher than what is reported in the total Canadian population (49.9%) but significantly higher than what is reported in the GSS (35%) (Statistics Canada, 2006; Statistics Canada, 2009). This anomaly may be because in many cases the offender has been in the criminal justice system for an extended period of time and several years have past since the crime was committed. Over half of the respondents registered as victims with the PBC/CSC over two years ago. It could also be because some registered victims are family members of the victims themselves. Sixteen percent of those who responded were registered to receive information on behalf of a child victim.

RESULTS

The following results are organized into five sub-sections. The first section summarizes the findings as they relate to the types of victim information services requested and/or received, as well as the accessibility and quality of those services. The second section focuses on the process of observing a hearing and the elements which pertain to it, such as the role of the PBC staff in providing assistance, video conferencing, travel fund, interpretation services, and the use of voice amplification equipment. The third section is centred on presenting a statement at a hearing and discusses preparing for the hearing, writing a statement, presenting at the hearing and debriefing afterwards. The fourth section presents the results related to accessing the decision registry and the fifth, and final section, looks at the overall level of satisfaction of the respondents, including a discussion on where the Board is succeeding and areas for further improvement.

Information Services

Accessing Information Services

As illustrated in Figure 2, the most frequently requested information services from the PBC were information on parole eligibility dates (78%) conditional release (67%), and information on hearing dates (65%). Thirteen percent of respondents requested ‘other information’ services than those which were listed in the questionnaire13. Among other types of information requested, the most frequent were information on offender’s passes, updates on offender’s status, and information on offender’s transfers and relocation, to and from an institution, or while on conditional release.

Figure 2: Most Commonly Requested Information Services

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Timeliness of Services

The questionnaire queried victims on the length of time that the Board takes to respond to their requests for offender information which is an indicator on the level of service delivery. Overall, the Board proved to be timely in providing information to victims. Eighty-five percent of respondents received a response from the PBC within a 10 day time frame, 33% of which received an answer immediately. Only, a very small number (4%) had to wait an extended period of time (more than 30 days)14.

Outreach

As part of funding received through the Federal Victims Strategy in 2006, the PBC was able to conduct targeted information/outreach sessions in various communities across the country. The sessions are conducted by PBC staff with the main goal of providing persons who were victims of crime information about the criminal justice system. This includes how victims can obtain information about the offender who harmed them while the offender is under the Board’s jurisdiction. These sessions also provide information about how victims can apply to observe a hearing, present a statement at a hearing, as well as receive copies of Board decisions. Information sessions also allow victims to ask questions and have face-to-face contact with the regional communication officers (RCO’s) and with other victims.

When questioned, only a very small percentage of respondents (6%) indicated that they were aware of information sessions having taken place in their community. Of that six percent, most (30 respondents) had attended one of these sessions. While awareness of these sessions was low, the majority of those who attended an information session indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the information provided. One can infer that awareness of information sessions among respondents is low because these types of sessions are not offered in all, but only some, communities. It is also worth noting that the availability of resources to conduct such types of outreach sessions has occurred only relatively recently through such initiatives as the Federal Victims Strategy.

Respondents were given an opportunity to provide additional feedback on the information sessions they attended through open-ended questions. When asked what they liked about the information sessions, 28 respondents provided feedback. Most commonly, they stated that they appreciated being informed about the process and that they were pleased to know that victims have access to information and services, and that victim rights are acknowledged. Additionally, it was noted that PBC staff are professional and competent, and respondents appreciated their consideration and politeness. For others, it was beneficial to have a venue where they could ask questions and be among other victims.

When asked what is in need of improvement, a very small proportion of respondents (12 respondents) provided comments. Some suggestions were to provide clear and understandable information, to have more information about how to access information services, and to have more discussion about victims’ rights. Taken together, these findings suggest that further promotion, public awareness, and outreach availability may enhance victims’ knowledge and experience with the PBC.

In addition to the information products and sessions, the PBC has recently re-developed its website for victims and added some useful tools for them to better understand the information and services available to them15 . Ten percent of respondents had accessed the PBC website within four months prior to receiving the questionnaire. Respondents were asked to rate the user friendliness of the website for victims, as well as the usefulness of information. Of those who had accessed the website, 67% rated the user friendliness as excellent or good and 65% rated the usefulness of information as either excellent or good.

The Virtual Hearing Room, a new feature on the site, was accessed by 11 of the website users. Of these, 8 respondents rated the user friendliness of this application as excellent or good, and 7 respondents rated the usefulness of information as either excellent or good.

Although users were generally satisfied with the usefulness and the user friendliness of information provided on the PBC website, it is important to note that the number of individuals who accessed the website was low. This finding should be highlighted as an area for further consideration. For example, the Board may want to investigate ways to further promote its website. The Board will need to consider if registered victims are equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate a website, if they have the access to the internet, as well as if there are alternative approaches to providing outreach and/or information that would better serve victims.

As illustrated in Figure 3, respondents became aware of PBC services through several different venues. Most frequently reported were victims of crime agencies (31%), the police (30%), and PBC representatives (29%).

Figure 3: Sources of Information

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Thirty-eight percent of respondents indicated that they had, at some point, seen promotional products from the PBC on victim services (e.g., posters, brochures, contact information, etc.). Acknowledging the need, respondents were asked where they would like to see the promotional material distributed. As Figure 4 demonstrates, the majority felt that it should be available through victim-services providers (78%), the courts (75%), and the police (74%). Respondents were also given an opportunity to suggest ‘other’ venues. Some examples of alternative venues that were identified include hospitals and clinics, local media outlets, community centres and schools.

Figure 4: Respondents’ Preference for Venues for Promotional-material Distribution

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Satisfaction with Staff

Respondents were asked a series of questions to measure their level of satisfaction with PBC staff. Overall, 81% of individuals were satisfied or very satisfied with the PBC staff (8% were neutral and the remaining 11% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). The respondents were also asked to provide individual ratings for several unique aspects as they relate to staff. This should be highlighted as a significant achievement for the Board, as staff were rated highly on all aspects of their role. The complete results were as follows:

Knowledge about parole: Seventy-nine percent of respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with the staff’s level of knowledge about parole (9% were neutral and the remaining 12% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Ability to answer questions: More than three-quarters of the individuals (78%) were satisfied or very satisfied with staff’s ability to answer questions (8% were neutral and the remaining 14% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Clarity of information provided: Seventy-seven percent of respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with the clarity of information provided (10% were neutral and the remaining 13% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Sensitivity to information needs: Seventy-six percent reported that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the staff’s sensitivity to their information needs (9% were neutral and the remaining 15% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Ease of access: Three-quarters of respondents (75%) were very satisfied or satisfied with the ease of access to PBC staff (11% were neutral and the remaining 14% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Timeliness of services provided: Response time was rated as satisfactory or very satisfactory by 77% of respondents (9% were neutral and the remaining 13% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Observing Hearings

The right to observe a hearing is legislated by the CCRA (ss. 140(4)-(6)). It specifies the rules and procedures for attendance of observers and disclosure of information. Victims and victim support persons also have a right to access the Department of Justice travel fund, to present a statement at the hearing, to be accompanied by an PBC specialized staff (RCO) to the hearing, as well as the right to access additional personal information about the offender (CCRA, ss.142(1)(b)).

Eight-two percent of respondents were aware that they could observe a hearing; however, only 22% had observed at least one hearing prior to completing the questionnaire. It is not surprising that such a small number of respondents had observed a hearing, as many may have not yet been presented with the opportunity (i.e., offender has not reached parole eligibility).

Of those respondents who had observed a hearing, 71% were either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience (18% were neutral and the remaining 11% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). Of those who had observed a hearing, 65% provided feedback about what they liked about their experience. Analysis of the open-ended question revealed that almost half of the respondents appreciated the professionalism and support of the PBC staff (42%), naming both professional and personal aspects in providing support, in responding to information needs, assisting in preparing victims for the hearing, and their ability to answer questions. About one-third of the respondents (28%) noted that they liked having a voice at the hearing, referring to the right to make a statement. Similarly, approximately one-third (28%) stated that they appreciated having the right to be present at the hearing and participating in the process. For some, being present at the hearing meant investing in personal recovery and achieving closure, while others wanted to hear the offender’s story in person, and/or to be assured that the offender was monitored and that due process was in place.

When asked about what could be improved, 64% of those who had observed a hearing provided additional comments. Most suggestions centred on victim’s participation in the hearing process. For example, they requested the opportunity to speak and ask questions during the hearing (17%), the option to change the seating plan so that the victim can sit face-to-face with the offender (14%), and to improve the sound quality in the hearing room (11%). Among other concerns, were the need to be debriefed after the hearing, earlier notification of hearing dates (especially in cases of cancellations or changes), and more flexibility in victim impact statements/submissions.

PBC RCO’s play an important role in providing information to victims. Each victim is assigned an RCO who will guide them through the process of observing a hearing; informing them about the hearing, the procedures, the rules and regulations, and the role of the victim. RCO’s will answer questions and prepare the victim prior to entering the hearing as well as accompany them to the hearing and debrief them afterwards.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents who attended a hearing were accompanied by PBC staff. Three-quarters (79%) of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the information they received to prepare them for the hearing (10% were neutral and the remaining 11% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied) and an even larger percentage (85%) were satisfied or very satisfied with the staffs’ ability to answer questions (6% were neutral and the remaining 9% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Respondents were also given the opportunity to provide further comments, which allowed them to explain in detail what they liked about PBC staff and what they thought could be improved. Respondents rated very highly the expertise of PBC RCO’s, noting that they liked the ‘moral support’ they received and staffs’ professionalism and competence. Victims appreciated not only the ability to receive information, but also the manner in which this information was provided. In terms of moral support, respondents noted characteristics of the staff such as willingness to listen and empathize. As described by one respondent,

“[What I liked was] being accompanied by a PBC employee. He guided us, reassured us, and explained. I cannot imagine a victim getting through a hearing day alone.

Furthermore, professional support emphasized such qualities of PBC staff as professionalism, competence, and as inspiring comfort and confidence.

Such exceptional feedback regarding staff left little room for suggestions. When asked about what could be improved, only 38 respondents had comments. Suggestions included staff being better informed and prepared about changes in hearing dates, or offender transfers and passes16; providing honest and clear explanations and a more sensitive approach.

In January 2008, the PBC adopted the use of video-conferencing at hearings. In May 2009, the PBC Policy Manual was updated to state,

Video conferencing may be an appropriate option in certain circumstances, including…victims in exceptional circumstances who would otherwise be unable to attend for reasons of undue hardship, as assessed on a case by case basis” (NPB, 2010c).

Because the implementation of videoconferencing is a new initiative, and it is not freely accessible, respondents were asked to provide feedback on their willingness to use this service, rather than their experience with it. When asked if they would consider this option if it were available to them, two-thirds (67%) stated they would, while the remaining one-third (33%) said they would not.

Participants who preferred to attend by video-conference noted that this type of service would resolve problems associated with travelling to the hearing location such as health limitations, distance, and/or financial burdens (e.g., taking unpaid time off work). Others indicated that the use of video conferencing would be a way for them to stay informed about the process without having to be present at the hearing, which would be particularly valuable for those who did not want to be physically present in the same space as the offender. There was a small group of respondents who felt that it would be beneficial to have this type of service to use only as an alternative, when circumstances would prevent them from attending in person. Although, they would prefer to attend in person, this group maintained that video-conferencing would be a valuable service. Most of those who preferred to attend the hearing only in person felt that it was important to be present in order to read their statement. Within this group, comments were often emotionally charged, explaining motivation to “confront the offender” and to “to look him in the eye”.

As part of the Victims of Crime Initiative, the Department of Justice Canada is responsible for the Victims Fund, which aims to improve the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. The objective of the fund is to provide financial assistance to registered victims of federally supervised offenders to attend PBC hearings of the offender who harmed them17. Sixty-three percent of respondents were aware that the Department of Justice Canada offered this service. Of those who were aware of the service, 26% had used it.

Respondents’ feedback about the victims travel fund highlighted the successes of the initiative as well as offered suggestions for improvement. Among positive opinions, 47% stated that the travel fund was well organized, efficient and simple to access. Further to this, respondents mentioned the staff’s professionalism and help in handling the paperwork. Approximately one-third (30%) of respondents stated that they appreciated the financial support, which in their judgment was quite generous. A further 10% indicated that they appreciated being acknowledged as a victim and having their rights recognized. When asked about what could be improved, respondents voiced varying ideas. Most commonly noted were the need for clearer instructions (e.g., help with the forms and calculating kilometre log and prices in advance), the need for faster and easier access to funds (e.g., reimbursement policy and limited cash advance), and the need for earlier notice of hearing dates.

The PBC also provides interpretation services to victims in either of Canada’s official languages. As the findings demonstrate, this service is not one which is in high demand; however, it is of critical importance to ensure victims understand the hearing process and decision. Of those who responded to the questionnaire, only six indicated that they required interpretation services. For this reason, these findings are presented in general terms rather than percentage values. Of those who required interpretation services, twice as many respondents requested services in English as those who requested them in French. In almost all instances, the interpretation services were provided.

Those who provided comments on what they liked about the interpretation services reported on the high quality of the service and the professionalism of the interpreter. Having this service available was appreciated by the respondents, though it was suggested by some that as part of the information services, the victims should be immediately informed of the language of the hearing. Those who provided suggestions for what could be improved said that they would benefit from clearer instructions on using the equipment, having higher quality translations and more accessibility (not only upon request).

The Voice Amplification System (VAS) is another relatively new feature at the Board. VAS was implemented during the latter part of 2007; moreover, at the time of data collection, it was not yet widely used. Twenty-six percent of respondents who had observed a hearing indicated that a VAS was used at the hearing(s) they attended. Among those who attended a hearing where a VAS was not used, one-third (34%) felt that it would have helped them to hear better, another third (30%) suggested they heard well and a VAS was not required, while the remaining one-third (36%) was unsure if a VAS would have helped them during the hearing. Concerns about not having a VAS at the hearing(s) were also made in the general feedback about observing a hearing. Ten respondents’ comments in that section were related to difficulties hearing those who were speaking.

Presenting Statements at Hearings

In July, 2001, the Board introduced, in policy measures which allow victims to read a prepared statement at hearings in person, or by audio or videotape (NPB, 2010c). According to the PBC Performance Monitoring Report, in 2009/2010 victims made 231 presentations at 127 hearings (NPB, 2010b). Of these presentations, 91% were in person, 4% were by video conference, 3% were on audiotape and 2% were by videotape or DVD (NPB, 2010b).

When asked if they were aware that since July, 2001, it has been possible for victims to present a statement, either in person or by audio/CD or videotape/DVD,75% of respondents said that they were aware. Respondents were also asked if they had presented a statement at a hearing. Thirty-five percent of respondents had presented a statement at a hearing. It is important to keep in mind that not all offenders will have had a hearing; therefore, not all victims have had the opportunity to present or submit a statement. There were several reasons provided by those who had not presented a statement at a hearing. Most notably were fear of repercussions from the offender (20%), they were not aware of the option to present (18%), and they submitted a written statement instead (11%).

Prior to presenting their statement at a hearing, PBC staff prepare victims; providing all necessary information about the hearing and the presentation. Victims choose how they would like to present; either in person, or by submitting a letter, or audio/video material. At this stage the victims are also informed about disclosure of information to the offender, including their statement, which, as some respondents pointed out, may impact their decision to present/submit a statement.

Of those who presented a statement, 67% said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the information they received to prepare them for presenting a statement at the hearing (17% were neutral and the remaining 17% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). Of those who indicated what they liked about the information they received from the PBC staff to prepare them for presenting a statement, it was noted that they appreciated being well informed about the process (including being satisfied that their questions were answered). For example, one participant noted,

They (PBC staff) were very quick to answer my questions and when I had a few questions that they could not answer they called me back within a few hours with a response.”

Participants also felt their participation was beneficial because it allowed them to have a voice in the criminal justice process and again, they noted their satisfaction with the professionalism and support of the staff. When asked what they would like to see improved, some respondents voiced concerns about the legal process of parole hearings, and the PBC and criminal justice system in general. These suggestions focused mainly on the rights of offenders versus the rights of victims and were for the most part abstract in nature and/or outside the limits of the Board’s legislative authority. Amidst the low numbers of tangible suggestions, the most common were easier access to information services and more precise/clear information, earlier notification of hearing dates, and allowing victims further participation in the process (e.g., ask questions, comment on offenders statements, etc.).

Debriefing by an RCO is available once a hearing is complete for victims who would like to better understand the outcome of the parole hearing. Among those who presented a statement at a hearing, 62% said they had an opportunity to speak with PBC staff after the hearing had taken place. Although not asked directly, respondents noted throughout the questionnaire that debriefing was highly desirable, as it assisted them in understanding the outcome of the hearing and the impact of their statement. Some even suggested that those who submit their statement in the form of written, audio or video communication should also have an option to be debriefed by the PBC staff after the hearing takes place.

In addition to being asked about their level of satisfaction with preparation for the hearing, respondents were also asked to rate their level of satisfaction with the experience of presenting a statement overall. The majority of respondents, 70%, were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience presenting a statement (18% were neutral and the remaining 12% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). Of those who provided additional feedback on what they liked about the process, respondents felt their voice was being heard and their rights recognized, that the PBC staff was considerate and supportive, and they also appreciated being well informed before the hearing and debriefed after.

When asked about challenges and ways to improve the process of presenting at the hearing, the most prominent concerns were better communication between PBC staff and victims prior to and after the hearing, the option to be face-to-face during the presentation, and more flexibility in the hearing process (e.g., ask questions, comment on offenders statements, etc.). A consistent observation throughout the questionnaire is that victims feel their rights are not as great as those of the offender; they would like to have their rights improved upon, in order to have a greater impact on the parole hearing process.

Decision Registry

According to the CCRA (ss.144 (1-4)), the PBC must maintain a registry of decisions in order to be open and accountable to the Canadian population. As part of general population, victims may apply and request access to the Decision Registry. Only 56% of respondents were aware that they could access the Decision Registry. Of that group, 32% had actually accessed it at least once18.

Eighty-two percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience of requesting a decision (8% were neutral and the remaining 10% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied) . Participants were also asked to rate specific areas of this information service:

Timeliness: Eighty-one percent of those who had accessed the Decision Registry were satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of time it took to receive the information and decisions (8% were neutral and the remaining 11% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Clarity: Seventy-eight percent of those who had accessed the Decision Registry were satisfied or very satisfied with the clarity of information provided in the decision (10% were neutral and the remaining 13% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied).

Of those who provided feedback about what they liked about their experience with the decision registry, respondents noted that they appreciated the timeliness of the response they received. Many stated that they received their answers either the same day over the phone or within 1-2 weeks by mail. Others noted that the information was complete and detailed. Respondents often referred to the explanatory notes which helped them to understand the reason for the decision. Additionally, some identified the ability to have a written copy of the decision as beneficial. They felt that the written copy was useful because they could read and process the information on their own time and at their own pace; particularly if the case was recent, and they needed time to psychologically prepare themselves before reading the decision.

When asked what could be improved, it was noted that there is sometimes the need for clarification about the decision and/or the process, such as the need for further explanation of legal terminology and what is meant by ‘full disclosure’. Some respondents stated that communication should be improved. Many of the victims wanted to be automatically informed about the decision and felt that the process should be easier in this regard. Some even suggested that email notifications that the decision sheet was available could be considered as an option. Some individuals had concerns about limited access to information about the offender and their file. Once again victims would like to see all the possible information about the offender, regardless of privacy protection laws19.

The PBC Overall

Respondents were asked a series of questions about their overall level of satisfaction with the Board. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported that they were very satisfied or satisfied with their experience in dealing with the PBC (15% were neutral and the remaining 12% were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied). The remaining questions were open-ended which gave respondents the opportunity to provide their feedback about the PBC in general. Participants were asked to include feedback on what they felt was working well and suggestions for areas where the Board could improve.

Analysis of the feedback revealed that the leading area of satisfaction among participants was the professionalism, competence and sensitivity of the PBC staff. Respondents appreciated such qualities as the staffs’ knowledge and ability to answer questions, their guidance, their patience in explaining and clarifying information, their empathy and compassion, and their respect for victim’s confidentiality. In the words of one respondent,

I was surprised with the quality of the service, being from Quebec and working with the regional PBC staff in Prairies; I felt important and not only like a number.”

Additionally, about one-third were pleased about being informed and updated on the case. In particular, they noted the importance of receiving regular updates on the offender’s status and the thoroughness of the information that was available to them. The third most appreciated area of the Board’s work was communication. Respondents commented on the Board’s excellence in quick and efficient responses, as well as the well designed communication system such as having an assigned contact person who was familiar with their file.

When asked what could be improved, most of the comments referred to being discontent with communication. Concerns centred on irregular updates on the offender’s status, inconsistency in the communication set-up between RCO’s and victims (referring to sporadic availability of the staff and intermittent contact), and late arrivals of updates. For example, one respondent indicated that

“[There needs to be] better hours for the communication. A lot of people work the standard 8:00 to 4:30. With me, I started earlier and some nights didn’t get home until after 5:00. If I needed to speak with someone it was telephone tag until I got off earlier.”

Of further concern was access to information. The PBC is legislated under the CCRA to provide victims with certain types of information; however, many respondents felt that the information they receive should be expanded to include the offender’s full file. This however, is not possible within the current legislative framework.

DISCUSSION/CONCLUSION

Findings from the questionnaire provide insight into the extent to which the PBC is meeting the information needs of victims and the level of satisfaction of victims, as well as to help identify areas for improvement and ways to respond effectively.

One of the most prominent achievements noted throughout the questionnaire was the excellence of staff. Respondents continually reinforced their appreciation and satisfaction with the staffs’ knowledge, sensitivity and competence. Moreover, they appreciated not only the staffs’ ability to present clear and concise information, but they also highlighted the professional and considerate manner in which they did so. Respondents also recognized the timeliness of the services provided by the PBC staff. In most instances, they received the information they were looking for either immediately or within a realistic time frame (1 to 10 days).

A further significant finding was that respondents felt that the services provided by the PBC gave them a voice within the criminal justice system. Although none of the questions asked this explicitly, it was identified by participants that through the services offered by the Board, their rights were being acknowledged and voices heard. This was repeated throughout the questionnaire as an area of significant importance to victims. Although it was recognized by many as one of the qualities that contributes to the Boards success, it was also mentioned that victims should have more rights and a stronger voice. Moreover, the Board is succeeding while working within the current legislative framework, though this is an area that could be explored further within the broader government context.

The findings also indicate that respondents are receptive to new technology initiatives, in particular, the use of video-conferencing as an alternative to being present at a hearing. Feedback related to video-conferencing was, for the most part, positive. Respondents pointed out that video-conferencing would help to eliminate issues associated with travelling such as health limitations and financial burdens. Once this service has been implemented for a period of time, the PBC may want to conduct further research to follow up with those who have used this form of technology at a hearing. It would also be important to look at the cost to the PBC to provide this service, since it is more costly for the Board to set up for and provide video-conferencing services. Further research would help the Board to ensure they are providing a service that best meets the needs of their clients.

The overall level of satisfaction with the Board was high, though victims identified some areas where the PBC could develop initiatives further. Most notably, responses indicate that outreach and awareness could be improved upon. For example, the reported number of users of information sessions was low. Attendance at information sessions among respondents may be low due to the limited resources available to conduct these sessions, which in turn limits the number of communities to which these types of sessions can be offered (availability). It may also be that respondents involved in this questionnaire may not have not recently been in locations where promotional material can be found (i.e., police stations, courts, and agencies) (awareness). Although it is not possible to conduct this type of outreach in all communities20, further study is needed to identify methods to optimize the public’s awareness of these types of sessions and identify communities where the need is high. Furthermore, outreach and awareness could be improved upon by ensuring promotional material is placed in the areas that were identified as most desirable by the respondents.

Another area for further consideration is the PBC website and the decision registry. The reported number of website users was low. This may be an indication that the website is not the most suitable form of outreach or source of information for registered victims of crime. Similarly, only half of the respondents were aware of the decision registry. Although respondents who used these services were generally satisfied, the findings related to awareness should be highlighted as an area for further consideration. The Board may want to investigate the target population further. Areas that would be of interest to study include whether registered victims are equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate the website and whether they have access to the internet. Also, the PBC could further explore alternative approaches in providing information that would better serve its clients.

As demonstrated through the exceptional response rate (26%), registered victims are interested and engaged in participating in the criminal justice system. Taken together, the findings of this report suggest that the Board has made some significant achievements in assisting victims of crime (e.g., staff excellence and responsiveness); however, they must continue their efforts to enhance and build upon their accomplishments (e.g., outreach and awareness). Moreover, victims of crime are, and should continue to be, an ongoing priority for the Board. The respondents of the 2009 questionnaire only represent a small portion of victims, there are more discussions to have, more experiences to hear and more issues to understand. Victims’ services at the Board, as well as within other government agencies and partners, will evolve and grow as we continue to learn and improve upon our efforts.

REFERENCES

Chartrand, L. and McKay, C (2006). A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples in 1990 to 2001. Ottawa, ON: Department of Justice- Policy Centre for Victims Issues &Research and Statistics Division.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act (1992). C-20. Ottawa, ON.

National Parole Board (2003). Summary of Victim Responses to NPB Questionnaire. Ottawa, ON: Victim Services - Policy Planning and Operations Branch.

National Parole Board (2009). DRAFT Renewal: National Parole Board Business Case to Respond to Government Plans for Legislative Change and Program Enhancements to Strengthen Community Safety and Provide more Inclusive Processes for Victims of Crime. Ottawa, ON: Victim Services - Policy, Planning and Operations.

National Parole Board (2010a). Victim Services Information Session: Joint Presentation Deck. Ottawa, ON: Victim Services - Policy, Planning and Operations Branch.

National Parole Board (2010b). Performance Monitoring Report: 2009-2010. Ottawa, ON: Performance Measurement – Policy, Planning and Operations.

National Parole Board (2010c). Policy Manual: Volume 1 No. 15. Ottawa, ON: Policy, Planning and Operations.

Public Safety Canada. (2008). Corrections and conditional release statistical overview
49 Ottawa, ON: Public Works and Government Services Canada. Census 2006

Scrim, K. (2010). Victims of Crime Readers Digest: Issue 3 – Aboriginal Victimization in Canada: A Summary of the Literature. Ottawa, ON: Department of Justice- Research and Statistics Division.

Statistics Canada (2006). 2006 Census: Data Products. Ottawa, ON.

Statistics Canada (2009). General Social Survey- Victimization. Ottawa, ON.

Formerly referred to as the National Parole Board.

A response rate of 26% exceeds expectations for a large scale, mail-out questionnaire.

Formerly referred to as the National Parole Board.

Information is not provided automatically; a victim must make a written request to the CSC or the PBC to register to receive information.

Discretionary information includes offender’s age, location where the offender is incarcerated, release dates, hearing dates, any conditions imposed on release, release destination, any appeal of a PBC decision, etc.

Since 2008, the PBC has been collecting some demographic information on registered victims of crime; however, victims are asked to provide such information only on a volunteer basis and this type of information is not required in order to register. Moreover, we are not able to indicate whether or not the sample population is representative of the total registered victim population but we can look to broader research to see if it is reflective of victims in general.

Victim agents were asked to send the questionnaire directly to the victims they were representing.

Five percent validity check was completed and found the data to be sound.

Statistical analysis measures the accuracy of its outcome by validating the margin of error. In cases with fewer responses, the margin of error is above the statistical norm and cannot be reported in a percentage value.

The GSS, conducted by Statistics Canada gathers data on the larger self-reported victim population and although the GSS is able to provide us with a picture of the broader self-reported victim population, there are some limitations with looking to this group for comparison. Although there are some commonalities, victims who register with PBC are a smaller, unique population and may not be accurately reflected in the GSS. Other factors and variables may contribute to differing demographic profiles such as offence type, conviction, and/or whether or not it was a police reported crime.

The numbers are too small to report in percentage values.

Home language refers to the language spoken most often or on a regular basis at home by the individual.

Respondents who indicated ‘other information’ services were asked to identify the type of service they requested.

The reasons for delays were not indicated by the respondents.

Reporting on the website section has some limitations. Only 84 respondents accessed the website. Because of the low number of responses, the statistical picture remains incomplete.

Some concerns referred to the fact that victims would like access to the offender’s full file; however, the PBC is unable by law (CCRA) to provide such information. The information to which a registered victim is entitled includes the offender’s name, offence and court conviction, sentence start date and length, and offender’s eligibility and review dates.

Actual expenses for travel and accommodation and an allowance for meals are in accordance with Treasury Board guidelines. The Policy Centre for Victims Issues has more information about how to apply for financial assistance to attend PBC hearings (http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/pcvi-cpcv/fun-fin2.html).

Over half (53%) of those who accessed it did so more than once.

The PBC is unable by law (CCRA) to provide all information. The information to which a registered victim is entitled includes the offender’s name, offence and court conviction, sentence start date and length, and offender’s eligibility and review dates.

This would not be feasible from a financial or human resource perspective.