Many of the job opportunities offered in federal prisons to boost inmates' chances of finding work after their release are a waste of government resources that do little to keep the public safe, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail suggest.
That's because the work experience on offer rarely matches the skills convicts need to get real jobs, the documents say, preparing them instead for industries that are either obsolete or will have few openings when they get out of prison.
The stark analysis of the Correctional Service of Canada's Corcan work programs, prepared by the Public Safety Department last May and obtained under the Access to Information Act, describes a system that is too small for many inmates to access and offers few opportunities to develop skills that can be applied outside of prison.
"One of the biggest weaknesses of Corcan is the absence of any correlation between either the work or the vocational training programs with labour market analyses," the memo to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews states. "Training inmates for the jobs of yesterday, or for non-existent jobs, or for jobs in already over-resourced fields in competition with non-offenders is a waste of scarce resources and counterproductive to public safety."
A spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada said Corcan recognized last year that it needed to do a better job matching training opportunities with labour-market projections and has developed a plan that will put more emphasis on programs that respond to labour-market trends and take into account the types of jobs available to someone with a criminal record. The plan will come into effect later this year, she said.
About 4,000 men and 125 women worked in the Corcan program in the fiscal year ending in March of 2012, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.
Inmates worked in textiles, construction, manufacturing and services, and produced a range of items including pillowcases, modular homes and furniture.
Several Canadian reports suggest that prison work can significantly reduce the likelihood a convict will reoffend. And a 1996 U.S. Bureau of Prisons study, cited in the memo to Mr. Toews, found inmates who participated in vocational or apprenticeship training were 33 per cent less likely to re-offend than those with no work programs. By comparison, inmates who worked in low-skill jobs were 24 per cent less likely to reoffend.
The Public Safety memo criticizes Corcan for cancelling a carpentry apprenticeship program and planning to end an electrical apprenticeship program at William Head penitentiary, just outside of Victoria, noting that carpentry and electrical work are among the top three in-demand jobs on Vancouver Island.
In addition to concerns about the value of the work programs, there are not enough opportunities on offer to meet inmate demand, according to the memo.
"Correctional Service Canada staff themselves have identified the single biggest barrier to effective participation in work and vocational programs is NOT inmate disinterest, but rather the shortage of such programs," it states.
While some 500 new jobs were created over the past two years, the memo points out that nearly all of the new positions were "daily work activities" of limited value to those seeking employment after their release.
Jason Godin, Ontario regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said prison staff are seeing first-hand that inmates' access to employment and other programs has declined in recent years.
"In terms of wait times, in terms of accessibility to the programs, it's clearly diminished," he said. "We truly believe that public safety is going to be sacrificed or jeopardized as a result of a lack of this type of rehabilitation and programming."
Sara Parkes, a spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada, said the carpentry program at William Head Institution was not providing "the best value for money." The electrical program is still running.
Asked whether Corcan would increase the number of opportunities available to inmates, the spokeswoman said the program's plan is to provide "as many on-the-job training and vocational training opportunities for offenders as possible given the operational environment in a penitentiary."