The Correctional Service of Canada has launched a new awareness campaign to help offenders land jobs, but critics say it flies in the face of new federal rules that make it harder for ex-cons to clear their criminal record and overcome the biggest barrier to post-prison employment.

The home page of CSC's website has a section on "Hiring an Offender" with information on how employers can access a pool of skilled workers for short and long-term assignments and wage subsidy programs. It also includes a video with employers and offenders offering testimonials about how having a job supports a successful transition to becoming a law-abiding, productive citizen.

"The material that was recently posted on our website is part of CSC's ongoing effort to raise awareness among potential employers, community partners, stakeholders, CSC staff, and the general public on the benefits of hiring an offender and the importance of employment in an offender's reintegration process," said Veronique Rioux, spokeswoman for CSC.

Boosting 'marketable skills'

Employment programs in federal prisons give offenders the chance to learn marketable employment skills in various industries and trades through on-the-job training and third-party certification, Rioux said. As their release date nears, CSC works with employers and partners to try to match the offender's skill set to a job in their community.

"Providing employment training is an essential part of an offender's rehabilitation and those who are able to find employment after incarceration are less likely to return to federal custody," she said.

But opposition critics say the government imposed a huge obstacle to offenders trying to stay on the straight and narrow when it toughened up the rules around pardons. Pardons – which were renamed record suspensions – mean a criminal record is not disclosed during background checks, making it easier for offenders to gain employment or travel internationally.

The Conservatives doubled the waiting period to 10 years before offenders with an indictable conviction could apply for a pardon and increased the period to five years from three for summary offences. It also disqualified anyone convicted of a child sex offence or with more than three convictions for indictable offences – and quadrupled the application fee to $631.

Tougher rules on record suspensions

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said the fact that CSC is reaching out to private sector employers is positive – but it he said the government has put up "roadblocks" that make it tougher for offenders to actually get jobs after release from prison. He said a massive backlog of applications won't be cleared until 2015 – said that it's particularly "ironic and cruel" that the people who want most to get to work and support families are now facing tough hurdles.

"If you have a backlog of 20,000 cases you haven't cleared and you've made it more difficult by increasing the fees and extending the time periods before you can apply, all of those things contradict the evidence that comes from programs like this – that the way to keep communities safe is to help people get reintegrated," he said.

The video on CSC's website – called "Helping Offenders Find Meaningful Employment" – features offenders speaking about how the stigma of a criminal record impedes getting a job, and how getting a job was the most important step for integrating back into society.

"The obstacles with having a criminal record is the employers won't hire you no matter what you've done," said Jason from London, Ont. "Some interviews went well, meaning that they didn't ask for a criminal background check. The ones that didn't go well, they asked right up front if we had a criminal background and I would be truthful and say yes I've had a record."

Government pulling in different directions?

Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia said any initiative to help offenders gain employment is positive, but said the government's move to limit record suspensions is like pulling in two different directions.

"They put sticks in the spokes of the rehabilitation effort," he said. "Is that doing more harm than the other program is doing good? It's hard to say," he said.

A criminal record can be an even bigger barrier to ethnic and cultural minority groups that already face employment discrimination, he said.



Source: Parole Board of Canada

* Includes files discontinued in process.
** Amendments to the Criminal Records Act (CRA) came into effect on March 13, 2012, resulting in a change to the pardon program’s name to "record suspension," which is either ordered or refused.