Breaking the Cycle: A Canadian Province Explores an Integrated Approach to Addressing Offenders’ Underlying Problems

Kurt Sandstrom, assistant deputy minister of Alberta Justice in Alberta, Canada discusses his province’s efforts to
break cycles of offending with integrated, evidence-based services. 

: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation and I am
at Community Justice 2012 at the end of January in Washington, D.C. And I am speaking with Kurt Sandstrom who is
Deputy –

KURT SANDSTROM: Assistant Deputy Minister –

Thank you Kurt – for Alberta Justice in the province of Alberta in Canada. And I understand that you in Alberta are
exploring the possibility of creating a community court. So maybe you could tell me a little bit about where you
are in the process and what made you interested in the first place.

It’s a long story, so I could go back in time to 2009 when we started looking at this issue. And we have a stakeholder
vehicle called the Justice Policy Advisory Committee that is co-hosted by the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor
General. And we had presentations at that meeting, outlining some of the innovative work that was going on in the
United States – notably the Redhook Community [Justice Center], and also looking at a lot of things that were going
on in Canada, the Victoria Integrated Court and the Vancouver Community Court, and the drug courts.

we were looking at a number of silos that were popping up, depending on the needs or circumstances of the offender.
So, for example, if you were addicted you could get into the drug court program. If you had mental health issues
you would qualify for mental health diversion. If you went down the road and were homeless, then you could get into
the Pathways to Housing program that would look at your justice needs.

And so the Justice Minister,
who is now our Premier, at that point in time, along with the Solicitor General, said we need to look at how we break
down these silos and look at it in a more holistic manner. So the Integrated Justice Services Project was born and
we engaged some consultants who looked at all the models across North America and came up with the Cadillac model,
which we’d like to implement, but we’re not able to make as much headway on the Cadillac model at the moment. We
are taking small steps and right at the moment we’re launching a pilot in Calgary, Alberta, that will be entitled
A Safe Community’s Resource Center. And it will be focusing on the population that is post-conviction that will be
serving their sentence in the community. And the idea would be to refer them to a program that has a joint assessment
team of probation and health services members who also have all the supports of housing, mental health, alcohol addictions

We’ll be working in partnership with community organizations to essentially create
a center with wraparound, holistic, integrated services down the road. And so you’ll know that the court is not involved
in that project at the moment because we’re trying to focus on the government services and the other support services
in that offending population that is post-sentence but serving in the community. We then hope to evaluate and proceed
to other phases of the project that will look at pre-conviction. We’ll also look at pre-charge because the police
population is saying—or the police officers are saying—we need some sort of solution to deal with diversion without
charge. And so all of this will be considered and evaluated in the fullness of time.

And when you say the court’s not involved, you mean because it’s post-conviction?

Correct. Because it’s post-conviction and these offenders are put on probation, at the moment the judiciary will
not have really much to say to nor will defense or Crown. It will be a determination based on the probation officer’s
assessment of whether the offender would qualify for the safe community’s resource center. And if they do so qualify,
then one comprehensive treatment plan will be set up for them. The judiciary are involved in our two drug courts
in the province already in the pre-trial, or pre-conviction population. So right at the moment we’re working with
them to ensure that they’ve got everything they need to come at it holistically, and we’re hoping to build on some
of their experiences when we go forward with the project further.

So your vision – correct me if I’m wrong – is that this resource center that you’re pulling together using community-based
organizations and not-for-profits and such, and government agencies, presumably, could serve as a resource for these
other components, when and if you create them – the pre-trial one that you referred to. It would be sort of an all-in-one
place that, as it expands, you perhaps could draw upon and refer defendants to?

Yes and no. We want to make sure that the phases are separate from coming up with one cookie-cutter approach. So
we may be looking at the resource center doing some of this, but we may also be looking at other solutions. For example,
right at the moment we’ve got two communities in Alberta—Edmonton and Calgary—organizing at the community level with
respect to the community-based organizations, because they’re reaching out to clients in distress. And they’re, at
the moment, saying we need to do business differently. We need to provide one place for a person who’s not even charged
with an offense to have, you know, their distress remediated in some fashion or another. So the community right at
the moment is driving some of the solution making.

We’re gonna be participating as a government
with those community organizations. What they set up could be the response to the other phases of a project. And
the key is that we’re going to continue to integrate as we move forward. We have a number of, as I said, earlier
silos that we’ll need to kind of put together. And we’re creating one position within our Safe Communities provincial
government that we call the Director of Integrated Justice Services. And this person’s position will be to further
integrate, to further design programming that will get at the offender’s criminogenic needs and really try to move
that marker in terms of an integrated provincial system.

how much of an emphasis are you placing on evidence-based practices, using strategies that evidence has shown apparently

SANDSTROM: That’s the cornerstone to the model. We’re looking
at only working with programs that have been evaluated and have been shown to be successful. And that’s difficult
within Alberta to ensure that we have the knowledge base that we need to draw from that. There’s quite a bit of work
going on across North America and worldwide, I think, in this area. We really want to set ourselves up as experts
in that fidelity in the science, and build from that, and also contribute to it. So, for example, our Safe Communities
initiative has funded 88 crime-prevention pilots, pilot projects across Alberta, all of which have to be evaluated
from a social return on investment, as to what will work in preventing crime? Even getting further upstream, what
are we doing to prevent crime? And all of that evaluation and research will help infuse our approach provincially,
and will also hopefully contribute to the literature across North America on what works.

So I understand you visited the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Have you seen other community courts and, if so,
are there things in particular that you want to try to replicate, and are there things you think will not work in

SANDSTROM: I haven’t personally visited any of the community
courts other than the Victoria Integrated Court. But the team has and our consultants have gone out to Dallas. They’ve
seen Red Hook, they’ve seen Vancouver. Really we’re not sure exactly how we’re going to replicate this. It’s a, it’s
certainly not a cookie-cutter approach. We’re going to be seeing what works and what doesn’t. So right at the moment,
we’re just struggling to get the government services together, working differently, and at that point we’re going
to build community in so we’ll be looking at these other models to see what their successes are, drawing from them,
and hopefully, you know, replicating something that’s going to get at that criminogenic aspect.

And one last question. I know you’re kind of early in the process. It sounds like you’ve done an incredible amount
of research and now you’re putting in, you know, you’re taking steps to move forward with the plan. Are there any
lessons that you’ve learned so far, that you might share, that might help someone else who’s exploring the possibility
of creating this integrated approach, or something like a community court?

Yeah, I guess the first learning I would have is it’s not often that state or provincial or federal governments will
attempt to do this from the top down. We’ve attempted to do it from the top down, drawing from the experience of
more community-driven success stories. It’s difficult driving it from the top down. What I’ve encountered is that
often times change is slow to come to systems, especially government systems. In the future I might look at another
approach as a provincial government going into this, whereby we actually empower work that’s going on in communities
and are there to enable and facilitate the work that would be happening there, and let the models come up. In a perfect
world, I guess you have to be top down and bottom up. And so don’t forget the bottom, the community. The community
is critical in the solution. Every community is different. Every organization or community has different organizations
and they all have to be engaged and it is difficult for government to know what is going on in that area. And so
we need to find a way to make sure the bottom is coming up to the top and the top is coming down to the bottom.

Very interesting. Well thank you very much, Kurt Sandstrom. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me. I’ve
been speaking with Kurt Sandstrom who is Assistant Deputy Minister in Alberta Justice. And you guys are working on
exploring the possibility of creating something like a community court or an integrated approach, offering alternatives
to incarceration, enhancing probation.

SANDSTROM: Exactly, Integrated
Justice Services is what we’re calling it, as opposed to being a court at the moment.

So thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me.

Thanks very much.

WOLF: I’m Rob Wolf, Director of Communications
at the Center for Court Innovation at Community Justice 2012. To hear more of our podcasts, visit
Thanks for listening.

February 2012