Crown Counsel Adam Dalrymple explains how the Downtown Vancouver Community Court uses community service assignments to match
offenders with organizations that address their social service needs.
following is a transcript of the interview.
V. WOLF: Is it possible to punish an offender and help them at the same time? The Downtown Vancouver
Community Court assigns offenders to restitution projects and the very social services that can help them.
I’m Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation. And in the following
interview, I talk to Crown Prosecutor Adam Dalrymple about the Downtown Vancouver Community Court’s approach
to combining community service and social services.
WOLF: Hi Adam.
ADAM DALRYMPLE: Hello.
I wanted to ask you about a presentation you participated in today at Community Justice 2012, which really focused
on community service. I think Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court has been able to achieve something that a
lot of community courts strive to achieve, which is a kind of community service that not only seeks to improve the
community but does something for the defendant as well. And I wonder if you could sort of explain to me how your
community service works and how you meet the needs, both of the defendant and the community through your community
DALRYMPLE: Well the first step was identifying
the needs in the community. The Downtown East Side of Vancouver is an area marred by drug addiction, mental health
issues, homelessness, and poverty. We also knew that were there a number of social services in the community, and
the key was trying to connect or link the offenders to those social services.
What we did was,
throughout our community service program at community court, we attempted to organize these programs and have our
offenders go to these programs based on their social needs. And how we went about doing that was through a motivational
interview with a probation officer. So once an accused or an offender was deemed suitable for community work service,
they would go upstairs and have a meeting with a probation officer. The probation officer would employ the motivational
interview, which is designed to elicit information; it’s reflective listening and engagement from the offender–asking
the offender, you know, “What do you think the problem is?” or “Do you have housing? Do you have employment?” Those
sorts of things.
And then based on the answer, that probation officer would match that need
with a placement in the community at one of the various outreach organizations. For example, with women who may have
come in committing a theft under $5,000 or a shoplifting, they may have been victims of domestic violence in their
past. So the idea was, why don’t we place them with the women’s shelter in the Downtown East Side? It’s
a safe environment for them to go to, to give back to their community, learn about the various resources at the shelter,
such as obviously shelter, housing, food; they have outreach workers there.
So they’re actually doing work for the shelter as they learn about what the shelter provides?
DALRYMPLE: So they are, they are sorting clothing, they’re doing administrative
tasks, they’re cleaning, they’re serving food. So they’re working at the shelter, and at the same
time, they’re learning about the services that may assist them in the future. And so in a way we are sort of
killing two birds with one stone. And at the same time, we’re connecting the social services to the court and
the offenders of the court to the social services. We’re really rebuilding a community that was fractured.
WOLF: And are there other examples? So a defendant who has a history of domestic
violence, that sounds like a natural fit. Have her work in a shelter.
Well for example, we have individuals who don’t have stable housing who are new to Vancouver. There’s a
large population in Vancouver that are from other provinces and other countries that are on the Downtown East Side
using drugs, things of that nature. They don’t have stable housing. So we would refer them to a shelter where
they’ll complete their community work service. They may serve food there, they may engage in janitorial duties,
administrative tasks. The idea is to open their minds to all of the resources that are really at their fingertips
that they may not have been aware of before.
We had one really good example of an individual
from Edmonton, Alberta, who recently moved to Vancouver—didn’t have a lot of connections, didn’t have a
home, did his community work service for a minor offense at a shelter and now he’s thriving. He feels like he’s
part of the community. He actually returns to that shelter and plays ping pong and chess, and things of that nature.
And now he feels like he’s a part of that community. And we haven’t seen any recidivism with respect to
WOLF: Was it a hard sell to the community at large? I’m
just speculating that in some instances, someone may feel that it’s too good for the defendants, it’s not
hard enough. I just wonder if there’s any push back.
We haven’t experienced any push back. In fact, most of community is quite practical about community work service
and educating them as well with respect to the principles of restorative justice. The idea that if you can restore
the offender as part of the community, that can pay itself forward many times over. This is someone who, if they
are linked up to shelters, to housing, to food, they may not need to steal from the local market. They may not engage
in criminal activity. So this has benefits for everyone. We’ve only received quite positive feedback.
WOLF: And was it difficult to find partners willing to take on defendants?
I mean presumably they’re working with similar populations, but were there new issues of supervision, or compliance
monitoring that needed to be put in place for the program to work.
I wasn’t responsible for setting up the program, but what I can tell you is that certain placements have restrictions.
For example, they may not want a sex offender working in their facility, or at a women’s shelter they won’t
have men. We respect those rules.
We have open dialogue with these organizations in terms of
compliance. The organization or the placement tells us if they’ve provided compliance. And I mentioned, we have
worksheets that are completed by the organization and when they’re submitted with respect to compliance, we’ll
actually go pick them up so that we have direct communication and dialogue with the organization. That keeps, sort
of, our thumb on the pulse of the organization, and it allows us to continue building those relationships.
WOLF: Are there plans going forward to expand or other thoughts about community
service that you perhaps are picking up here at the conference or you guys are already working on?
DALRYMPLE: Well an idea that we’re sort of thinking of is community work service
as a means to really engage the community and strengthen the ties of the court in the community. And that’s
one thing that I’ve discovered in preparing for this presentation, is that a lot of the organizations aren’t
quite familiar with community court. They care about community court and if we perhaps, we reached out to an even
broader group of groups and organizations, it may increase the profile of the court in the community. And that’s
always a good thing.
WOLF: Have you noticed from your contact
with American prosecutors, a difference in their approach or attitudes toward community court or specific strategies
or obstacles they encounter that perhaps you don’t encounter in Canada?
I’ve learned a lot about the difference between the Canadian and the American community court models. One important
difference is their profile within the community. The American courts are more active with private sector funding,
marketing, reaching out, whereas in Canada we are, have been relatively reluctant to do that. That’s the one
As well, I’ve also learned from speaking to my American colleagues that
their courts deal with a lot of quality-of-life type crimes. In Vancouver, we deal with quite a number of serious
offenses in our community court. We deal with domestic assaults, we deal with fraud, we deal with weapons offenses,
we deal with break-and-enters of commercial premises, assault causing bodily harm type offenses. So it represents
an opportunity in Vancouver because we deal with such a variety of different offenses.
Adam, thank you very much. I’ve been talking to Adam Dalrymple, who is a crown prosecutor with the Downtown
Community Court in Vancouver, Canada. We’ve been talking about their approach to community service among other
things. Adam, thank you very much.
DALRYMPLE: Thank you.
WOLF: I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court
Innovation. To hear more podcasts, you can visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org. Thanks for listening.