Public Safety Canada: Economic Outcomes of Canadian Federal Offenders

Public Safety Canada: Economic Outcomes of Canadian Federal Offenders

by ahnationtalk on April 8, 202135 Views


Employment is a key factor that helps reduce reoffending rates among individuals with criminal records. The current study examined the economic outcomes of 11,158 federal offenders (Mage in 2014  = 47 years) admitted to Correctional Service of Canada institutions between January 4th, 1999 and December 31st 2001 (medianadmission year = 2000) who were released in the community for an average of 14 years. The purpose of the current study was to better understand the economic outcomes of Canadian federal offenders. More than half of the cohort of released offenders filed their taxes (5,835 of 11,158). The current study suggests that individuals with criminal records face considerable barriers when seeking employment in Canada, with only half of the individuals released from federal institutions finding employment after an average of 14 years. Individuals released from federal correctional institutions participated in the labour market less, made substantially less employment income, received more social assistance payments, and filed taxes less than the general Canadian population. After an average of 14 years post release, most individuals were underemployed with a median income of $0. Of those who reported employment, the average reported income was $14,000. This is less than half of what Canadians in the general population earn through employment. We also found that barriers to finding gainful employment following incarceration disproportionately impacted women, Indigenous, and older individuals, with these groups fairing even poorer than men, non-Indigenous, and younger individuals with criminal records. The current study suggests that more should be done to assist individuals with a criminal record secure gainful employment.

Author’s Note

This project was conducted in partnership with Statistics Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Public Safety Canada, Statistics Canada or the Correctional Service of Canada. Correspondence concerning this report should be addressed to:

Research Division
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0P8
Email: [email protected]

Product Information:
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2021
Cat. No.: PS113-1/2021-2E-PDF
ISBN Number: 978-0-660-32489-0


Corrections services promote public safety by administering sentences and facilitating the successful reintegration of offenders into the community. Securing employment after release from a correctional institution is integral to the successful reintegration of offenders as law-abiding, contributing members of the community (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). Indeed, employment following release from correctional institutions is associated with both reduced reoffending rates and lower rates of return to custody (Berg & Huebner, 2011; Gillis & Nafekh, 2005; Webster, Staton-Tindall, Duvall, Garriety, & Leukefeld, 2007). Given the potential mitigating impact that employment may have on reoffending, many correctional institutions have opted to assess employment skills and provide employment and educational programming for offenders (e.g., prison work, vocational training) in an effort to augment the successful employment of its graduates and to, consequently, decrease the number offenders that will commit new offences (Correctional Service of Canada, 2018). Unfortunately, we know surprisingly little about the long-term community adjustment of adults with past criminal records in Canada; it is estimated that 1 in 10 Canadians aged 19 and over in 2005 had a criminal record (2.9 million of 24.8 million; Powell & Winsa, 2008; Statistics Canada, 2005)Note 1. Boyce, Te, and Brennan (2018) found that adults that had any form of contact with police in Saskatchewan in the 2009/2010 year had incomes 50% lower than adults without police contact, as reported in their 2008 tax form. Chronic offenders (who had 5 or more subsequent recontacts with police) had an average income that was 67% lower than those with one contact with police. Unlike Brennna et al. (2018), the current study provides a national perspective on the community adjustment of federal offenders admitted to Correctional Service of Canada institutions and identifies characteristics associated with better economic outcomes among offenders.

Gaining Employment after Incarceration: An Elusive Challenge

Although estimates of post-prison employment rates tend to vary based on the sample, timeframe, and definitions used (AAltonen, 2016), overall post-prison employment rates are approximately 50% (Visher, Debus-Sherrill, & Yahner, 2011) to 75% (Von Bergen & Bressler, 2016). The low post-prison employment rate has often been explained through the multiple barriers that individuals with criminal records tend to face when trying to secure gainful employment following release from correctional institutions (Petersilia, 2001). The mere existence of a criminal record is one of the main reasons why securing employment after incarceration can be elusive for many. Namely, requesting proof of a clean criminal record is a common prerequisite to many job applications in Canada and United States; a phenomenon that has also been increasing in Europe (Pijoan, 2014). In the United Kingdom, for example, about three quarters of a million convictions that are shared with potential employers are more than ten years old, and a great deal of convictions are also not relevant to the qualifications required for a specific position (Doward, 2017).  Currently, between 50% (UK; Pijoan, 2014) to 92% (US; Von Bergen & Bressler, 2016) of employers request criminal record checks for job applicants, and the vast majority of these checks do not result in a criminal record being identified. For example, only 6% of 4.2 million criminal record checks in 2015 in the United Kingdom produced criminal record information (Doward, 2017).

There are a number of employment sectors where a criminal record automatically precludes employment (e.g., government agencies, vulnerable sectors). In Canada, each province and territory has their own unique regulations regarding employment discriminationNote 2 based on criminal records. Some provinces and territories do not include criminal records as a status that can be discriminated against (e.g., prairies), whereas others include criminal records as a protected status, but still allow for the requirements of the position to be considered when making the decision as to whether or not the employer will hire an individual with a criminal record (see Appendix A). The main limitation of current Canadian legislation, when present, is that the legislation does not preclude employers from asking for criminal record verification, nor does it define the instances in which a criminal record verification would be irrelevant (e.g., employment without access to vulnerable populations, such as children). For applicants with a criminal record, requesting criminal record verification also results in job application delays, which can preclude employment. When applicants with a criminal record request a criminal record check in Canada and a record is found, fingerprint verification must be completed before the record is released back to the applicant ─ a process that can take 3 months or more to complete (RCMP, 2014). This is a substantial duration for any one struggling to earn income through legal means.

Employer bias is a second barrier that individuals with criminal records commonly encounter when aiming to secure employment. Studies have found that employers are biased towards hiring individuals without a criminal record (Batastini, Bolanos, Morgan, & Mitchell, 2017; Petersilia, 2001). Employers often cite ensuring a safe workplace and reducing liabilities as their main justification for hiring individuals without criminal histories. Interestingly, however, most workplace violence is brought on by non-workplace employees (AAltonen, 2016). Regardless, and despite the suitable qualifications of individuals with criminal records, a criminal record is often used as justification for not hiring a particular candidate (e.g., AAltonen, 2016). Indeed, in a study where employers were asked to judge hypothetical employment scenarios, training programs were found to increase employers’ beliefs that individuals with criminal records are acceptable for employment (Batastini et al., 2017). Yet training programs did not have an effect on whether an employer would seriously consider hiring a candidate with a criminal record (Batastini et al., 2017). In short, the presence of bias among employers toward individuals with criminal records and the delays that result from preliminary or extraneous criminal record verification requests negatively impact an individual’s ability to obtain post-release employment, regardless of the individual’s competencies or the type of employment sought.

Employment Outcomes Vary Following Release

Though the presence of a criminal record negatively impacts employment prospects, the degree to which a criminal record impacts employment varies across individuals. For example, men are more likely to be employed after release from correctional institutions than women (Duwe & Clark, 2017). Studies have shown that the employment rate following incarceration is lower for women (19% employed; Freudenberg, Daniels, Crum, Perkins, & Richie, 2005) compared to what is typically cited for men (50% employed in Visher et al., 2011). Women also take longer to find employment (median 10 months) then men (median 6 months) following release from correctional institutions (Gillis & Nafekh, 2005). Younger individuals are also more likely to be employed than older individuals following release from a correctional institution (Duwe & Clark, 2017; Visher et al., 2011).

In addition to gender and age, another demographic characteristic associated with differential employment outcomes following release from a correctional institution is race. For instance, following release from a correctional institution, Caucasian individuals are more likely to be employed than non-Caucasian individuals, a finding often attributed to racism (Nally, Lockwood, Knutson, & Taiping, 2013; Pager, 2003). A study conducted by Pager and Shepherd (2008) using identical resumes, found that individuals with traditional African American names (e.g., Jamal) were contacted by managers 50% less than individuals with traditional Caucasian names (e.g., Brad); a disadvantage that persisted even when the traditionally-named Caucasian individuals had a criminal record and the traditionally-named African American individuals did not (Bailey et al., 2017). In an observational study on the relationship between race and employment, research assistants who were matched on dress and qualification, but varied on race (Caucasian vs. African American) and on the presence of a hypothetical criminal record (yes vs. no), were asked to pose as hypothetical employment candidates (Page, 2003). In this study, Pager (2003) found that the research assistants who were Caucasian and had a hypothetical criminal record were over three times more likely to be called back and offered employment than research assistants who were African American with the same fictional criminal record and qualifications (17% vs. 5%, respectively). In fact, Caucasian research assistants with a hypothetical criminal record were more likely to secure employment than African American research assistants without a criminal record (17% vs. 14%; Pager, 2003).

Similarly, in another study, Von Bergen and Bressler (2016) concluded that Black individuals who have indicated that they have a criminal record on an employment application had twice as much difficulty being called back for employment than non-Black individuals. This presence of racial biases in the hiring decisions of some employers is reflected in the observed disparities of employment rates observed across racial groups. Consistently across studies, Caucasian offenders are more likely to be employed following release from correctional institutions compared to non-Caucasian offenders (e.g., African American, Hispanic, and Indigenous offenders; Duwe & Clark, 2017; Gillis, 2002; Visher et al., 2011). For example, the unemployment rate of individuals with a criminal record is approximately 50% post-release, yet when separated by racial background, this unemployment rate is higher for non-Caucasian individuals than Caucasian individuals (e.g., 59% unemployment rate for African American offenders vs. 38% unemployment rate for Caucasian offenders; Nally et al., 2013).

Along with demographic variables, a number of other factors impact an offender’s ability to obtain employment once released. Researchers have found that offenders with a greater employment history prior to incarceration and connections to a prior or potential employer are more likely to be employed following release than offenders who were not employed prior to sentencing (AAltonen, 2016; Berg & Huebner, 2011). Several studies, for example, have found that individuals who have worked prior to incarceration are more successful at obtaining employment following incarceration than those without a work history and those with a more limited work history (AAltonen, 2016; Berg & Huebner, 2011). Individuals with a prior history of stable employment prior to incarceration who are released from correctional institutions report that their most successful strategy for obtaining post-release employment included returning to a previous employer (Visher, Debus, & Yahner, 2008). Yet, even after accounting for offenders’ past employment history, those with greater prosocial ties to family were found to be more successful at obtaining employment then those without prosocial ties to family (Berg & Huebner, 2011). In a Canadian sample of federal offenders, those with greater affective ties to employment at intake and those who have a greater history of specific employment skills (e.g., mechanics) were related to higher employment success post-release (Gillis, 2002).

In addition, the likelihood to reoffend as assessed by risk assessment tools and the length of the criminal record both influence an individual’s potential to find employment. For example, Canadian federal offenders with higher scores on two measures of risk at intake were less likely to be employed following release compared to those scoring lower on these risk measures (the Statistical Information on Recidivism score [SIR] and Risk/Need score; Gillis, 2002). Relatedly, in a large sample of released prisoners, a greater number of convictions and prison misconducts (Duwe & Clark, 2017), as well as greater presence of poor physical and mental health conditions (Visher et al., 2011), were associated with a lower likelihood of employment. In short, many individuals released from correctional institutions find the process of seeking and maintaining fulfilling employment to be a volatile one, with only about half reporting being happy with their pay at 2 and 8-months post-release (Visher et al., 2008).

Underemployment and Sources of Income Support

Despite the fact that about 50% of offenders report being employed following release, half of those employed offenders are classified as being marginally employed, meaning that the amount of income received annually is insufficient to support common living, familial, or personal need expenses (Nally et al., 2013). In addition, as previously mentioned, both women and non-Caucasian individuals tend to earn less than men and Caucasians (Bailey et al., 2017). For example, Nally and colleagues (2013) found that 59% of African Americans were marginally employed compared to 39% of Caucasian individuals. Given that sufficient income plays an important role in the successful reintegration of offenders, the aforementioned trends are concerning. Indeed, as the annual income of offenders increase, reoffending rates decrease (Nally et al., 2013; Webster et al., 2007).

Close to half of the individuals released from incarceration are unemployed (Visher et al., 2011) and, of those employed, close to half have reported incomes below the poverty line (Nally et al., 2013); thus, it is not surprising that a number of offenders report using government services to assist their income (AAltonen, 2016; Freudenberg et al., 2005; Harding, Wyse, Dobson, & Morenoff, 2011). Studies have found that public benefits and government supports (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, Supplemental Security Income for disability), followed by employment and the support of family and friends, are key resources utilized by offenders once they are released (Harding et al., 2011). Public benefits and government supports are especially important for individuals who do not have family and friends to rely on, as well as for lower income families that are unable to adequately support family members newly released from correctional institutions (Harding et al., 2011). With greater time passing post-release, individuals report relying less on family and friends (66% at 2 months to 48% at 8 months), and more on other sources of income, such as legal employment (30% at 2 months to 41% at 8 months) and informal employment (28% at 2 months to 47% at 8 months; Visher et al., 2008). Coinciding with gender differences commonly found for the employment rates of offenders (Gillis & Nafekh, 2005), women report receiving more income from family and friends and government programs (both 56%), than from formal employment (27%; Freudenberg et al., 2005).

Current Study

The current study examined the economic outcomes of a large cohort of Canadian federal offenders 14 years post-release from correctional institutions. We hypothesized that a large portion of released individuals would be unemployed and, of those who were employed, that a large portion would be underemployed. We also hypothesized that women, non-Caucasian individuals, and those scoring higher on measures of risk to reoffend would have disproportionately poorer employment outcomes than men, Caucasians, and those scoring lower on measures of risk to reoffend.



Participants included a cohort of 11,158 federal offenders admitted to Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) institutions between January 4th, 1999 and December 31st, 2001 (medianadmission year = 2000) who were released in the community and therefore able to file taxes in 2014 (i.e., not dead, deported, or incarcerated). On average, participants had lived 14 years in the community and were 47 years of age in 2014 following release from CSC institutions (see Table 1). Participants were sampled across Canada, with 30.6% of offenders admitted to the Prairie region, 23.5% of offenders admitted to Québec, 24.9% of offenders admitted to Ontario, 10.7% of offenders admitted to the Atlantic region, and 10.4% of offenders admitted to the Pacific region. Filing rates for the various characteristics is provided in the column ‘Filers’. The cohort of released CSC Canadian federal offenders had a filing rate of 52.3% (5,835/11,158), with women filing at a higher rate (61.3%; 352/574) than men (51.8%; 5,483/10,584). In 2014, the filing rate among released CSC Canadian federal offenders (51.8%-61.3%) was lower than the filing rate among the general Canadian population of individuals 25 years of age or older (88%; Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 11-10-004-01). Specifically, in 2014, 33% of Canadians aged 25 to 44 years of age, 35% of Canadians aged 45 to 64 years of age, and 20% of those aged 65 years or older filed taxes (Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 11-10-004-01). Appendix B provides additional characteristics of tax filers and predictors separately for men and women. On average, tax filers did not declare any children under the age of 12 (M =0.2; SD = 0.7, N = 5,835), with only 10.8% declaring a child under the age of 18 on their taxes. On risk assessment tools measuring likelihood of reoffending, filers scored moderate (37.2%, n = 2,164) to high (50.8%, n = 2,959) on the Dynamic Factor Assessment at admission, had an average of 12.6 criminal convictions (SD = 7.5, n = 5,819), and had an average SIR-R1 score of 0.7 (SD = 10.7; ranged from -25 to 28; note that lower scores indicating higher risk to reoffend).


Exclusion Criteria

Participants were excluded if they (1) did not have an Finger Print System (FPS) number or a Sentence ID, (2) if their sentence was overturned, squashed, or pardoned, (3) if they received provincial sentences, (4) if their status in 2014-2015 was deceased, deported, suspended, Temporary Detention (TD), Unlawfully at large (UAL), or incarcerated, and (5) if they were under the age of 18 at the time of admission.

Data Linkage with Statistics Canada

A database of identifying information of the CSC cohort was securely transmitted to Statistics Canada. These data were linked with the 2014 Statistics Canada’s tax registry, which was the most recent year available (record linkage #090-2016).


Demographic Characteristics

Several demographic characteristics (i.e., age at the time of admission, gender, race, marital status at admission, region) were retrieved from CSC databases (for more information see Table 1B). Provinces and territories that denote criminal offence history as a status that should not be discriminated against for employment include (6): British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Yukon. Provinces and territories that denote pardoned and/or suspended criminal offence history only as a status that should not be discriminated against for employment include (2): Northwest Territories and NunavutNote 3. Provinces and territories that do not include criminal offence history as a status that should not be discriminated against for employment include (5): Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan (see Appendix A). Demographic information was also retrieved from the 2014 Statistics Canada’s tax registry (marital status at filing). In addition to typical marital status definitions (i.e., married, common-law, widowed, divorce, separated and single), Statistics Canada defines other categories of marital status as Spouse families (i.e., married couple living in the same dwelling, with or without children), Common-law families (i.e., common-law couple living in the same dwelling, with or without children), Lone-parent families (i.e., family with only one parent, male or female, and at least one child), and Non-family persons (i.e., not part of a census family, couple family or lone-parent family).

Tax Information
Information obtained on the filing taxes, labour participation rates, employment income, and social assistance payments were retrieved from the 2014 Statistics Canada’s tax registry. Additional CANSIM tables were retrieved from Statistics Canada’s website to provide comparisons between released CSC Canadian federal offenders and the general Canadian population. Labour participation rates are calculated by including the count of persons with labour income, which is given as a percentage of total tax filers and dependents in the area.

Dynamic Need Tool
The Dynamic Factors Identification and Analysis – Revised (DFIA-R) (Brown & Motiuk, 2005) is completed by parole officers as part of the Offender Intake Assessment process. The tool measures dynamic risk among male and female offenders, with the goal of identifying areas of criminogenic need. It is comprised of 100 indicators (scored as “yes” or “no”) across the following seven domains: (1) personal/emotional, (2) substance abuse, (3) associates, (4) attitudes, (5) marital/family, (6) community functioning, and (7) employment/education. In respect to each domain, offenders are assessed in terms of their level of need and the relevance of the items to their criminal offending. In addition to a rating on each indicator, offenders receive an overall dynamic need rating based on the parole officer’s professional judgement. Domain rating levels include: (1) no need for improvement, (2) low need for improvement, (3) asset to community adjustment (not applicable for substance abuse or personal/emotional domains), (4) moderate need for improvement, and (5) high need for improvement. For Indigenous offenders, Aboriginal Social History is taken into account in relation to each contributing dynamic factor. Domain ratings have been found to predict revocations of conditional release (Stewart, Wardrop, Wilton, Thompson, Derkzen & Motiuk, 2017).

The SIR-R1 (Nafekh & Motiuk, 2002) is a 15-item evaluation tool created to predict general reoffending within 3 years after release among male, non-Aboriginal offenders. The SIR-R1 is a slightly modified version of the General Statistical Information on Recidivism (GSIR; Nuffield, 1982). The SIR-R1 combines demographic and criminal history characteristics to produce a total score ranging from −30 to 27 (higher scores are indicative of lower risk), which can then be classified into one of five risk categories (very low to very high). Each risk category is associated with a probability rating for recidivism. Meta-analytic reviews have demonstrated that the earlier version of the SIR (Nuffield, 1982) is moderately predictive of violent (e.g., d = 0.81; Campbell, French, & Gendreau, 2009; Yang, Wong, & Coid, 2010) and sexual recidivism (e.g., d = 0.64; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009). It is not scored on women or Indigenous offenders in CSC.

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