Community Safety and Correctional Services is the largest direct service ministry in Ontario, with 17,000 employees, including the Ontario Provincial Police and Correctional Services. Deborah Newman has headed it since 2005. As of January 7, 2008, a second deputy minister (Jay Hope) was added with responsibility for emergency planning and management, the coroner’s office, and the fire marshal’s office; Newman retains the Ontario Provincial Police, Correctional Services, the Centre of Forensic Sciences, the oversight of municipal police, counter-terrorism, criminal intelligence, private investigators and security guards, and animal welfare. They will be working collaboratively.
Newman holds a master’s degree in criminology from the University of Ottawa and rose through the ranks, starting as a probation officer in Alberta. Most of her career has been in correctional services, first in Alberta and, since 1987, in Ontario serving in a variety of positions including superintendent of a correctional institute, regional director, and assistant deputy minister of youth justice services. Most recently, her career has encompassed the broader field of community safety as deputy minister.
She is widely recognized for her leadership skills, and received the Amethyst Award, Ontario’s premier honour for achievement, in 2006, as part of the Youth Justice Transformation Team.
She spoke with Deanna Natalizio and Paul Crookall.
What is your mandate, and how do you manage this complex and large ministry?
We are the ministry that never sleeps. Although diverse, we are unified through the common mission of serving all of Ontario’s diverse communities to keep our province safe. The services Ontarians rely on us to perform, every day, touch on virtually every aspect of people’s safety. We do that through developing and implementing community safety strategies.
An important approach is partnerships, with other ministries in Ontario, with other governments, with the private sector and non-profits. For example, we partner with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, collaborating on mental health issues, to try to keep mentally ill offenders out of the correctional system and get them into treatment where they belong.
We are committed to our vision and we encourage two-way feedback with staff. For example, last year I held dialogue sessions in nine locations involving 1,000 staff. We spoke together about vision, values, priorities, seeking their ideas on both operational issues and strategic direction, from day-to-day to long-term. For example, on the issue of keeping the mentally ill out of the corrections system, we received many good ideas on building community support and making investments.
We also use management tools that further engage staff and build on their ideas and soon we’ll be launching staff consultation on our first integrated strategic plan. This includes an environmental scan we had done. That scan included international comparisons. To be effective, and as relevant as we can, we have to keep our eye on the horizon. In our line of work, there’s a great danger of being consumed by the issues and crisis of the day. It is critically important to find the balance between the daily demands of a large operation and the future.
Our strategy includes building a healthy, respectful, inclusive workplace that is representative of the communities we serve. We have a great senior management team. We support one another whether it’s through organizational effectiveness support or policy and strategic planning. Advances in technology have helped – although the BlackBerry is both a boon and the bane of my existence!
How to manage corrections and treat offenders is a subject of much popular and political discussion. Ontario seems, over the decades, to have moved from one approach to another.
The different historical approaches share the objective of protecting society. In my view, protection of the community is achieved through secure institutions, effective rehabilitation programs, and effective community supervision. Earlier this decade, we renewed our physical infrastructure, closing several facilities, some of which pre-dated Confederation. We opened six modern, technologically advanced, state-of-the-art facilities. We tried out new approaches, including public-private partnerships and partnering (for example, St. Lawrence Valley Correctional Treatment Centre in Brockville with the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group). Our current government is supportive of initiatives that are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Programs and reduction of recidivism is a cornerstone of the approach. St. Lawrence Valley, the Ontario Correctional Institute and the Northern Treatment Centre provide intensive rehabilitation programs, and there are core rehabilitation programs in all 31 institutions. Programs are being revitalized and are making a considerable difference.
For Leadership I use a collaborative approach. I stress teamwork – while remaining prepared to make the key decisions that leaders need to make. I think it’s important to have a clear, compelling vision, which is shared, and provide staff with the support and leadership they need to deliver results. Employee engagement and input is crucial.
I believe in leadership that is values-based and accountable. Beyond the specific mandate, we are all responsible for building public trust. I try to do that through being ethical, being a role model, treating people fairly while holding them accountable. I try to make sure they have everything they need to perform effectively, give them feedback, and support them.
I believe that being compassionate is also a critical quality of an effective leader.
That connects with our recent conversations with young professionals who suggest one of the things they are most concerned about is “deadwood” – fellow staff who just aren’t pulling their weight.
“Deadwood” is not acceptable. We are hired and paid to do a job and deliver results. People need to understand they all contribute to the mandate of the organization. I don’t believe in people just coasting. When you are part of a team, you have to deliver.
It also raises the question of how do you learn? How do you get better at what you do, since the job is changing so rapidly, the skills of yesterday often aren’t sufficient for today?
Learning is an ongoing process, whether you are a new employee or the deputy minister. I do it mostly through interaction with others, by watching people I respect, by taking a diversity of career opportunities. I also set goals, determining what my next challenge, or next job, will be. Then I determine what skills will be needed to meet that challenge, determine what is needed to fill the gaps in my knowledge, and set out to address them.
There is “life learning,” through experience, and I am humbled by it. And there is professional learning. Formally, I took the Queen’s University Executive Program, which was very useful. But I also learn from my family, from being attentive to the daily opportunities to learn. You learn from watching people you respect, and I have been blessed with great colleagues and mentors.
Work/life balance has been one of the most challenging aspects of my career. But it is needed to keep perspective. I work at it by being very organized, and by setting clear priorities for both work and my pers