Sunday, November 07, 2010

2009-2010 Annual Report of Correctional Investigator: Prisons Overcrowded, Increasingly Violent

The Office of the Correctional Investigator tabled its 2009-2010 annual report in the Canadian Parliament on Friday.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by Part III of the federal Corrections and Conditional Release Act as an Ombudsman for federal offenders. The primary function of the Office is to investigate and bring resolution to individual offender complaints. The current Investigator is Mr. Howard Sapers.

In the report, Sapers draws attention to a variety of problems in the federal correctional system:
  • overcrowded prisons with inadequate and deteriorating physical infrastructures
  • offender populations that include a large number of mentally ill inmates
  • a more complex inmate profile that includes histories of gang membership, substance abuse and chronic illness
In particular, Sapers writes that the overcrowding problem is undermining efforts to rehabilitate prisoners and help them reintegrate into society after their release.

He also finds that there is an increasing trend toward a more punitive approach to incarceration:
  • there is less interaction between prisoners and front-line staff and an increased use of physical restraints and segregation
  • there is a rise in reported use of force incidents, including the use of inflammatory and chemical agents, deployment of Emergency Response Teams, and the display and pointing of firearms
  • the growing number of offenders in federal prisons is quickly surpassing capacity. Overcrowding pressures have led to a 50% increase in double-bunking over the past five years where two inmates are living in a cell designed for one. This leads to greater tension, more fights and risks to both prisoners and staff
  • deteriorating and inadequate physical infrastructures
More commentary:
  • Prisons plagued by overcrowding, poor conditions, ombudsman reports (Globe and Mail, November 5, 2010): "The ombudsman for federal prisoners says the effects of harsher sentencing laws brought in by the Conservative government are being felt in overcrowded prisons, where interaction between staff and inmates is becoming increasingly rare and rehabilitation is undermined (...) But a spokesman for Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister, said the government has taken steps to help improve the lot of prisoners. 'For instance, our government has invested more than $50-million in funding to the Correctional Service of Canada for mental health over the past five years,' said Chris McClusky. 'CSC has both increased access to services for inmates and training for staff so that they can recognize mental health issues. These are all resources that did not exist before.' In addition, he said, the government has provided approximately $2-billion over five years to increase capacity within existing prisons. "
  • Prison ombud urges mental health focus (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, November 5, 2010): "Canada's corrections system needs to step up its recruitment of mental health professionals, says a new report released Friday by Canada's prison ombudsman. Corrections Canada is facing a 20 per cent vacancy rate in psychology-related jobs, the report said, although one in four new federal inmates has some form of mental illness."
  • Prison watchdog warns of overcrowding (Toronto Star, November 5, 2010): "The federal prison ombudsman says that overcrowded penitentiaries badly in need of repair are creating a tense and frustrating atmosphere that increases the risk of violence and hamper the rehabilitation of inmates (...) Sapers noted the prison population has been climbing since changes to criminal law made a higher number of crimes subject to mandatory minimum sentences (...) Sapers told reporters that refurbishing existing infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of inmates — as the Conservative government has committed to doing — is not necessarily the answer. 'There is no jurisdiction that has ever successfully built its way into a crime-free society,' Sapers said, adding that if there was an academically sound relation between increased prison terms and lower crime rates then the United States would have much less crime than it does."
  • Canadian prisons lacking rehabilitation programs: watchdog (National Post, November 5, 2010): "A new report from Canada’s prison watchdog paints a bleak picture of life inside federal penitentiaries, which he says are overcrowded, increasingly violent and have fewer rehabilitation programs on offer, with less than one in four offenders participating on any given day."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 5:07 pm

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