Recommendations for Changes to Inmate Conditions in Canada

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about inmate conditions in Canada, and are now revisiting this topic in light of the recent annual report by Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger, submitted in Parliament on October 31, 2017.

Mr. Zinger visited numerous correctional institutions to observe and investigate the current conditions. His report outlines in detail his observations and numerous recommendations, a few of which we will discuss below.

NO THERAPEUTIC TREATMENT FACILITIES FOR FEMALE FEDERAL INMATES

Female offenders were found to be the fastest growing population in Canadian correctional facilities. Many of these inmates are struggling with serious mental illness, some of whom partake in self-injurious or suicidal behaviour.

Unfortunately there are no stand-alone treatment facilities for federal female inmates in Canada. In an emergency situation, some mentally ill women are being transferred to an all-male treatment centre to receive the help that they need. Mr. Zinger stated, “It’s just unacceptable. You do not put a woman in an all-male institution, completely isolated in segregation-like conditions.” Mr. Zinger is recommending that in cases of complex or significant mental illness, female inmates should be placed in external psychiatric hospitals.

The Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”) responded to Mr. Zinger’s comments by stating that it proposes to put into practice that men’s treatment facilities only be used to handle mentally ill women “in emergency circumstances” and only for short periods of time. The CSC advised that it has an external expert looking into women’s mental health needs.

PROBLEMATIC USE OF SEGREGATION

The number of inmates placed in solitary confinement and the length of their stays have decreased significantly; however, Mr. Zinger reported that the conditions of segregation remain problematic. According to Mr. Zinger’s observations, some solitary confinement cells lack appropriate ventilation, windows, natural light, and he found that the outdoor segregation “yards” were bare concrete pens topped with razor wire.

There is a bill currently making its way through Parliament to address these types of issues entitled Bill C-56 An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act. This proposed legislation includes a 15-day reasonable limit on segregation stays and includes crucial improvements to conditions of confinement in segregation. Mr. Zinger promises to participate in the review process of this bill.

INABILITY TO MANAGE SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS

The Correctional Investigator found that the use of physical restraints, clinical seclusion, suicide watch, and segregation to manage people with serious psychological difficulties remains problematic. Placing suicidal or distressed people in observation cells that minimally provide for the necessities of life fails to recognize that confinement of this nature may promote psychological distress.

Mr. Zinger recommends that CSC review its policies and practices for the treatment of prisoners, specifically related to health care services, solitary confinement, and instruments of constraint. Furthermore, it is suggested that external psychiatric hospital placements be utilized in cases of complex or significant mental illness.

PRISON FOOD

Prison food was found to be one of the factors that triggered the Saskatchewan Penitentiary riot in December 2016. One inmate was killed and eight others were injured. Approximately 200 medium security prisoners took part in the riot, which reportedly caused $3.6 million in damage.

Expenditures for food in Canadian prisons has been decreasing. The daily cost for food apportioned to each inmate is specified at $5.41. Mr. Zinger’s report noted that there are many complaints related to portion size, quality, selection, and substitution of food items. Mr. Zinger recommends that an external audit and evaluation of CSC food services be conducted and that the inmates concerns regarding food services be heard and addressed. The audit should include comparison of ration and per diem meal costs, prior to and after introduction of the food services modernization initiative.

RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING TATTOOING

Tattooing is a banned practice in federal institutions. However, tattooing continues to occur behind bars, resulting in sharing and reusing unsterile homemade tattooing equipment. Prohibited tattooing has been associated with higher rates of infections, including Hepatitis C and HIV. There is also the risk of infecting corrections staff when they come in contact with used needles as there is no safe means for disposal.

Mr. Zinger recommends that CSC reintroduce safe tattooing as a national program in federal institutions. This program would provide important employment opportunities for inmates while incarcerated and marketable skills upon release into the community. More importantly, this program could minimize the risk of transmission of infectious diseases.

We will continue to follow developments in this matter and blog about updates as they become available.

At Affleck & Barrison LLP in Oshawaour firm and its predecessors have been protecting client rights since 1992. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help. Call us at 905-404-1947 or contact us online for a free consultation.