In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Correctional Investigator Calls for More Program Funding in Annual Report

Prison system needs cash infusion to combat violence and despair: ombudsman
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Canada's prison system is in dire need of federal cash to address problems that are increasing despair and violence among inmates and raising their risk of reoffending once released, the federal corrections ombudsman says.

In his annual report released Thursday, Howard Sapers identifies 12 barriers to public safety in the prison system, most of which will require a hefty infusion of federal money to remedy.

In particular, Sapers says, too many offenders are spending time in prison without access to the programs they need to reintegrate into society.

As well, staff are not adequately trained to deal with a prison population that is becoming increasingly difficult to manage, including more inmates with histories of excessive violence and affiliations with organized crime or gangs, more inmates suffering from infectious diseases and mental illness and a disproportionate aboriginal component with unique cultural needs.

"Delays in delivery of safe reintegration programs, staff training and shortcomings in responses to serious incidents are undermining rehabilitation and risking lives," Sapers says.

"The Correctional Service requires significant new, permanent funding to fully discharge its public safety mandate . . . (It) can no longer be expected to do more with less."

Correctional Service Canada is currently responsible for 21,695 offenders and has an annual budget of $1.8 billion. Sapers does not specify how much more is needed.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said funding was increased in the last federal budget for problem areas like mental health services. A panel of experts is currently reviewing the correctional system and Day said he'll wait for its recommendations, expected within a few weeks, before deciding how much more money may be required.

Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal public safety critic, said it's time for the government "to put their money where their mouth is."

Dosanjh noted that the Tories have introduced legislation aimed at throwing more dangerous offenders in prison and keeping them there longer. If the prison system is already overburdened and underfunded, Dosanjh questioned how it will cope once the Tory reforms are implemented.

In his report, Sapers acknowledges Ottawa's recent commitment to spend $21 million over two years on mental health services in prisons. But he says that "is only a small fraction of what is required to deal with this growing crisis."

He says many staff training sessions were cancelled or postponed over the past year for budgetary reasons, leaving prison employees ill-equipped to deal with a host of issues such as the use of force and how to respond to behaviour related to mental illness.

As well, Sapers concludes that "urgent action" is needed to implement a comprehensive strategy for dealing fairly with aboriginal inmates, who make up 19 per cent of the prison population even though they account for less than three per cent of the Canadian population overall.

Aboriginal inmates are far more likely than non-aboriginal offenders to be housed in maximum security facilities or placed in segregation and they're more likely to serve longer portions of their sentences before being released. All of which, Sapers says, limits their access to rehabilitation programs and increases the risk that they'll reoffend.

Correctional Investigators 2006-7 Report
Correctional Investigators Annual Report: Press Release