Prison watchdog points to failures in offender rehabilitation
Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada, and Ms. Marie-France Kingsley, Director of Investigations hold a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, to discuss issues related to Canada's correctional system. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, October 8, 2014 6:57PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 8, 2014 10:25PM EDT
Inmates are being released without identification and other basic needs, according to Canada’s correctional watchdog, who released another report Wednesday critical of the Harper government’s prison system.
In a report Wednesday, federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers highlighted several concerns about Canada’s prison system, as well as the government’s failure to respond to previous recommendations.
In the annual report tabled in Parliament Wednesday, Sapers focused on the Correctional Service of Canada’s lack of attention to the timely and safe release of offenders. In an afternoon press conference, he said finding a job is the biggest barrier facing offenders once they re-enter the community.
“Releasing an offender from prison to the community with very little savings, limited skills or options for employment and without a comprehensive, integrated plan to meet unresolved mental health or addiction issues undermines their chances for success,” said Sapers, who is Canada’s correctional investigator.
He said the CSC has a dual mandate of both ensuring the secure custody of offenders in the prison system and facilitating their proper rehabilitation and release.
Despite the CSC’s two obligations, Sapers said only five per cent of the nearly $2.4 billion in spending is allocated to institutional and community programs for reintegration.
“If 95 per cent of your budget is being spent on one of those mandates, it just doesn’t leave very much for the other,” he said.
Too few released on parole
Sapers also noted a need for placing offenders on parole, rather than waiting for their statutory release.
Statutory release from prison -- which happens to 70 per cent of the population -- occurs when an offender has served two-thirds of a sentence without being released on parole.
Research shows those released on parole are less likely to re-offend than those out on statutory release, Sapers said, noting it was more likely for a dangerous offender to be denied parole.
“But this is where it gets a little bit contradictory,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to put your highest risk offenders out into the community with the shortest period of supervision and support.”
Sapers acknowledged the various stresses on the system -- including a 17-per-cent increase in the prison population over the past six years -- but he emphasized that under the current model, some of the offenders with the highest risk and needs are getting the least amount of support if they aren’t getting a chance at parole.
“That’s not the way it was designed to work.”
Making ‘baby steps’
Although he said he has met with executives from the CSC, Sapers said getting a response to his office’s recommendations was “challenging.” Sapers added, though, he was confident the government was reading his reports and heeding some of the recommendations.
“I’ve been in this business for a while, and you have to accept baby steps as progress.”
Still, he said, he’s waiting on a response from some of last year’s recommendations, as well as any sort of action stemming from a year-old report about women who self-injure.
“What I say to the government is it’s time that we had a response,” he said. “It’s time that we knew what steps were being taken, because these issues address the ability to prevent deaths in custody. It’s very important.”
Read the full Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator here, as well as a separate report titled Overcoming Barriers to Reintegration, which outlines problems with the country’s community correctional centres.