Some quasi-tangible promises from Minister Goodale

The 2015-2016 Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator of Canada (“the CI”) ( the federal ombudsman for offenders) includes, as usual, a number of important and incisive recommendations. [1]

Also as usual, the Report has been given almost negligible press coverage, reflecting the lack of interest and the simplistic attitudes of Canadians on corrections – and the willingness of politicians to back-burner the topic until the next riot.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) responded to the Annual Report with its usual parade of “developing a strategy..”, “…continu[ing] to explore evidence-based interventions..” and the like, or simply supporting the status quo.[2]

In two areas, though, the Minister has taken up CI issues, and made relatively actionable undertakings that reflect the Department’s mandate to review the policy and legislation in place and make needed changes.[3]

Provision of treatment to inmates with mental conditions.

My experience is that a significant number of inmates with potentially-treatable mental conditions are simply not provided effective, often obvious, treatment because of inadequate health service budgeting and  because security decisions place mentally-ill offenders in custodial situations where care is not available.

For the most part, consideration of mental health care needs by CSC focuses on whether inmates can be safely housed and controlled without incident, rather than whether they are being properly diagnosed and treated.

Much of the Minister’s reply mouths the broad and tenuous measures stated in the CSC reply to the Annual Report but the Minister does at least make one decision that can be monitored for compliance in a measureable fashion:

“The Service is exploring the feasibility of agreements with community partners and provinces/territories for the provision of care to offenders with significant mental illnesses.  Where agreements do not yet exist, the Minister of Public Safety has directed Department officials to keep him apprised regarding the progress of these matters”

Just what is meant by “significant mental illnesses” is problematic and the reply does not set any time-table or clearly delineate where it will be examining the existence of agreements.

That said, the approach does represent a significant departure in the Service’s health care approach. It envisages the possibility of placing patients, regardless of their status as prisoners, in locations where they can receive effective treatment.

It is up to advocates, and one hopes, the new CI, to monitor this closely, to identify patients in need, to point out potential programs and to lobby for case-by-case, tangible solutions.

This opportunity for focus on specific needs in specific cases, rather than pious hopes, is the key.

Inmate pay and allowances

Here the Minister responded to OCI conclusions that CSC draconian cuts in disposable allowance of inmates have severely impeded their purchase power – and accordingly, in my view, their ability to meet family needs and to prepare for release.

The entire Ministerial response bears repeating”

“Our Government has established a mandate to review changes in our criminal justice system over the past decade.  Recognizing the important role that inmate payment and allowance plays in encouraging offenders to participate in program assignments and providing financial assistance to offenders to facilitate their reintegration into the community, the Minister of Public Safety has asked CSC to undertake a review of the inmate payment/allowance system in federal corrections.  This review will include an assessment of the changes implemented in 2014 that required offenders to assume a greater proportion of the costs of their food and accommodation in order to determine whether or not the existing system is achieving its intended results and whether the current inmate pay/allowance system is aligned with the objectives of the criminal justice system.  The Service will provide the Minister of Public Safety with a copy of this report, including recommended next steps, by the end of December 2017.” [my emphasis]

[Being somewhat jaded, based on years of dealing with CSC and Ministers, I find it interesting that the report will be required only after the judicial review of the 2013 “cuts” to inmate allowances has been completed. On the other hand, it is to be hoped that the Court decision ( even if negative) will bolster conclusions in favour of restoring fairness to offender allowances.]

The CI report clearly outlines the two major gaps that exist in the pay system.

First the level of allowance provided to inmates, which was supposed to be based on minimum wages in the community, has not changed in more than 30 years despite inflation.

Second the 2013 cuts diminish meager allowances by a further 22%.

From a procedural perspective, to me it is clear that the required review should involve consultation of inmates under s.74 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act []:

 The Service shall provide inmates with the opportunity to contribute to decisions of the Service affecting the inmate population as a whole, or affecting a group within the inmate population, except decisions relating to security matters.

If you know somebody “inside” now is the time to tell them to make their views known on how the pay cuts, and the effects that the level of allowances has had on their lives.

As well, you should write to the Commissioner of Corrections and ask him when you and inmates will be consulted on the changes. Also, feel free to offer your own opinion about inmate allowances.

[1] http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/annrpt/annrpt20152016-eng.aspx#s5

[2] http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/publications/005007-2806-eng.shtml

[3] https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/crrctns/oci-rspns-2015-2016-en.aspx

[4]S.C. 1992, c.20

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