The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is in a state of change, prompted by the Government’s avowed mandate to “get tough on crime”.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act, S.C. 2012, c.1, which re-instated initiatives from previous sessions of Parliament, achieved Royal Assent onMarch 13, 2012 . Other legislation furthers the Government’s agenda, such as the proposed Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, which extends the imprisonment of certain cases of mentally ill accused.
This legislation, combined with statutes which deny early parole to non-violent offenders and eliminate the “faint hope clause” for prisoners serving life sentences  will burden the Canadian penitentiary system by adding significantly to the number of incarcerated offenders. At the same time little is being done to enhance resources to promote successful parole applications or effective reintegration of released prisoners.
As I read it, a near consensus exists among independent practitioners and policy experts that the current trend is ill conceived and wasteful. There is little evidence that the legislation will promote the fundamental correctional goals of humane custody and timely release with adequate support in the community.
It is safe to conclude that CSC management and staff will be over-burdened and will face severe challenges in addressing the principles of good corrections. For prisoners, the challenge will be even greater. They will have to use internal procedures effectively to access needed services and minimize the effects of over-crowding. They will have to know how to advocate for themselves on their path to release and reintegration in the community. Effective use of internal mechanisms, such as the Complaints and Grievance process, Access to Information and Privacy mechanisms and of the Courts and various administrative tribunals, where necessary, will be essential.
Prisoners in provincial institutions, who already experience more restrictive environments and have shorter time frames to address problems, will face even greater challenges in navigating the system both before and after release.
In my work as Legal counsel to the Correctional Investigator and later as Director of the CSC ATIP and the Offender Redress systems, it became clear to me that prisoners often lacked basic knowledge and skills to make their case and to influence CSC and Parole Board of Canada decisions. In the coming weeks, I will be posting advice on this site to assist prisoners in addressing their own problems. As well, I am available to provide assistance in all facets of corrections issues.