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ARCHIVED - Public Safety at Risk Without Targeted Investments in Federal Corrections

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Mental health initiatives, timely offender programs, and implementing measures to address institutional violence and death must be priorities

Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada 2006-2007

OTTAWA, October 25, 2007 - Too many offenders spend their time in prison without getting the correctional programs they need. The result is ongoing despair and violence on the inside and increased risk of individuals re-offending once released. According to the Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, Canada's Corrections Ombudsman, the federal prison system, hampered by increasingly complex demands, has presented limited signs of progress in key areas of concern that have public safety implications.

The Correctional Investigator's Annual Report, released today, identified 12 barriers to public safety and made specific recommendations to the Correctional Service of Canada and the Minister of Public Safety. "Delays in delivery of safe reintegration programs, staff training and shortcomings in responses to serious incidents are undermining rehabilitation and risking lives" says Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers. "New resources may be needed in addition to ensuring priorities are addressed within existing budgets."

Seven months after receiving a disturbing report from the Correctional Investigator that found that some prisoners' deaths could have been averted, the Correctional Service's performance remains largely unchanged. "For two years in a row, I made specific recommendations to the Correctional Service to immediately improve its investigative process and implement consistent corrective action to ensure similar situations do not repeat themselves. The Correctional Service must do everything possible to prevent the loss of human lives" says Mr. Sapers.

The study, submitted to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in February 2007, reviewed all reported deaths in Canadian penitentiaries due to factors other than natural causes between 2001 and 2005. The Deaths in Custody Study examined 82 suicides, homicides and accidental deaths of prisoners while in the care of the Correctional Service during the five year period.

The study concluded that "without a comprehensive intake assessment and adequate mental health services, care and support, some offenders will continue to fall through the cracks." Mr. Sapers is troubled by the lack of tangible progress in the delivery of mental health services. "Despite some short-term funding and a re-organization, little has changed for mentally-ill offenders. The level of mental health services has not significantly improved, and front-line institutional staff have yet to receive training to appropriately respond to mental health-related behaviour" he says.

The Annual Report also calls upon the Correctional Service to make significant and concrete progress in the following areas: 1) increasing delays related to the Correctional Service's ability to provide psychological or psychiatric assessments and prescribed programs before an offender's scheduled parole hearing dates; 2) implementing the new Aboriginal Strategic Plan to improve the situation of Aboriginal offenders and narrow the gap in correctional outcomes between Aboriginal and other offenders; 3) increase the number of accredited health care facilities, starting with the last remaining regional treatment centre that continues to operate without accreditation; and, 4) bringing the Correctional Service's internal grievance procedure into compliance with existing law and policy, especially at the Commissioner's level.

"I know the Correctional Service can do better. Today I call upon the Commissioner and the Minister to provide adequate resources, either through reallocation or new funding, to enable the Service to meet its dual roles of ensuring a safe, secure correctional environment and helping offenders safely reintegrate into our communities" concludes Mr. Sapers.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by an Act of Parliament to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. This work includes ensuring that systemic areas of concern are identified and brought to the attention of those responsible for the operations of our federal correctional system. The latest Annual Report 2006/07 is on the Correctional Investigator's Website at www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

For further information:

Ivan Zinger, LL.B., Ph.D.
Director of Policy and Senior Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator
(613) 990-2690