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ARCHIVED - 35th Annual Report Highlights Benefits and Challenges of the Federal Prison Ombudsman: A History of Contributions to Public Safety

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OTTAWA, February 13, 2009 – Today, the 35th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (2007-08) was tabled before Parliament. In the last 35 years, the Office has contributed significantly to the establishment of an open, transparent and accountable federal correctional system.  In his report, Mr. Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada, not only recounts the history of his office, but also calls for necessary reforms in contemporary correctional practices.

Over its 35-year history, the Office has promoted accountability through its review of more than 140,000 offender inquiries and complaints. With many challenges over the years, the Correctional Service of Canada has made significant improvements on achieving its twin goals of effective corrections and public safety. "I am proud that my Office has contributed to improvements in the system, but there is still much to be achieved" said Mr. Sapers. "I am convinced that when the Correctional Service pays adequate attention to offender concerns, its effectiveness vastly improves, staff and inmates co-exist in a safer environment, and the public is best served" added Mr. Sapers.

The Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator contains several themes, including:

  • Ombudsman offices need to be independent. Independence from both the agency subject to its oversight and the Minister responsible is a fundamental component of an effective ombudsman office.
  • Harsh conditions and treatment of prisoners, as well as the denial of access to effective internal and external complaint mechanisms, can lead to violence.
  • Correctional culture is strong and difficult to change. Outside intervention is often not embraced, but necessary to make significant progress.
  • Independent oversight and external decision-making are essential in instances where prisoners' fundamental rights are at stake—for example, in disciplinary and segregation decisions.
  • The Correctional Service has been inconsistent in applying lessons learned from serious incidents, including deaths in custody, and ensuring that corrective action is implemented across the country and over time.

This year's Annual Report makes 12 recommendations, and calls upon the Correctional Service of Canada to:

  • Improve its ability to provide psychological or psychiatric assessments and prescribed programs before an offender's scheduled parole hearing dates.
  • Convene timely investigations and follow-up action into incidents of serious injuries or deaths of inmates.
  • Review its governance structure and resources allocated to ensure timely implementation of its Strategic Plans for Aboriginal Corrections, and monitor progress on key correctional performance indicators.
  • Train all front-line staff to appropriately deal with mentally ill offenders.

In addition, the Report calls upon the Minister of Public Safety to:

  • Re-establish the National Aboriginal Advisory Committee.
  • Secure adequate funding for the implementation of the Correctional Service's Mental Health Strategy.
  • Direct the Correctional Service to meet its legislative responsibility to “expeditiously” process offender grievances at the Commissioner's level.
  • Propose that the Office of the Correctional Investigator report directly to Parliament.

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 addressed. To access all of the findings and recommendations contained in this year's Annual Report, as well as the Correctional Service of Canada's response to it, please visit www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

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For further information:

Ivan Zinger, LL.B., Ph.D.
Executive Director and General Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator
Tel: (613) 990-2690