ARCHIVED - Correctional Service of Canada's Response to Ashley Smith Report Fails to Accept Urgent Need for Enhanced Accountability Measures to Prevent Future Deaths in Custody

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Improved senior management oversight, external monitoring and better integration of security and clinical interventions required

OTTAWA, September 11, 2009 - Despite a long list of actions by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in its Response to recent deaths in custody, the agency's focus on process rather than progress makes the continued likelihood of preventable deaths in custody unacceptably high, says the Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers.

The federal ombudsman's Preliminary Assessment of CSC's Response to his 2007 Deaths in Custody Study and A Preventable Death: Report into the Death of Ashley Smith, as well as its own National Board of Investigation into Smith's death, found recommendations at the very core of accountability and governance within federal corrections continue to be rejected by the Service.

Specific problems in the CSC Response include: a continuing refusal to provide direct oversight and responsibility for federal women's corrections at the national level; a continuing failure to provide external monitoring of segregation of mentally ill offenders; and a continuing dismissal of the need to ensure independent representation of a mental health professional on national boards of investigation involving offender suicides and incidents of serious or chronic self-injury.

The Correctional Investigator notes that security practices continue to trump clinical needs in the care and custody of offenders with mental health problems. Treatment is at times withdrawn or withheld as a result of "behavioural" issues that are typically met with a security response, such as segregation or use of force interventions. For example, despite her well documented mental health problems, Ashley Smith was immediately placed on segregation status and maintained there for her entire 11 ½ months in Correction Canada's custody, depriving her of the most basic human interaction. The Service cites the construction of secure interview rooms in the women's facilities as a positive development in its Response despite the fact that these facilities prohibit human contact of the kind that mentally ill offenders so often desperately seek.

The Correctional Investigator's Initial Assessment is also critical of CSC's failure to adequately integrate, implement and communicate corrective actions across different sectors of activity and intervention, namely security, health care, case management, programs, and psychological treatment. This ongoing "silo" approach too often results in conflicting priorities, poor care and treatment of inmates with serious mental health problems, inadequate access to rehabilitation programs and ultimately compromises chances for the successful reintegration of offenders to society.

In releasing his Initial Assessment, Sapers noted, "Canadians have a contract with CSC.  As the Service's own Mission states 'respecting the rule of law, (it) contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control'. In return for this responsibility, the Service agrees to respect the laws under which it is expected to operate. The CSC must be prepared to subject its actions to external scrutiny and to be held accountable at the highest levels of management."

"The ball's now back in CSC's court," said Sapers. "Before I issue my next report this December, I'm asking the Service to provide a fuller and more integrated response that addresses urgent accountability and governance deficiencies."

In his report on the death of Ashley Smith, the Correctional Investigator found many of the actions and decisions taken by the CSC – at the individual, institutional, regional and national levels – were non-compliant with the law and the Service's own policies.  The violations included inappropriate use of institutional transfers, administrative segregation, and interventions involving force. As well, Smith did not receive adequate mental health services and staff failed to respond appropriately to her behaviour that often culminated in medical emergencies.

In 2008, the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) released A Failure to Respond, a report on the death of another federal inmate. In 2007, the OCI released its Deaths in Custody Study, which examined 82 deaths of prisoners while in custody of the Correctional Service from 2001-05.

The Deaths in Custody Study concluded that, as in the case of Ashley Smith, some of these deaths could likely have been averted through improved risk assessments, more vigorous preventive measures, and more competent and timely responses by institutional staff.

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. OCI reports cited in this release are available at www.oci-bec.gc.ca. CSC's Response can be accessed at CSC's Reponse.

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For more information contact:

Nathalie Neault, Director of Investigations
(613) 998-6960; Nathalie.Neault@oci-bec.gc.ca