For Immediate Release

Correctional Investigator Releases 2010-11 Annual Report: Growing Old Behind Bars - Grey Wave Hits Canadian Prisons

OTTAWA, November 01, 2011 – The 38th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament today. The report contains a special focus on older offenders – those aged 50 and over – a segment of the prison population that has grown by more than 50% in the past decade.

In releasing his report, the Correctional Investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers, noted that federal penitentiaries were originally designed and built to accommodate younger inmates – not those with mobility and other impairments. As prisons become more crowded, and more offenders grow old behind bars, there are mounting concerns regarding the impact of gangs, drugs, violence and victimization. “There are significant safety, healthcare and security concerns as a result of a growing proportion of physically vulnerable older inmates being housed in crowded, inaccessible and overextended facilities,” said Sapers.

As the report documents, an aging offender population presents a number of operational challenges in the correctional context including: physical ambulation and accessibility; independent care and living; palliative care; employment and vocational programming; physical vulnerability and victimization. Aging offenders use a disproportionate share of prison health care services. Treating chronic diseases and degenerative illnesses associated with aging – cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory problems as well as dementia – and retrofitting institutions to make them more accessible to the mobility or sight impaired adds to rising prison costs in Canada.

“Federal prisons are increasingly home to greater numbers of the infirm, the impaired, and the aging. Canada’s population is aging so it is not surprising that our prison population is also greying. We need to find better ways to manage this significant and growing, but often overlooked and neglected segment of the prison population,” stated Sapers.

The report recommends that the Correctional Service develop a more appropriate range of programming and activities for older offenders that is more relevant and responsive to their unique mobility, learning, assistive and independent living needs, including hiring of more staff with training in gerontology and palliative care. Correctional and vocational programming is geared toward offenders who will be released when they are young. The reality is that older and long-serving offenders are not considered high priority for programming. As Sapers says in his report, “Many aging offenders simply spend long periods of time locked in their cells during working or programming hours. This is not rehabilitative or productive for anyone.”

The report draws attention to the fact that parole by exception of a terminally ill offender to the community to die with dignity is a very complicated, rare and lengthy process. A number of terminally ill offenders die in prison each year, even when they seem to meet the exceptional release provisions of the CCRA or the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Sapers recommends that the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) practices and procedures for preparing terminally ill offenders for 'release by exception’ consideration be independently reviewed to ensure deserving cases are treated with appropriate diligence, rigour and timeliness.

In concluding his report’s special focus on aging offenders, the Correctional Investigator calls on the CSC to prepare a national older offender strategy in 2011-12 that includes enhanced community supports to facilitate timely and safe reintegration of older offenders who pose no risk to public safety.

Other sections of the report highlight the Office’s continuing focus on addressing six key priorities - access to physical and mental health services, preventing deaths in custody, conditions of confinement, issues facing Aboriginal and federally sentenced women offenders and correctional programming. In each of these priority areas, a number of issues of ongoing concern are documented:

  • Over-reliance on segregation, physical restraints and seclusion to manage self-injurious offenders
  • Non-compliance with voluntary treatment and informed consent principles
  • Impacts and indicators of prison crowding
  • Widening gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offender outcomes
  • Lack of specialized treatment services for women who self-injure

In his outlook for 2011-12, the Correctional Investigator notes that as the federal offender population increases the Correctional Service will be under increasing pressure and scrutiny to provide appropriate, safe and secure custody; meet growing mental health challenges; deliver quality, accessible and credible programs to facilitate offender reintegration, and; respond to the unique needs of women, aging and Aboriginal offenders.

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.

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For more information contact:
Ivan Zinger, Executive Director and General Counsel
(613) 990-2690; Ivan.Zinger@oci-bec.gc.ca