ARCHIVED - Speaking Notes for
Mr. Howard Sapers
Correctional Investigator of Canada

Appearance before the Senate Standing Committee
on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Check against delivery

Thursday, February 14, 2008

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The Office of the Correctional Investigator was established in 1973 to strengthen the accountability and oversight of the federal correctional system. The Office was given a legislative mandate on November 1, 1992 with the enactment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The Office investigates and resolves individual federal offender complaints. As well, it has a responsibility to review and make recommendations on the Correctional Service of Canada's policies and procedures associated with individual complaints. In this way, systemic areas of concern can be identified and appropriately addressed.

This mandate expresses important elements of the criminal justice system and reflects Canadian values of respect for the law, for human rights, and the public's expectation that correctional staff and senior managers are accountable for the administration of law and policy on the public's behalf.

As your Committee reviews Bill C-2, I feel it is important that you are aware of the concerns my Office has raised regarding the program capacity of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Correctional programming is offered to federal offenders to facilitate their timely and safe reintegration into the community.

Before I discuss the issue of programming in more detail, I would like to take this opportunity to provide the Committee with a few brief observations regarding Bill C-2:

  • I strongly believe that evidence-based policy is essential to guide any legislative proposals, and this is especially important when dealing with public safety.
  • I concur with the analysis found in the Legislative Summary issued with Bill C-2, specifically:
    • "...existing research generally does not support the use of mandatory minimum sentences for the purpose of deterrence...".
    • "Incarcerating offenders for longer periods results in increased prison costs, which are not necessarily offset by any reduction in crime rates and recidivism".
    • "[...] mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect Aboriginal offenders."
  • This last point cannot be overlooked as last year we estimated that the overall incarceration rate for Aboriginal Canadians was 1024 per 100,000, or almost 9 times higher than for non-Aboriginals. Bill C-2 should be carefully analyzed to determine its impact upon Aboriginal Canadians.
  • In summary, I believe that Bill C-2 will increase the jail and prison population of this country and this increase will further burden the already inadequate capacity to provide programming to federal offenders in a timely fashion.

Let me now turn directly to the issue of access and timely delivery of programs in federal Corrections. We know that evidence-based programming and treatment can significantly reduce re-offending, and I praise the CSC for endorsing such programming and treatment approaches. The CSC's latest Report on Plans and Priorities tabled before Parliament stated:

  • "CSC's correctional approach is evidence-based and grounded in research. Criminological research repeatedly demonstrates that releasing offenders in a gradual and controlled manner to the community, when it is safe to do so and with proper supervision and support, is the best way to ensure short- and long-term public safety. Offenders who have benefited from targeted interventions are less likely to commit new crimes."

This approach was recently endorsed by the panel established by the Minister of Public Safety to provide him with independent expert advice. In its report entitled A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety, the CSC Review Panel, specifically acknowledged that implementing research-based correctional programs, paired with evaluation and accreditation processes, is the best approach and should be continued.

Upon admission to a penitentiary, every inmate is assessed, and a correctional plan prescribing programming is put in place. Indeed, the CSC has some cutting-edge programs and initiatives related to education, employment, substance abuse, living skills, sex offender treatment, violent offender treatment and family violence prevention that significantly decreased re-offending.

The CSC continues to make progress in the area of risk assessment either by enhancing existing tools or developing new tools to assess risk and needs of various segments of its prison population. However, this progress has been too slow, and there is evidence that some tools continue to impose higher than necessary security classifications. This results in some offenders, particularly women and Aboriginal offenders, being unnecessarily placed in higher-security institutions than the situation warrants.

In spite of some good programs and limited progress in addressing the validity and reliability of its risk and needs assessment tools, this Office is gravely concerned about the decreasing ability of the Correctional Service to prepare offenders in a thorough and timely fashion for conditional release consideration. Limited program capacity affects the ability of offenders to carry out their correctional plans, thereby delaying their safe reintegration into the community.

A significant number of these delays relate directly to the Correctional Service not providing the required assessments and treatment before an offender's scheduled parole hearing dates. Now, as the Correctional Service faces increasing financial constraints, the situation has become critical. More offenders will return unprepared to the community, where they will be supervised for a shorter period. For the great majority of offenders, timely, gradual and supported reintegration is the most effective way to enhance public safety.

To address some of the issues associated with timely case preparation and access to programs, a Joint Working Group involving the Correctional Service of Canada, the National Parole Board and the Office of the Correctional Investigator was established. In December 2004, the Committee issued its Report on Factors Causing Delays in National Parole Board Reviews. The report made recommendations to facilitate timely conditional release reviews. It also recommended ensuring that offenders appearing before the Board receive the assistance and programs they need for their eventual safe community reintegration in a timely manner. To date, there is little evidence that the situation has improved - on the contrary:

  • According to the National Parole Board (NPB), the proportion of federal releases from institutions to statutory release where there was no prior parole release has increased from a low of 66% recorded in 2002/03 to 73% in 2006/07.
  • In the last 6 years, CSC's corporate data indicate that while the prison population has increased, the level of programming delivered has actually decreased by 26%.
  • With a budget of $1.8 billion, the CSC only allocates $27M for core programming - or 1.5% of its total budget.

We support the Correctional Service's efforts to secure resources to improve timely access to a full range of effective offender programs and treatment. In my last Annual Report, I identified the following specific barriers to reintegration in the areas of access to programs:

  • long waiting lists for programs in most regions, resulting in programs being provided late in the offender's sentence, beyond his or her parole eligibility dates;
  • waivers, postponements and withdrawals of applications for National Parole Board hearings because of program access;
  • a shortage of program facilitators and program officers, especially those with the skill sets required to deliver Aboriginal-specific programming;
  • limited access to programs in the community, especially for women and Aboriginal offenders;
  • limited or no anti-gang programming in most institutions-meaning that, by default, reliance on segregation is quickly becoming the norm in this area;
  • delays in evaluation and national implementation of Aboriginal-specific programming; and,
  • the chronic shortage of Aboriginal-specific core programming in maximum-security institutions, which means that Aboriginal offenders cannot carry out their correctional plans and transfer to lower-security institutions where Aboriginal programs are available.

Let me take this opportunity to expand on this last point by providing you with a concrete example that illustrates the kind of impact inadequate risk assessment tools and access to timely programming can have on Aboriginal offenders.

The combination of over-classification and lack of Aboriginal programming best illustrates how systemic barriers can hinder offender reintegration. Aboriginal offenders are over-classified because the CSC does not yet have valid risk assessment tools that are culturally responsive. As a result, Aboriginal offenders are disproportionately and inappropriately placed in maximum-security institutions, which have limited, or no, access to core programs designed to meet their unique needs. Our review of programming at several institutions shows that too few core programs designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal offenders are provided to meet the demand. This all too typical scenario, at least partially, explains why the reintegration of Aboriginal offenders is lagging so significantly behind the reintegration of other offenders.

In conclusion, there is no denying that the CSC is committed to making genuine progress in the development of reliable and valid risk and need assessment tools, and to increasing its capacity to deliver programs. However, the allocated resources to fulfil its mandate of preparing offenders for timely and safe reintegration into the community are seriously lacking. More resources are currently needed, and this has been acknowledged by both the independent Panel of experts mandated to report back to the Minister and to CSC itself. This Office remains concerned that the existing situation has negative public safety consequences, and that increases in prison population without new resources will only further exacerbate this situation.

I will be happy to answer any question you may have.

Thank you.