Presentation to the
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Howard Sapers
Correctional Investigator of Canada
Ivan Zinger
Executive Director and General Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada

April 7, 2010

Outline of Presentation

Role and Mandate of the Office of the Correctional Investigator

  • The Office of the Correctional Investigator acts as an Ombudsman for federal offenders.
  • The Office independently investigates and attempts to resolve offender complaints related to “decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions” of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
  • The Correctional Investigator makes recommendations that assist in the development and maintenance of an accountable federal correctional system that is fair, humane and effective.
  • Staff regularly visit federal facilities to interview offenders, meet with staff, resolve issues and review areas of concern. In 2008-09, the Office responded to over 6,000 offender complaints/inquiries.
  • Health care is the most grieved area of offender complaint followed by segregation, cell effects, conditions of confinement, and visits.

Human Rights in Federal Corrections

  • The business of Corrections is all about promoting and monitoring respect for human rights; preventing human rights violations; and, detecting and remedying them.
  • When government has exceptional authority over its citizens, the potential for abuse of powers is great and the protections of fundamental rights must be a core preoccupation of those empowered and trusted with those exceptional powers. 
  • Every aspect of a prisoner’s life is heavily regulated by CSC. The Service makes thousands of decisions every day which impact on prisoners’ fundamental rights.
  • Compliance with human rights obligations increases, though does not guarantee, the odds of releasing a more responsible citizen.
  • In essence, the core mandate of the OCI is to ensure human rights compliance by CSC (laws, policies and practices), and to contribute to public safety.
  • HR in Corrections is broader than 11 CHRA grounds
  • Residual rights of liberty and freedom – Offenders retain all the rights of all members of society, except those rights removed as a consequence of the sentence
  • Incarceration as punishment, not for punishment
  • Compliance with the Rule of Law
    • International HR Obligations
    • Constitutional rights (i.e., Charter)
    • Domestic laws (CCRA, CHRA, Privacy, Access, OL)
    • CSC Policy
    • Fair decision-making in accordance to natural justice

Mental Health

Health Care Legislative Framework

  • Federal offenders are excluded from the Canada Health Act and are not covered by Health Canada or provincial health systems
  • The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) therefore provides health care services directly to federal offenders, including those residing in Community Correctional Centres 
  • The CSC is legislatively mandated to provide health care to offenders through the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA)

11% of Federal Offenders Have a Mental Health Diagnosis at Admission

% Warrant of Committal Admissions with MH Indicators


Mental Health and Corrections

  • Most significant problem facing federal corrections today
  • Proportion of federal offenders with significant, identified mental health needs has more than doubled over past decade
    • 11% of male offenders have significant mental health diagnosis
    • In the Ontario CSC Region (2008), 39% of offenders had been diagnosed with a mental illness, had a current medication order for psychotropic medication, or were receiving ongoing psychiatric evaluation or psychological intervention
    • Women offenders twice as likely to have mental health diagnosis at admission; over 30% had previous history of psychiatric hospitalization

Prisons and Mental Illness

  • Prison conditions are hard on mental health. Prison environments are often crowded, noisy, violent, stressful and unpredictable places.
  • Offenders with mental illness are more often:
    • unable to complete programs
    • preyed upon or exploited by others
    • placed in segregation and isolated from human interaction
    • classified at higher security levels
    • released later in their sentences
  • Mentally disordered offenders may exhibit symptoms of their illness through disruptive behaviour, aggression, violence, self-mutilation, suicidal ideation, and refusal/inability to follow prison rules and routines.
  • “Acting out” behaviours are often viewed as a problem of institutional “adjustment.” Segregation often becomes the default option for population control and behavioural modification.
  • Prison is a blunt instrument for managing complex social problems. Warehousing mentally ill persons in conditions and environments that are poorly suited to meet their needs promotes neither public safety or rehabilitation.

Challenges and Constraints

  • Managing mentally disordered offenders in prison creates professional and operational dilemmas – security vs. treatment, inmate vs. patient
  • Federal system is facing serious capacity, accessibility, quality of care and service delivery challenges:
    • Under-resourced
    • Lack of bed space at regional psychiatric facilities
    • Aging and inappropriate infrastructure
    • Lack of “intermediate” mental health care units
    • Recruitment and retention of mental health care professionals, especially clinical nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists
    • Training for front-line staff in recognizing and dealing with mentally disordered offenders
    • Sharing of information between front-line staff, mental health and health care professionals
    • Relief for stressed and fatigued staff

Key OCI Recommendations: Mental Health

The Correctional Service should:

  • Secure funding to establish intermediate mental health care units
  • Enhance efforts to recruit, retain and train professional mental health staff
  • Treat self-harming incidents as a mental health not security issue
  • Provide focused and dedicated MH training for front-line staff
  • Increase capacity of existing Regional Treatment Centres and staffing
  • Introduce an external monitoring for offenders in long-term segregation
  • Provide for independent and expert chairing of national investigations involving inmate suicides and incidents of serious self-injury.
  • Develop a National Strategy on Mental health and Corrections in collaboration with the Mental Health Commission

Aboriginal Corrections


Number of Federal Aboriginal Offenders

The Incarceration Rates for Aboriginal People are Almost 9 Times the National Average

Estimated Incarceration Rates by Aboriginal Identity, per 100,000 Adult Population*
  Adult Aboriginal Population Adult Non-Aboriginal Population
2001/2002 760 118
2002/2003 799 119
2003/2004 798 116
2004/2005 825 117
2005/2006 883 120
2006/2007 935 127
2007/2008 970 130

*Alberta is excluded due to quality of data.

Aboriginal Corrections

  • Aboriginal offenders represent 20% of the total federal correctional population. One-in-three federally sentenced women is Aboriginal.
  • Correctional gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders continues to widen in federal corrections:
    • released later in their sentence (lower parole grant rates)
    • over-represented in segregation populations
    • more often held to warrant expiry
    • classified as higher risk and higher need
    • more likely to have their conditional release revoked

Findings of the Mann Report (2009)

  • Limited use of legislative provisions designed to enhance Aboriginal reintegration, including under-utilization of Healing Lodges
  • Shortage of Elders and dedicated Aboriginal program delivery officers
  • Inconsistent access to Aboriginal programming
  • Lack of an Aboriginal anti-gang management strategy
  • Lack of an Aboriginal-sensitive classification instrument
  • Absence of statistical evidence indicating progress or improvement in managing Aboriginal offenders
  • Lack of capacity to address the unique social and historical circumstances contributing to Aboriginal offending

Aboriginal Corrections

  • The overall situation for Aboriginal offenders under federal sentence continues to deteriorate.
  • Demographic projections suggest disproportionate rates of Aboriginal incarceration will get worse.
  • A Deputy Commissioner for Aboriginal Corrections could bring much-needed profile, leadership, governance and accountability to improving outcomes for Aboriginal offenders.

Women Offenders


Number of Warrant of Committal Admissions for Women

Women and Federal Corrections

  • Women offenders twice as likely to have mental health diagnosis at admission and significant increase in self-harm incidents.
  • Limited capacity for addressing serious MH issues.
  • Over crowding – serious capacity issues in recent years.
  • No stand alone minimum security institutions.
  • Gross overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in federal custody (33%).
  • Few Aboriginal programs in Eastern Canada.
  • Over-classification of women offenders (especially Aboriginal women) – maximum-security, secure units, segregation and CSC Management Protocol.
  • Too few alternatives to long-term segregation.
  • Erosion of women-centered approach advocated in the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, Creating Choices, 1989.
  • Despite significant investments in women Corrections since the closure of Prison for Women (P4W) in 2000, several issues flagged as problematic at P4W remain unaddressed or have re-emerged.
  • Deputy Commissioner for Women should have full and direct line authority (separate stream) for all matters concerning federally sentenced women

Elderly Offenders


Percentage of Incarcerated Federal Offender Population 2008-09

  • Growing special needs group.
  • Current aging CSC infrastructure ill-equipped to address needs of elderly offenders.
  • Concerns with accommodation, palliative care, reintegration options and program development.
  • Reluctance to allow palliative elderly offenders to die in dignity in the community.
  • Mortality Review Process (i.e., CSC investigations into natural deaths) flawed in identifying non-compliance with law or professional standards and required corrective action.

Visible Minority Offenders

Black Offenders Represent 7% of the Federal Prison Population Although they Account for Just 2% of the General Canadian Population

Percentage of Federal Offender and Canada Adult

  • Emerging concern for the Office of the Correctional Investigator.
  • Limited multi-cultural programming.
  • More awareness training on diversity required.

Concluding Remarks

  • The offender profile represents failures in key public policies.
  • Minority and vulnerable groups face discriminatory and systemic barriers, and criminalization.
  • The Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) will continue to make recommendations for improvements in federal correctional practice and to other stakeholders, as solutions go far beyond the authority of correctional authorities.
  • The OCI welcomes information sharing and collaboration with the CHRC.