By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 27, 2012 - 0 Comments
Correctional investigator Howard Sapers reviews the state of Canada’s prisons.
As of July 31, there were 15,097 inmates in federal prisons, a “historic high,” according to Sapers. In the past two years, 1,000 new inmates entered the system, even though there were no new beds. Sapers described that number as equal to the population of two medium-security prisons, yet the system has had to absorb them.
Sapers added that overcrowding is most acute on the Prairies. “Of the growth, 52 per cent has come from the Prairies. It’s the fastest-growing region in the country and aboriginal offenders account for most of the increase and account for 43 per cent of the offenders in that region,” he said … Sapers told CBC News that overcrowding has led to growing tensions and violence. “We’re seeing an increase in the use of force, an increase in assaults, an increase in sick leave and stress leave among staff, we’re seeing an increase in lockdowns and exceptional searches.” Over the past five years, assaults in the Prairie region are up 90 per cent, from 306 in 2007 to 583 in 2012. The number of incidents involving use of force by staff rose 95 per cent in the same period.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
The data has not been publicly reported by correctional authorities, but in an exclusive interview with the Star last week, Canada’s chief prison investigator Howard Sapers first flagged a trend that shows no sign of waning. It includes more inmate-to-inmate violence, inmates assaulting guards, as well as guards who are violent toward inmates, across all federal facilities housing male and female offenders in Canada.
Over the past three years ending March 31, 2012, the total number of assaults Correctional Services Canada reported behind bars rose from 1,415 in 2009/10, to 1,566 in 2010/11, to 1,669 in 2011/12. That’s an increase of 15 per cent in just three years.
By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 3:24 PM - 7 Comments
Prison ombudsman Howard Sapers makes sense of the proposed influx of money
News broke yesterday that the Conservative government is planning to boost its prison budget by 27 per cent over the next three years, filling 4,000 new positions, just as almost every other federal department is tightening its belt. This follows a Maclean’s report on the state of Canada’s prisons, where chronic underfunding has led to a growing number of inmates, especially the mentally ill, landing in solitary confinement cells. The media was quick to spin the budget increase as a bad news story—one linked to the Tories’ controversial “tough on crime” agenda, and an anticipated rise in the inmate population—but given the sorry state of Canada’s prison system, shouldn’t a funding boost be welcome?
Here, federal prisons ombudsman Howard Sapers responds to news of a proposed funding boost for Canada’s prisons.
Macleans.ca: Is an increase in funding expected, or did this come as a surprise?
Sapers: I certainly wasn’t surprised. Even if there was no public policy change, there are very real, very immediate infrastructure pressures [on Canada’s prison system]. The Correctional Service already double-bunks about 10 per cent of its population: we’re talking about cells built for one person that are currently housing two, even though the Service’s current policy is single cell accommodation, which is in keeping with international standards.
The service doesn’t have the capacity it needs at certain security classifications to meet the current population, let alone any population increase. And it’s no surprise that if you make policy changes that will result in more people spending more time in prison, you’re going to need to deal with capacity issues. That means new money.
What I’m hoping is that there will be increasing opportunities for the Correctional Service to look at its priorities and allocation decisions.
Macleans.ca: What sorts of priorities do you mean?
Sapers: Half of the Correctional Service’s mandate is around safe and secure custody; the other is timely and safe reintegration of offenders. To achieve the reintegration part, it delivers programs and interventions designed to deal with things like violence prevention and drug abuse—factors that brought people into conflict with the law to begin with. Programs [that help] offenders return to communities safely, and in a law-abiding way.
The Service, as it presently exists, is about a $2.5 billion a year operation. I would argue that at some level, there is simply not enough money, but one way of looking at underfunding is to see whether the money you get is being spent with the best return on investment. [The Correctional Service] will spend over 97 per cent of its current money on meeting half of its mandate. It spends less than 3 per cent of their budget delivering those programs; the other 97 per cent goes into the security side of the equation. The question is, is that the right split or not. I would argue it doesn’t represent a very good balance. Part of the underfunding [problem] could be addressed by transferring money to the programs side.
Macleans.ca: Do you believe the anticipated extra funding, which has yet to be approved, is tied to an expected influx of inmates?
Sapers: Certainly the Correctional Service [has suggested] that as a result of policy changes, there will be more offenders spending more time in prison. If you’re going to have more offenders spending more time in prison, you have to do something about capacity. Some of that money no doubt, and I can’t tell you how much of it, is tied to that public policy position that more offenders will be spending more time in prison.
Macleans.ca: What are your priorities this year?
Sapers: My priorities continue to be the same: our focus on mental health; program capacity dealing with the particular needs of aboriginal offenders; and the particular needs of women offenders. Finding alternatives to the continued overuse of segregation for those high-needs offenders. These continue to be very real and very immediate problems.
Macleans.ca: So should we welcome the news that prisons might receive more money, as these gaps might be filled? Or is it only an indication that we’ll see a growing number of people incarcerated?
Sapers: That is exactly the right question. Not to be trite about it, but time will tell.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:50 AM - 6 Comments
We put the mentally ill in jail. Now they’re ending up in solitary.
Alan Nicolson hung himself in his prison cell at Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution back in 2003. A ﬁrst-time inmate, Nicolson, 34, was facing four years of incarceration after holding up a convenience store. Suffering from anxiety, depression and drug addiction, he was being held in a special segregated unit called the “mental health range.” But two years later, an inquest into his death found the solitary cell where Nicolson spent his last hours to be a “mental health range” in name only. “There is no programming. There is no treatment,” the report reads. “The mental health staff has no special responsibilities to those housed in this ward.”
The mental health range has since been shut down, but Nicolson’s death still bothers correctional investigator Howard Sapers. It’s a prime example, he says, of how Canada fails inmates—especially the mentally ill. Sapers cites the case of Ashley Smith as well, a New Brunswick teen who killed herself in a prison in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007. Smith, who’d acted out and threatened suicide, was held in isolation up to 23 hours a day before she was found dead in her cell. (An inquiry into her death is planned, although a date hasn’t yet been set.)