Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator Focuses on Conditions of Confinement

For Immediate Release

OTTAWA, October 31, 2017 – The 44th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament today.  This is the first annual report issued by Dr. Ivan Zinger, who was appointed Correctional Investigator on January 1, 2017.

The report raises particular concern about conditions of confinement that serve no underlying correctional or rehabilitative purpose.  “One can imagine the sense of futility and despair such conditions elicit from people who are often mentally unwell, or whose lives have been touched or marked by some combination of alcohol or drug addiction, family dysfunction, discrimination, poverty, childhood violence or trauma,” said Dr. Zinger. 

Drawing from the report, specific examples of misplaced or inappropriate conditions of confinement include:

  • Lack of therapeutic environments to support federally sentenced women: The report examines living conditions in the secure units (maximum security), which are harsh and inappropriate for women struggling with serious mental illness, some of whom engage in chronic self-injurious behaviour.  The practice of temporarily transferring acutely mentally ill women on an emergency basis to all-male treatment centres where they are separated and held in complete isolation is entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and contrary to international human rights standards.  

  • Use of segregation: While admissions and lengths of stay in segregation have decreased significantly, the material conditions of confinement in many segregation units remain problematic.  Some segregation cells lack appropriate ventilation, windows and natural light.  Outdoor segregation “yards” are often little more than bare concrete pens topped with razor wire. 

  • Prison work: Too many inmates are engaged in menial institutional jobs and too few are occupied in prison industries that will lead to viable work upon release. There are some excellent and well-equipped CORCAN prison shops offering vocational training, but less than 10% of inmates are gainfully employed at any one time.  Opportunities to acquire apprenticeship hours towards a trade certificate are also too few and too far between.  Federally sentenced women are almost exclusively engaged in stereotyped, gendered work – sewing, textiles and laundry.

  • Lack of appropriate alternatives to manage serious mental illness: The use of physical restraints, clinical seclusion, suicide watch and segregation to manage people in serious psychological distress remains problematic.  The practice of placing suicidal or self-injurious people in observation cells that minimally provide for the necessities to preserve human life (security gown, security blanket, fluids and food that can be consumed without cutlery, hygiene items at discretion) fails to recognize that confinement of this nature may actually promote or deepen psychological distress and/or lead to further or even more lethal acts of self-injury or attempts to end life. 

  • Riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary: The report examines the factors, including concerns involving the quality and quantity of prison food, which directly or indirectly, and predictably, contributed to an environment of escalating tension, confrontation and eventual riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary on December 14, 2016. 

  • Prison food: The Office continues to receive complaints related to portion size, quality, selection and substitution of food items related to the implementation of a standardized National Menu where the per diem daily cost for food is fixed at $5.41.  In some institutions, food has become part of the underground economy, where it is bought, bartered or sold for other items.  The change to a centralized food production and distribution system (“cook/chill”) has also meant a negative change in routine at many facilities as meals are now served in cell rather than taken communally. 

The Correctional Investigator stated, “High prevalence rates of prison self-injury, mental illness, premature mortality and the deeply entrenched over-representation of Indigenous people behind bars speaks to the unremitting negative impacts of imprisonment.”

The report makes 17 recommendations touching on all aspects of material and living conditions in federal prisons, from access to prison health care to prevention of deaths in custody, Indigenous corrections, safe and timely reintegration and issues affecting federally sentenced women.

As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns.  The report cited in this release is available at: www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

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For more information, please contact:
Marie-France Kingsley
A/Executive Director
(613) 990-2690
Marie-France.Kingsley@oci-bec.gc.ca