The 2021-22 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) was tabled in Parliament on November 1, 2022, and includes:
- Correctional Investigator’s Message, which focuses on the Office’s ability to effect change in federal corrections.
- Several updates on issues of national significance/concern including: use of dry cells, review of the mother-child program, security escort vehicles, Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) drug strategy.
- Three national level investigations:
- Update on the Experiences of Black Persons in Canadian Federal Penitentiaries
- Restrictive Forms of Confinement in Federal Corrections (Male Maximum-Security Penitentiaries)
- Ten Years since Spirit Matters : Indigenous Issues in Federal Corrections (Part 1)
- Correctional Investigator’s Outlook for federal corrections in 2022-23.
- Correctional Service of Canada’s Responses to Recommendations.
- Statistical Annexes
This year’s report contains 18 recommendations, including one directed to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Update on the Experiences of Black Persons in Canadian Federal Penitentiaries
Purpose and Context
This investigation updates the Office’s ground-breaking 2013 investigation examining the experiences and outcomes of Black prisoners in federal penitentiaries. It provides an opportunity for the Government to address discrimination and racism in the treatment of Black persons behind bars, findings that have been subsequently documented by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent in 2016, as well as two reports by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights released in 2019 and 2021.
- As in 2013, the investigation found that Black persons continue to be over-represented in federal custody. Today, Black prisoners comprise 9.2% of the total incarcerated population, despite representing about 3.5% of the overall Canadian population. The majority of incarcerated Black persons are young men with the largest proportion falling between the ages of 18-30 years (38%).
- Discrimination and disadvantage follow Black people into federal custody. As a group, Black prisoners experience disproportionately poorer outcomes in key areas of sentence administration. Specifically, the investigation found that Black prisoners are more likely to be:
- over-represented at maximum-security institutions (14%)
- under-represented at minimum-security institutions (6.5%)
- over-involved in use of force incidents, regardless of risk level, security level, age, sentence length or gender (12%)
- involuntarily transferred (14.6%)
- placed in Structured Intervention Units (15%)
- institutionally charged (16.7%)
- affiliated with a Security Threat Group (STG) (23.8%)
- under-represented in prison industry jobs (7%)
- under-represented in the highest inmate pay grade (3.7%)
- assessed as higher risk, low motivation and low reintegration potential, despite overall lower recidivism and revocation rates
- released at two-thirds (statutory release) of their sentence (60%)
- The investigation includes the voices of Black prisoners relating experiences of discrimination, differential treatment, stereotyping, racial bias and labeling. Black individuals interviewed for this investigation consistently reported use of derogatory or racist language by CSC staff, as well as being ignored or disregarded in ways that increase feelings of marginalization, exclusion and isolation. They also pointed to unequal treatment in accessing health care, personal care items, favourable employment and early community release options.
- Many Black persons reported being labelled or treated like gang members by CSC staff, even if they do not have an official or active security threat group affiliation. They indicated that staff referred to them as gang members based on a variety of factors including the neighbourhood where they grew up, the people they associate with on their range, groups of Black individuals congregating together, the clothes they wear, or the way they interact with others.
- The tendency to view behaviours, language, interactions or background through a “gang lens” is especially detrimental as it makes it difficult to cascade to lower levels of security, obtain meaningful employment or garner support from the assigned case management team. Once a gang affiliation is applied to an individual, it is nearly impossible to have it removed, as there are few disaffiliation options or resources offered by CSC.
- During interviews, Black individuals described being targeted by staff and more frequently written up for institutional charges. The investigation found that Black persons were consistently overrepresented in charge categories that are more discretionary in nature, such as disobeying an order or a rule, disrespecting a staff member or jeopardizing the safety or security of the institution. Conversely, Black prisoners were found to be underrepresented in charges requiring more concrete evidence, such as damaging or destroying property, possession of an unauthorized item or failing a urine test.
- Like 2013, the investigation found little to no active community support for Black prisoners; outside community groups often experience difficulties accessing federal prisons, often because of security concerns. As a result, Black prisoners have difficulties accessing culturally relevant services and must engage in correctional programming and interventions that do not necessarily reflect their lived experiences.
- The investigation concludes with eight recommendations focused on improving the lives and opportunities of Black prisoners. It is essential that CSC work in close partnership with Black community groups, stakeholders and experts in developing and implementing changes for Black prisoners. Among others, the investigation calls on the Correctional Service of Canada to:
- Conduct a comparative review to examine cumulative time spent by Black individuals before reclassification and cascading to lower levels of security.
- Conduct a systemic review of the use of the Security Threat Groups classification criteria.
- Expand staff diversity training to include representation from Black community groups and external experts.
- Develop a national strategy that specifically addresses the unique lived experiences and barriers faced by federally sentenced Black individuals.
Restrictive forms of Confinement in Federal Corrections
This investigation examines restrictive confinement conditions and practices (defined as less than four hours of out-of-cell time daily) at male maximum security institutions since the abolition of administrative segregation (solitary confinement) in 2019.
- The investigation found that the legislative framework for Structured Intervention Units (SIUs), which replaced the former administrative segregation regime, has failed to prevent the creation, use, or extension of segregation-like conditions. The investigation reports on a wide range of restrictive confinement conditions and practices where prisoners experience fewer than four hours of out-of-cell time, including Voluntary Limited Association Ranges, Therapeutic Ranges (at men’s maximum-security institutions), and the Secure Units for women.
- Many of the prisoners interviewed for this investigation reported that they and others choose to remain in their cells even when offered out-of-cell time. They cited numerous reasons why they choose not to avail themselves of out of cell time:
- Meaningful off-range activities are limited or unappealing. No programs, no gainful work opportunities, and access to education is restricted to cell studies.
- Out-of-cell time is restricted to the range behind locked barriers.
- Common areas, recreation spaces, and yards are often uninviting and austere.
- Meals are commonly taken in cells or in the common rooms.
- On numerous occasions, prisoners reported that they had absolutely nothing to do. Employment was scarce or unappealing and core programs were simply unavailable due to staffing shortages or COVID-19-related restrictions. The expanding number of sub-populations (different gang members, incompatibles, “difficult” inmates) being managed at maximum security facilities also often leads to situations where prisoners are confined to their cells or ranges for extended periods of time.
- The investigation reports on the use of Voluntary Limited Association Ranges (VLARs). These living units are designed for “inmates who do not want to integrate in mainstream inmate populations” and who do not meet the criteria for placement in Structured Intervention Units. Site visits noted that VLAR prisoners are often always restricted to their range and conditions of confinement were far more restrictive than SIUs. The investigation concludes that VLARs exist outside of the law and called on CSC to develop national policy for the use of VLARs, including grounds for placement outside of general population, as well as the rights, freedoms and privileges that these prisoners should be afforded.
Ten Years since Spirit Matters: Indigenous Issues in Federal Corrections (Part I)
Purpose and Context
This is Part I of a planned two-part national investigation reviewing progress in Indigenous Corrections ten years after Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was tabled as a special report to Parliament in March 2013.
- The investigation notes that in the years since Spirit Matters, a number of National Commissions and Inquiries, Parliamentary Committee studies and reports have looked into the needs and experences of incarcerated Indigenous persons. Calls for change converge on four key areas:
- Increase use of section 81 Healing Lodges, section 84 community releases, and engagement with Indigenous communities;
- Enhance the quality of culturally-informed programming;
- Create Indigenous specific screening, risk assessment, and classification tools;
- Augment Indigenous leadership, employee representation, and cultural competence among all staff.
- Despite increased levels of public interest and Parliamentary scrutiny, the investigation found little material progress has been made in key legislated areas in Indigenous corrections since 2013:
- Only one new s.81 Healing Lodge created in the last decade
- Still no Healing Lodges in Ontario and Atlantic regions
- Low occupancy rates at existing s. 81 facilities
- No appreciable change to s.84 community supervisions release rates
- The investigation notes that the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in federal corrections has accelerated and disparities in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons have widened. Indigenous individuals are increasingly entering the system at a younger age, spending considerably longer time behind bars, and returning to federal corrections at unprecedented rates compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. Today, Indigenous Peoples account for 32% of federally-incarcerated persons and Indigenous women account for 50% of all women in federal custody, yet comprise just 5% of the overall Canadian population.
- Indigenous individuals continue to experience poorer outcomes on a range of prison indicators compared to non-Indigenous individuals:
- Higher rate of custody versus community supervision (68.3% custody).
- More likely to be involved in a use of force incident (39%).
- Over-represented in maximum-security institutions (38%).
- Over-represented in Structured Intervention Units placements (50%).
- More likely to be affiliated with a Security Threat Group or gang (22% versus 9% for non-Indigenous).
- More likely to self-injure (55% of all incidents)
- More likely to attempt suicide (40%).
- Over-represented in prison suicides during FY 2020/2021 (83%).
- Serve a higher proportion of their sentence incarcerated – Statutory Release (78.6%).
- Higher recidivism rates (65%).
- Higher rate of parole revocation (50%).
- With respect to cultural and professional competency within CSC the investigation found that:
- Indigenous representation among CSC staff, particularly in key leadership positions is lagging (10% of CSC staff identify as Indigenous versus 32% of incarcerated individuals).
- Elders are too few in number and are spread too thin (ratio of 30 Indigenous persons for every one Elder).
- National community engagement strategy developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities is lacking.
- At the highest levels, CSC does not seem to accept that it has any role or influence on reversing overrepresentation; corporate culture fails to see how its policies, programs and practices create or contribute to systemic barriers and poorer correctional outcomes for Indigenous Peoples.
- For example, proportionally little new funding has been allocated to Indigenous controlled or Indigenous run community correctional initiatives. The focus of CSC’s Indigenous correctional efforts and interventions continues to be mainly prison-based. Investments and resources continue to be made in long-standing institutional initiatives, such as Pathways, or new ones like Indigenous Intervention Centres, with little in the way of external evaluations or validation of their effectiveness.
- The investigation issued two recommendations:
- Create a Deputy Commissioner of Indigenous Corrections – a dedicated position to be occupied by an Indigenous individual – and that CSC report publicly on its plans and short-term timelines to complete this staffing action.
- Corrections Canada and the Office of the Correctional Investigator should be included in the development and implementation of the Indigenous Justice Strategy (IJS), led by Justice Canada. Further, the IJS should redistribute a significant portion of CSC’s resources to Indigenous communities for the care, custody, and supervision of Indigenous Peoples.
- Prohibit any indefinite dry cell placement beyond 72 hours.
- Update CSC’s 2007 National Drug Strategy, which continues to promote a zero-tolerance approach to drugs behind bars.
- Prioritize the current review of the security classification process, particularly as it applies to Indigenous women.
- Rescind the discriminatory movement level system for maximum-security women.
- Provide alternative accommodations for women housed in Secure Units and work toward their eventual closure.
- Review the program requirements and eligibility criteria for the Mother-Child Program, with a view to increasing access and participation in the program and removing barriers, particularly for Indigenous mothers.
- Equip prisoner escort vehicles, including those currently in service, with seatbelt assemblies, handholds and other safety and restraint features.