This is the first Annual Report to Parliament issued by Dr. Ivan Zinger, who has served as Correctional Investigator since January 1, 2017.
The report makes 17 recommendations and contains a special focus on the Secure Units (maximum security) at the five Regional Women’s Facilities.
Special Focus on the Secure Units at the Regional Women’s Facilities
- Maximum security women represent just over 10% of the overall federally sentenced women population. Indigenous women represent 50% of the maximum security population in federal women’s corrections.
- These women reside in what are called “Secure Units.” Each unit is divided into pods of 4 or 6 cells. Some are equipped to accommodate double bunking. Given its maximum security status, the segregation unit is physically located in the Secure Unit, as a separate wing.
- Women struggling with mental health issues are more likely to be classified maximum security and placed in the Secure Units. The close and cramped living arrangements and maladaptive behavior associated with mental health distress often have a negative impact on daily routines (cell reassignments, lockdowns), leading to tension, frustration, conflict and a general sense of personal insecurity among the women. The environment is not therapeutic and does not employ a trauma-informed approach.
- Women residing in the Secure Units are subject to a discriminatory classification system that regulates access to other parts (medium security) of the institution where services and amenities are located. Effectively, participation in education, programs and other “privileges,” such as gym or library, can be denied based on their level of risk or behaviour. Some women are shackled to walk through the institution to attend health care. Others turn down visits with their children because they do not want to be seen in handcuffs or leg irons. They can be subject to strip searches every time they return to their unit. This system is unique to women’s corrections; male offenders are not subject to the same restrictions.
Other Conditions of Confinement Issues
Safe and Humane Custody
- While still under investigation, the riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in December 2016 highlighted several possible triggering events, many related to the conditions of confinement within the institution (i.e. dissatisfaction with food and the perceived mistreatment of inmate kitchen workers such as pay, hours, incentives by correctional staff). Saskatchewan Penitentiary houses a population that comprises nearly two-thirds (64%) Indigenous inmates.
- The current fleet of prison transport vehicles does not meet personal or industry safety standards. Essentially retrofitted and modified family minivans (e.g. Dodge Caravan), these vehicles, which were never designed or crash-tested for the purpose that they serve, contain a metal enclosure where prisoners ride shackled without seatbelts. Their design is substandard and unsafe for both inmates and staff alike.
- The Office closely followed the case of a transgender inmate over the past year that spent most of their sentence (over 10 years) in a facility representing their assigned sex at birth. The inmate attempted suicide, self-mutilated genitalia, took pills bought from other inmates and ultimately fell into depression as a result of the treatment and lack of movement on the part of the Correctional Service with respect to the inmate’s sex change. The inmate died from medical complications not long after being transferred to an institution representing their gender identity.
- There is no stand-alone treatment facility for federally sentenced women. As an emergency measure, an acutely mentally ill woman can be transferred to an all-male treatment centre where she is separated, alone and held in segregation-like conditions. This practice, however temporary, is unacceptable and contravenes international human rights standards.
- The use of physical restraints, clinical seclusion, and segregation to manage people in serious psychological distress remains problematic. 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. The report calls on the Correctional Service to restrict the use of clinical seclusion and physical restraints (Pinel Restraints) to designated treatment centres where they can be used exceptionally, sparingly and only by authorization of health care professionals.
- The report highlights two cases which demonstrate that there continues to be gaps in how correctional staff recognize and respond to situations of medical emergency or mental health distress. In one case, an inmate is left lying unresponsive and motionless following an assault for more than five minutes, despite the fact that correctional staff had handcuffed and escorted the instigator from the scene. In a second case, following a use of force involving the use of inflammatory spray, an inmate collapses in the decontamination shower (possibly as a result of an allergic reaction to pepper spray) and is left in medical distress for a prolonged period before the camera operator recording the incident calls for assistance.
- On January 1, 2017, there were 391 inmates in administrative segregation (2.76% of the total inmate population) compared with 780 in April 2014. The average stay in segregation has significantly declined from 34.5 days in 2014/15 to 23.1 days in 2016/17. Despite the declines in segregation numbers and duration of stay, there continue to be issues with respect to the over-representation of Indigenous inmates in segregation, access to basic activities, services and programming and the use of segregation ‘lite’ units.
- Reductions in spending on food in federal prisons and the resulting ‘cook-chill’ model continue to generate complaints to the Office, particularly with respect to food portion size (especially protein), quality, selection and substitution of items. 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 and sold for other items.
Inmate Complaints and Grievances
- Timely and appropriate response to legitimate inmate requests or complaints affecting everyday conditions and routines behind bars – access to canteen, mail delivery, lost, damaged or confiscated personal effects, meal times, access to visits and visitors, out-of-cell time – are often unreasonably delayed or not answered at all. The internal complaints and grievance system is dysfunctional, plagued by sizable backlogs and unable to effect change or address legitimate issues.
- On an annual basis, more than 4,500 grievances make their way up to the national level. In 2015-16, more than half of these required more than 150 working days or more to resolve. My Office tracked grievance decisions that were delayed as many as 14 different times; in some cases, wait periods inexplicably extended beyond three years. Egregious delays like this clearly do not respect the Service’s legal obligation to settle offender grievances in a fair, forthright and timely manner.
Prison Work and Employment
- Approximately 60% of inmates at admission to federal custody have an identified employment need. Far too many inmates are engaged in menial employment or are not working at all. While there are some good quality CORCAN shops offering vocational training, prison industries employ less than 10% of the inmate population at any one time. Federally sentenced women in particular lack meaningful employment opportunities behind bars. They are almost exclusively employed in gendered, stereotyped jobs such as textiles, laundry and sewing.
Other Issues of Concern
In 2016-17, the Office undertook a series of priority reviews and investigations in the following areas:
- Timely and appropriate recognition and response to medical emergencies in federal prisons.
- Alternatives to incarceration for seriously mentally ill offenders.
- Safeguards on the use of chemical and inflammatory agents in use of force interventions.
- Embedding gender identity and gender expression in federal correctional policy and practice.
- Implications of Medical Assistance in Dying legislation for federal corrections.
- Treatment of older/aging offenders.
- Prison visits and visitor program.
- Lessons learned from the National Board of Investigation into the December major disturbance at Saskatchewan Penitentiary should be widely circulated within CSC and released as a public document.
- CSC should issue a Request for Proposal to fund or expand community bed treatment capacity to accommodate up to 12 federally sentenced women requiring an intensive level of mental health intervention, care and supervision.
- The Minister of Public Safety request that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security conduct a special study on inmate work and prison industries (CORCAN).
- CSC should expand capacity of the Structured Living Environment to allow for women with mental health needs to be integrated and accommodated in more appropriate and therapeutic settings.
- CSC should conduct an external audit of food services and that the concerns of the inmate population related to potion size, quality, selection and substitution of food items are solicited, heard and addressed immediately by CSC management.