Families of inmates who have died in federal custody are too often left in the dark, says Correctional Investigator
For immediate Release
Ottawa, August 2, 2016 – Today, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Mr. Howard Sapers, released his investigation into the extent and manner in which the Correctional Service of Canada ( CSC ) discloses information with family members of an inmate who has died in federal custody. In his report, Mr. Sapers documents the frustration of families when information is not fully and openly shared. The investigation found that even straight forward factual summaries of the events and circumstances leading to the death are typically not provided. “The delays, obstacles and barriers that families encounter in trying to access information about how their loved one died in federal custody denies them closure as they grieve their loss,” stated Sapers.
When an inmate dies in custody or sustains serious bodily injury, CSC is obligated to “forthwith” investigate the matter. Despite this requirement, there is no legal obligation requiring CSC to publicly release the findings of its investigation or share the report with designated family members of the deceased. Family members must formally request a copy of the investigative report, which frequently takes more than a year to receive. Processed as an access to information request, the report is often heavily and unnecessarily redacted. CSC typically cites privacy concerns for not fully or proactively sharing relevant information and findings with designated family members. The investigation finds that these practices may have the unintended consequence of creating suspicion in the minds of parents about how their son or daughter died behind bars.
“This is not just a question of privacy, but one of fairness, transparency and compassion. For a grieving family, privacy concerns should not routinely be used to trump their right to know how their family member died in state custody.” Mr. Sapers added: “There are various points in the post-incident reviews of a death in custody in which factually relevant information could be shared with the family without ever violating any substantive or residual expectation of privacy. There is a broader and much more compelling public interest to be considered and balanced in such disclosures.”
The investigation further found that there is very little consistency in what families are told following a death, they often lack critical information about CSC ’s responsibilities and are not adequately informed of the post-incident investigative process.
The investigation led to 10 new recommendations, some of which are rooted in best practices from other countries. The full report cited in this release and background information is available at: www.oci-bec.gc.ca .
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.
For more information, please contact:
Ivan Zinger, J.D., Ph.D.
Executive Director and General Counsel