According to Canada’s Correctional Investigator, inmates are spending too much time confined in segregation. Dr. Ivan Zinger says more needs to be done for those incarcerated and living with mental health issues.
“Our view is that once a person is acutely mentally ill, they should be in a psychiatric facility — whether an external psychiatric facility or a treatment facility within the service,” explained Zinger during a press conference on Tuesday in Ottawa.
Zinger was appointed as the Correctional Investigator in January, and his first report raises much concern about conditions of confinement that he claims serve no underlying correctional or rehabilitative purpose.
But correctional officers have often argued that confinement is an important tool to have, and the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says it’s not just used for discipline but protection as well.
“It’s really unfortunate that we keep attacking segregation and yet, what the critics fail to realize is this is an extremely valuable population management tool that we have,” explained Jason Godin.
The report also raises concerns about how women offenders are isolated when transferred for emergency treatment. They’re often isolated and segregated in all-male prisons. And that’s a human rights violations according to the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Kingston, a not-for-profit organization that supports women in conflict with the law.
“Just because somebody is a woman and there’s lack of space or appropriate facilities for somebody, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to warehouse them and that’s basically what they’re doing,” said Elayne Furoy.
There’s also concern surrounding the lack of employment opportunities as only 10 per cent of inmates are gainfully employed. The report argues that much of the work is menial and does not lead to viable work upon release. And as for women, Zinger suggests they are almost exclusively engaged in stereotyped, gendered work such as sewing, textiles and laundry.
It’s one of the only points in the report that union officials agree with.
“You’ll never get an argument from a correctional officer or certainly from us about inmates having idle time. Quite frankly, the more programming, the more work programs we have for inmates, the better it is,” said Godin.
And food appears to be an issue behind bars.
Zinger says small portions and inferior quality food are driving heightened tensions and a black market economy behind bars. Spending cuts in 2014 resulted in a fixed daily food budget of $5.41 per inmate which has fuelled a flood of complaints about portion size, especially protein, as well as quality and selection.
“In some institutions, food has become part of the underground economy — where it is bought, bartered or sold for other items. Many offenders now have no choice but to buy food at the canteen to complement their CSC diets,” explained Zinger.
In all, the report has 17 recommendations ranging from living conditions and access to health care and the prevention of deaths in custody.
CSC has completed a comprehensive review of those recommendations and is addressing in one way, shape or form, all of those concerns.
As for the union, the executive says it’ll be going through the report, line by line.
“There’s reports and then there’s reality, and correctional officers know better than anyone in this system what reality is because we’re there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Godin.