Prisoner treatment in Canada draws criticism

The offenders are placed into minimum-, medium- or maximum-security levels and routed into the appropriate prison.
The offenders are placed into minimum-, medium- or maximum-security levels and routed into the appropriate prison.

The recent uproar over the handling of one of Tori Stafford’s killers, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who was returned to the medium-security Edmonton Institute for Women after being released to an Indigenous healing lodge last year, has put a spotlight on the rights and regulations of Canadian prisoners.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced that in all future cases, prisoners won’t be transferred to lower-security facilities, until the “preparation for release” part of the sentence, according to the National Post.

“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) also will have to consider inmates’ behaviour and how close they are to being eligible for unescorted temporary absences from prison before transferring them,” writes Randy Richmond.

McClintic was sent back only after her story came to light and the public responded with outrage and protest. Goodale also announced the government’s intention to make the process more transparent.

But what are some of the current regulations for prisoners and why are some so controversial?

CSC is the federal body responsible and it “oversees an offender’s correctional process through several stages, from sentencing until Warrant Expiry Date (the end of their sentence), and beyond for offenders subject to a long-term supervision order,” according to the Serving Time page at the CSC web site.

The first step is to make an “intake assessment” and draw up a “correctional plan” for each offender based on information from “police, courts, victims, family members and the inmate.”

The offenders are placed into minimum-, medium- or maximum-security levels and routed into the appropriate prison and “the main goal is to ensure that eligible offenders safely return to the community.”

Healing lodges, where McClintic was sent, offer a different perspective for Indigenous offenders.

“We use Aboriginal values, traditions and beliefs to design services and programs for offenders. We include Aboriginal concepts of justice and reconciliation. The approach to corrections is holistic and spiritual. Programs include guidance and support from Elders and Aboriginal communities,” according to the CSC.

But the lodges are not exclusive to Indigenous Canadians; non-Indigenous are eligible but they “must choose to follow Aboriginal programming and spirituality.”

The first such lodge was opened in 1995. Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is a minimum/medium-security facility in Saskatchewan that has 60 beds and 65 staff members.

The CSC lists eight other lodges in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec.

While many have decried what they perceive as Canada’s lackadaisical treatment of prisoners in the past (Karla Homolka is a recent example of an offender many felt was released too soon), according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), “Every person on Canadian soil, whether they are in our prison system or in our immigration system, deserves to be treated with humanity and dignity, and to have full access to Canada’s human rights protections.”

The CHRC’s sobering statistics show one in four inmates are Indigenous and 36 per cent of female federal offenders are Indigenous . Clearly, there is a need to have some way of addressing the issue of too many First Nations prisoners in the federal system.

In McClintic’s case, she self-identified as Aboriginal, which was “made up” and is part of her “very smart and manipulative” nature, one of her family members told Global News.

On the other end of the scale, some are calling the treatment of prisoners with mental-health problems a disgrace.

“The prisoners who have behavioural problems because of mental disabilities are the ones who CSC ends up throwing in the hole and throwing away the key,” said Jennifer Metcalfe, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services in Vancouver.

The group filed suits alleging mistreatment against prisoners by using “administrative segregation” as a tool to manage offenders who suffer from mental illness, rather than providing them with proper medical care, the law firm alleges.

“Our clients tell us it’s worse than segregation. They describe it as the worst possible torture. So if you’re at the point where you feel you need to end your life they put you in total deprivation and you’re under constant observation by a correctional officer who isn’t providing therapeutic treatment,” according to Metcalfe.

But a mandate letter was recently issued to the head of CSC by Goodale, calling on it to reduce segregation.

“Different groups of offenders — including black Canadians, women, young adults, LGBTQ2 people and aging offenders — have different needs and experiences, which require tailored approaches,” wrote Goodale.

The government introduced Bill C-83 in an effort to change the rules, which would allow for segregated inmates to experience “meaningful” contact with other humans, instead of the current regime, which allows for no contact.

Clearly, federal prisons need some reform because the tough-on-crime method and the healing approaches are both fraught with troubles and concerns for some Canadians.


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