So much for the ‘law and order’ decade.

April 7, 2017

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould,
Minister of Justice,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: “Prisons became less deadly over past year, data show.”
        Patrick White, Toronto Globe and Mail, Friday, March 17, 2017

Dear Minister:

Patrick White’s article began, “In a single year under Liberal rule, federal prisons became less deadly, less crowded and less black, according to new data obtained by the Globe and Mail that suggested prison life has changed strikingly since the Harper Conservatives fell from power.”

The column went on to analyze the information leading to the conclusion, and referenced input from Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger, a useful observation from Jason Godin, National President of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, but only a non-committal response from a Correctional Service spokesperson.

Dr. Zinger said, “It’s quite impressive that, despite the fact there’s been no legislative changes, no regulatory changes, no injection of new money in corrections, the same commissioner, that we’ve seen a significant improvement in a number of performance indicators in health in prisons.” There are some setbacks, but “it’s mostly great news,” said the CI.

Minister, with my contacts in the work I do, one seasoned federal prison inmate was not surprised by the changes. As he put it in so many words, of course the anger over Harper’s perspective would give way to optimism with Trudeau’s refocus.

Those rehabilitative and progressive measures to which Ivan Zinger referred are an important and necessary component to trending changes for the better. Please make them happen.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Dr. Ivan Zinger

After bleak decade under Harper era, officials speculate on why a ‘significant improvement’ under Trudeau.

So ran the tag under the headline for the Patrick White Globe article on March 17.

Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger published sombre numbers last year looking at federal prison life during the decade under Stephen Harper. Health indicators spiked from the 2005-06 fiscal year to 2014-15 showing serious increases in bodily injuries, attempted suicides, double-bunking, suicides, deaths in custody, the gassing of inmates, and increases in black, aboriginal and female inmates. But, when the figures for the year immediately following Justin Trudeau’s election were compiled, all those 10-year trends ‘suddenly and inexplicably nose-dived.’

Not all areas improved. Inmate-on-inmate assaults still increased by 14 per cent, and while use of force against inmates by guards declined by 6 per cent after climbing nearly 50 per cent during the Conservative era, the use of chemical sprays against inmates grew almost 7 percent, and that after increasing 236 per cent during the previous ten years.

Perhaps that helps explain Michael Tutton’s Canadian Press article published in the Toronto Star shortly before on Tuesday, February 28. “Number of prison lawsuits tops 1,200”, where the same Correctional Investigator Zinger says that inmate-on-inmate and guard violence must be addressed.

There were 1203 active cases against CSC as of the end of March in 2016, handled by about 15 lawyers on Correctional Services Canada staff; the federal Department of Justice is used for additional legal advice. CSC is paying out around $10 million in legal fees, and a further $643,000 in out-of-court settlements during the year.

Zinger suggests that when families and inmates are asked to remain silent about the details of settlements, it can reduce the incentive for change in the Service. ”That’s an awful lot of energy devoted to fighting lawsuits and I’m of the view some of that energy could be better channeled by developing strategy to reduce the number is issues raised in the lawsuits,” he said.

In response, Correctional Services said it considers the correctional investigator’s views, but there is no indication it plans to decrease the number of non-disclosure agreements, or address actions to lower the number of legal actions.

So be it. It’s only your money, after all.

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