I'd like to bring this meeting to order.
This is the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This is our second meeting in this session. We are continuing our study of federal corrections, focusing on mental health and addiction.
We would like to welcome our witnesses this afternoon: Brenda Tole, retired warden; Ruth Martin, clinical professor; and Amber-Anne Christie, a research assistant. We welcome all of you to the committee.
At the beginning of your remarks, you may introduce yourselves a little more than I have and tell us about yourselves. Then you'll have approximately ten minutes each for an opening statement.
In case you have never been before the committee, I'll mention that we usually start with the official opposition making some comments and asking questions, and then we just go around, giving all the political parties a turn. That's how we run the committee.
Have you decided who would like to go first?
Ms. Christie, go ahead.
I'm just going to read my bio.
I am a Cree first nations woman. I was first incarcerated at the age of 20 and returned to prison 30 times over the next five years. In my most recent incarceration I spent six months inside of Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. Previous to that, I had spent time in Surrey Pretrial and Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women, as I suffered from a severe heroin addiction for many years and lived on the streets of Vancouver's east side. I have been free of drugs and alcohol and prisons for four and a half years. I am a mother and a contributing member of society.
I am a research assistant for the University of British Columbia, working in community-based participatory research. I am employed by the project called Doing Time and I am part of the Women in 2 Healing team in which I interview women who have been incarcerated in a provincial institution within the last year. I interview women at zero, three, six, nine, and twelve months after their release from prison and ask them about how they are achieving their nine health goals.
We also have a community-based participatory research project called Aboriginal Healing Outside Of The Gates, which I will get into in more depth in my opening statement. Our goal is to support women in the reintegration process so that they can safely reintegrate into their chosen communities.
Thank you for having me here today, and I hope that you will listen to what we have to say.
As I sat and reviewed the documentary footage made of Ashley Smith's time in prison, I couldn't help but find myself being able to identify with her. I myself have been in prison 30 times. Of those 30 times, 29 of them were spent either all in segregation or the majority of time in segregation. I can identify completely with the desperate need to have human contact and the loneliness and isolation that you feel being locked in a cell with nothing to do all day. I remember I would look forward to meals because I could read the labels of my drink containers over and over and over again. I was not segregated because of behaviour issues or security issues, but because I was withdrawing from heroin.
I was still unable to have anything in my cell to help me stay occupied, such as a book or a pen or paper. I looked forward to count, when the guard would come and count us and hopefully we'd have a nice guard to sometimes tell us how their day was. It was human contact.
I continued to go through those revolving doors until my last stay in corrections in 2005. For the first time I was sent to Alouette Correctional Centre for Women and for the first time I was not segregated. This happened to be when Brenda Tole was the warden and Ruth Martin was the doctor in the prison. When I arrived at Alouette I was checked into health care, and to my amazement I was sent to a unit.
From there on I got a job in the institution, as it was a work camp, and I reconnected with family outside of prison with the help of a wonderful doctor who encouraged me to do so. I also received health care when I was in prison, something I had rarely ever encountered in other prisons. I was a very sick girl with many different complications from my drug use. I was on remand, so I was unable to access any of the programs geared towards substance abuse or anger management.
However, there was a program that was happening all around me that was hard to go unnoticed. There were babies in this prison. I was shocked when I first saw the babies. The way the prison was being run was more like a rehabilitation centre than a prison. It was amazing. Not only was there a library and a gym there, there was a native elder there to talk to. As well, there was drumming and dancing every Tuesday night. As a mother myself, I have to say that it helped me to remember the things I was giving up, and I know that the other inmates dealt with their problems and reacted differently because there was a baby there.
I was released from prison in October 2005, and I have not been back since. I will be the first to say that this exact prison changed my life. I had been in many prisons before, but this prison treated me like I was a person and not a number.
A year after my release I connected on Facebook with a group called ACCW alumni. We all met up outside of prison and started up the research that Ruth had started us on in the institution. Today I am employed by the University of British Columbia as a research assistant, and have been for over a year, and I am a team member of Women in 2 Healing. We research our passions with the hope to create change.
We are a supportive network of women who are facing the challenges of being incarcerated. Working with Women in 2 Healing has changed my life in so many ways. I can help other inmates today to face those challenges.
I also work for the Doing Time project. I interview women when they are released from prison, as well as at three, six, nine, and twelve months after release. We ask them questions about health care access, housing, community resources, drug use, spirituality, self-esteem, and employment, and numerous other questions. Our team has interviewed over 500 women.
We have just gotten to the halfway point of our third grant-funded project, another community-based participatory research project, and it's called Aboriginal Healing Outside of the Gates. In this project, we are doing interviews with aboriginal women who have been in a provincial or federal correctional centre.
The goal of this project is to see exactly what challenges women face after they have been in the community for a while, what kind of impact incarceration has had on their journey into reintegrating, and what the barriers are. We're also looking at what percentage of women have been accessing health care and community resources after their release.
What we have heard from women so far is that a big percentage of women have reverted to doing drugs and alcohol due to an inability to properly access resources and gain employment. But women still have hope that they will be able to make things change.
They have also told us that they need to treated with dignity and respect. That's not always the case after being incarcerated. They all have a need to not be pushed into anything after they've been incarcerated. They don't want that. I have to say that stable employment, a supportive network of safe people, and having someone who listens to me are the biggest positives in my life today.
Among some of the biggest challenges we see with women when they are released--and I want to stress this--is that women are not getting housing referrals when they are released and they are ending up homeless. Of 500 women, 40% women leave prison homeless--that's 40%--and many more, a bigger majority, end up homeless within months. This has to change.
They're also not getting the proper drug and mental health treatment that they need and want. Also, they're not given enough places that take women from prison, the treatment centres that will accept women from prison. The ones that do accept them have long waiting periods, as the majority of centres will not accept women from prison just because they've been in prison.
Giving a woman in prison a welfare cheque and saying “be on your way” is not rehabilitation. The gaps in the system need to be closed.
Thank you for listening.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for inviting me to be a witness.
I come wearing three hats. I juggle a few hats, but these are the ones I'm wearing today.
As a prison family physician, I've worked in corrections systems for 16 years, mostly with women and mostly in the provincial system, but I do have some experience with men's facilities and federal systems.
The second hat I wear is as a clinical professor in the UBC department of family practice. Amber has talked about some of the research in which I'm involved.
My third hat, more recently acquired, is as director of the Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education. It is a group of academics and community organizations--actually anybody who wants to join--that is looking at ways to facilitate collaborative opportunities for health education research service and advocacy for people in custody, their families, and communities.
I'd like to share with you five personal reflections that I formulated about mental health, primarily in female corrections. These personal reflections are consistent with prison health publications, which I've footnoted in my written submission to you. I'd be happy to supply any of the documents to you if you'd like to read them further at a later stage. Don't hesitate to ask me.
It's well established that prison populations throughout the world suffer more ill health than the general population, and that female prison populations suffer more ill health than male prison populations. As a prison physician I've witnessed this over the years. As I've witnessed women cycle in and out of the system over the years, I've come to learn that most women are incarcerated because of crimes due to their disordered health and social lives. Therefore I've come to realize and reflect that the key to women's successful reintegration into society lies with figuring out how to empower incarcerated women to improve their health.
The second reflection pertains to the aboriginal people, who are tragically overrepresented in our systems. Over the years I've listened to aboriginal patients and aboriginal colleagues explain to me about their understanding of health. They've taught me that mental health is not a stand-alone thing. It is closely interwoven with a person's physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I realize that I started off in my career with a very Eurocentric or western-centric view of health, and I've come to appreciate that in order to engage incarcerated people to improve their health, we all need to improve our cultural knowledge and sensitivity.
My third reflection that I wish to share with you is that women with incarceration experience are experts about their own health. This was reinforced for me during this participatory health research project that we started in prison. I thought we would focus our research on HIV, hepatitis C, and addictions, but in fact when we asked women in prison what they would like to research in order to improve their health they told us they wanted to become better mothers. They wanted to become involved in meaningful work. They wanted to improve their community support and have safe housing.
The goals that women in prison identified that were important to improving their health were very similar to my own goals and probably to your goals. They are consistent with the public literature that pertains to mental health, social inclusion, and health promotion. All of these published studies agree that in order to improve the mental health of a population we have to affirm people's self-confidence, engage people in decision-making processes, and focus on people's strengths rather than their deficits. Doing so will enhance their sense of hope and their belief that they can succeed and change.
A fourth reflection that I've learned through my work with the collaborating centre is that numerous multi-sector organizations are keen and eager to collaborate with prisons to foster health. In fact, they recognize that they should be playing a role, particularly in two components of service.
First, individuals in prison should be offered the best multidisciplinary, patient-centred prison services that we can, including health. The second component is that during their transition to the outside community, individuals should be offered well-coordinated continuity of care. I can share three examples of that: inter-ministerial collaborations in other countries on health, academic collaborations on health, and collaborations at the local prison community level, if you wish.
The final reflection I wish to address is that most of the incarcerated people I've met are not mentally healthy. The prevalence rates, as you know, vary, depending on how you diagnose mental illness or how you measure it. In the literature it varies from 12% up to between 76% and 80%, and you've heard those figures in the statements of your previous witnesses.
Most of the women I see in prison clinics do not fall into a mentally ill psychiatric diagnosis, nor do they warrant transfer to a psychiatric hospital or treatment centre. However, the majority of people I have met in prison suffer from mental health difficulties such as anxiety, insomnia, flashbacks to previous trauma, depressive episodes, interpersonal conflicts, and poor impulse control. Many also have substance dependence, which is associated with their mental health difficulties. Some may be related to an under-diagnosed or under-screened condition such as a learning difficulty or fetal alcohol syndrome.
Regardless, women in prison across the board tell me that if they could figure out how to improve their mental health while they're inside prison, they will have a better chance of succeeding when they leave prison. I have reflected on about six suggestions--probably more--over my experience of working with people in prison, and also reading the prison literature.
The first one would be that incarceration in this country should be viewed as an opportunity for individuals to improve their mental health and to turn their lives around. Therefore, we should be doing everything we can to nurture processes inside prison that demonstrate success in improving health.
The second one is that we should be incorporating into every correctional system participatory processes that listen to and act upon the voice of individuals with incarceration experience about ways to improve mental health.
The third one is that prisons are really stressful places to work. There's a real tension that staff experience between nurture versus security and it's very wearing on prison staff. The mental health of inmates is really influenced and impacted by the morale of prison staff. Therefore, prisons should adopt what the literature calls a “whole prison settings approach” for health promotion that engages staff and inmates, because then prisons will become more effective in helping the mental health of inmates.
The fourth suggestion is that healthy prison environments should be fostered, because healthy environments will reinforce the educational benefits of inmates who participate in prison educational programs. By contrast, unhealthy prison environments will negate and undermine the benefits of these programs.
The fifth one is that prisons that use creative alternatives to solitary confinement foster healthier mental health both for the staff and for the incarcerated individuals. The use of solitary confinement does not enhance an individual's mental health. It worsens it, especially among those with pre-existing mental health difficulties. In Canada, therefore, we should support and commend prison management teams that do not use solitary confinement. In fact, we should discourage the use of solitary confinement in Canada.
The sixth suggestion is that because the overall prison ethos influences the mental health of inmates and staff, we should do everything we can, from top ministerial levels all the way down the chain, to support prison management teams that create and sustain a healthy prison ethos.
Thank you very much for listening to my reflections, and I welcome your questions.
Mr. Chair and committee members, I am very pleased to be here and to have this opportunity to speak to you regarding these very important issues within corrections.
My experience is in the British Columbia corrections system. I spent 36 years in this field, both in community and custody settings, and have worked with youth, men, and women. The last position I held was warden of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.
British Columbia has benefited over the years from its relationship with Correctional Service of Canada. CSC is generous and resourceful when sharing research and program and policy information. The provincial system houses remanded and sentenced offenders and immigration detainees. The maximum sentence length is two years less one day in the provincial system. However, people often spend long periods, sometimes several years, remanded and awaiting trial. All offenders who are admitted to CSC have been in the provincial correctional system prior to their admission. In B.C. there are approximately 2,500 in custody and 25,000 supervised in the community on bail or probation on any given day. The difference in sentence length has huge implications for program and service delivery and community reintegration, but both systems face many similar challenges. Corrections has a mandate to ensure public safety while exercising humane control. Balancing public attitudes to offenders with research and best correctional practice is a very difficult process.
This committee is focused on offenders with mental health disorders and offender programming. I'd like to talk a bit about interventions and initiatives that I have found to have a positive outcome for staff, contractors, and offenders in a custody setting. I'm going to focus on women offenders, which is the area of my most recent experience, but many of these issues are relevant to both populations.
Women make up approximately 10% of the custody population and due to the small numbers have been greatly influenced by the larger male population in areas of physical plant design, security, classification, risk needs assessment, and programs. When we opened Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, we had an opportunity to slowly move away from a model focused on security and control towards a more pro-social offender responsibility model. It is very difficult to move away from long-standing attitudes and ideas around safety and security. However, we found the more normalized environment made the centre safer for staff and inmates, and institutional violence and use of force incidents were greatly reduced.
I am mindful of time, so I will briefly list some of the factors I felt contributed to positive change at this centre.
The actual physical plant design and centre environment have a significant impact on staff and offenders, particularly those offenders suffering from mental health disorders. All benefit from access to natural light, fresh air, regular physical activity, and non-controlled movement whenever possible. It is important to note that this type of building is generally much cheaper to build and to maintain. Classification of women to the least restrictive setting needs to be a high priority. Women, particularly aboriginal women, tend to be classified to higher security levels than required. Placing people at the least restrictive setting using a good classification process immediately rather than making them apply for or earn the placement is a much more consistent and efficient process. All offenders, particularly those with mental health disorders, manage much better in a less restrictive and therapeutic setting.
For example, we had a number of offenders at Alouette who were on remand prior to moving to Correctional Services of Canada. They managed for periods of over a year at a medium open centre, which is what we had. When they were sentenced they moved to the federal system, and then were required to stay in a maximum security setting for two years due to policy. That's an example of how, from the viewpoint of classification, you can have a huge impact. Policy has no flexibility. It makes it very difficult to actually do what's in the best interests of everybody.
Offenders have a huge interest in programs and services in a correctional centre and if engaged can contribute to defining their needs. Open communication with staff and administration can reduce the development of a negative subculture, which often operates in a correctional centre. Offenders, supervised by staff, should be encouraged to take responsibility for appropriate aspects of programs and operations. Aboriginal women seem to be even more impacted by the isolation from their family and community. Programs that facilitate the return of these women to their community, under supervision of band or community justice components whenever possible, seem to present the most positive outcome. The ever-increasing over-representation of aboriginal women in custody continues to be of grave concern. It is a tragedy, and I do not think that more aboriginal programming and services within our present correctional environment will impact the situation.
Supporting aboriginal governments, organizations, and service providers to assume more responsibility for the management of aboriginal offenders presents the most promise.
Mutual respect between staff and offenders is critical for a safe and secure environment. Staff who engage offenders with respect and who focus on being professional and helpful contribute to an environment that is pro-social. A better working environment affects staff recruitment and retention and lowers rates of staff absenteeism. The positive aspects of good staff-offender relations are seen in program interest and participation. It needs to be recognized that the negative effects of being in custody increase with sentence length.
Good health services are one of the most important components of the correctional centre. Physical and mental health professionals who work in coordination with corrections in delivering consistent and timely health services, including preventive education, are essential. Providing health services to a community standard is an ongoing struggle. There is also a need for continuity of care upon reintegration into the community. Partnerships with provincial health authorities could provide continuity of care and community standards and would promote a “patient first, offender second” approach. Staff training from forensic mental health services has helped our staff, in the past, understand mental health symptoms and non-compliant behaviours from a different perspective. It has also exposed them to hospital model interventions for dealing with offenders who have mental health disorders.
The use of segregation, other than for serious disciplinary matters, has a very negative effect on offenders, particularly women and those with mental health disorders. I have not seen any benefit from isolating an individual from support, comforts, and human contact for extended periods of time. If anything, this procedure tends to escalate problem behaviours. What has benefited these offenders is not isolation but rather extra staff or contractors to engage with them and close attention from health professionals.
Self-harm is a very complex and difficult issue. In four years at Alouette, we had one minor incident of self-harm occur, and it was not repeated. I think it's important, when looking at self-harm, to see it not in isolation but to see it basically in the environment in which it happens. It's really a symptom of extreme emotional distress.
On women and their children, a high percentage of women in custody have dependent children. Women are often in centres that are large distances from their children and families. This should be a major consideration in any administrative transfer. Initiatives that promote and foster contact between women and their children is beneficial to both. These include enhanced visits, email, tapes, telephone calls, and letters. Research shows that the children of incarcerated women are more negatively impacted if the contact with their mothers is limited or absent. One of the most compelling factors for women to change their behaviour or lifestyle is pregnancy and having children. Having a supportive mother-baby program at Alouette had an amazing, positive impact on the mothers involved and on the other inmates and staff. This initiative was basically a health initiative, and it was done in conjunction with the Vancouver Women's Hospital, which had requested that we give consideration to it. They worked very closely with us on that program.
Of the 12 mothers who brought babies back from the hospital and were released to the community with their babies, 11 have remained out of custody. The initiative was also a partnership with several other ministries, community agencies, and women offenders and their families. It was based on the best interests of the child.
The one thing that is not in my notes that I would like to make a comment on is reintegration. Integration is really a combination of having the community involved inside the centre and with offenders outside the centre. The community is a very interested group that is quite willing to participate inside the centre. It will provide expertise and the standards of the community. That applies to a number of areas, including what Dr. Martin has talked about in terms of health, but also in terms of education and job preparation and vocational courses. There is an amazing source of information and program availability actually sitting right in the community.
I think it's really important for the community to have involvement in the centres. It's a way for the public to gain an education on what actually works for offenders and not necessarily the public perception we sometimes have, which is quite negative. It also reduces the fear factor.
In terms of increasing the number of temporary absences and the ability for offenders to return to the community, I think that supportive transitional housing in the community, particularly accommodation for women and children, is essential.
It's important to recognize that women tend to be associated with the same risk that men present to public safety, which is simply inaccurate. When it comes to release into the community, for that population, I think it presents an opportunity to really increase the access that women offenders have to the community.
I want to thank you for this opportunity. I'd be happy to answer questions the committee has.
I think we basically had a physical environment that was conducive. It was a campus-style environment and it had a very large fence around it, so it certainly was secure from that perspective. We had an opportunity to start out with a small population to work with. We started with about 45, and when I left there were 144. It basically was a process of encouraging staff and gently relaxing what had come from a very restrictive environment at, which was a joint provincial and federal institution.
It was a slow process. I'd have to say to you that it is difficult for staff used to operating in a certain environment to move away from it. The continued positive reaction we got from the population was there--we literally did not have violence against staff. I won't say that we didn't have any violence. We had occasional fights between the women who were there, but it was much reduced. We had, as I mentioned, almost no self-harm.
It was just basically a process of continued engagement on the basis of the staff, so that it was dynamic security. They were out on the grounds and in the units with the women rather than sitting in an office. It was engaging the women in terms of what was going on in the centre, listening to them, involving them in the research that Dr. Martin spoke of, and continually expanding their responsibility. It wasn't without occasional problems. I'm not going to say it was perfect, because it wasn't. But we also noticed that our staff absence went from one of the highest in the province in terms of institutional staff to the lowest, at the time I left.
It is a fallacy that the more structured the environment, the safer it is. It isn't. The more confined, structured, and authoritarian the environment is, the more difficulty they have in living within that environment, and they tend to produce much more in the way of management problems. As a result, it's not a safe environment. It's unfortunate when institutions move more and more towards that--more technology, more security, more restrictive movement--because what you actually generate is a very dysfunctional population that presents a threat to the staff.
Yes, and I'd like to clarify.
There are also different types of segregation. You have administrative segregation or segregation that has been used and is often used in systems for mental health issues or self-harm issues, and then you have segregation that is used for separation because of violence that is not related to mental health.
I would say that there are a lot of creative solutions that you can use from the mental health aspect, and Dr. Martin has spoken to a number of those. It's not that you don't, on occasion, have to separate people from the other population, it's the manner in which you do it and it's the timeframe in which you do it, because you cannot expect improvement when you put people in very severe conditions over very long periods of time. What you will end up doing is generating much more dangerous, much more violent individuals.
In the systems I worked in, both male institutions and female institutions, yes, there's segregation there, and on occasion there is a reason to segregate people. I think that the type of environment you build does not need to look as austere as usually it does because it basically deprives peoples of just basic human needs.
The other thing is the length of time. If you separate someone because of a disciplinary issue, because of violence, you don't need to keep them separate for great long periods of time. My experience in the male institutions was that it was something that was reviewed on a daily basis by management, and the sooner you could get that person out and into another environment, into a normalized environment, the safer the staff were. I know it's a very difficult thing to look to when you see this end product that's very violent and is acting out, but in reality, if you track back you'll see, in most cases, that this has been an ongoing process, that it didn't start out that way. When you segregate people for long periods of time you end up with a very violent and very dangerous population. It doesn't improve them; they don't get better.
If you relate it to kids, if you use extreme punishment on kids when they make mistakes or are difficult, you don't generate a positive reaction. And when you do that over periods of years, you're going to generate something that's very unfortunate.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today. We do really appreciate that.
Some of your comments are interesting, Dr. Martin, because we did go to Norway, and we did go to Britain. You talk about the studies. Interestingly, we had some of the information previously about segregation. It turned out, when we dug a little bit under the surface, they did use segregation more than what they would seem to indicate in their document. It fits with what Warden Tole is saying: nobody wants to see segregation, but there are sometimes places for it.
That being said, like everyone else here, I am impressed with Ms. Christie coming here today to tell us her story. There is a great deal we can learn. It seems to me that by the time many of these people get to the federal prison system, we have already lost. Something went wrong somewhere while growing up, being a young adult, being in correctional systems in the province, and in health care systems in some cases. Then they're into the federal system, which indicates that all of those other things haven't worked. What have we done wrong?
I am kind of appalled when I look at it. You were incarcerated 30 times in five years, which is once every two months, and then, you told us, you were in segregation and when you got out you wanted to change. You talked about the two girls who were fighting who were put in segregation, and they didn't want to go back to maximum security so they straightened their lives out. It almost seems that they needed something sharp in the way of incarceration to say “This is not the path you need to follow. You need to seek help or find help.” Am I looking at that wrongly? There were 29 times when obviously either you didn't receive what you needed or the system didn't deter you from going back.
I am the newcomer to the committee and I am fascinated by what I hear regarding prevention and the way you work in this establishment. I'm going to ask you three or four questions and then you can respond to them. I have one question in particular for Ms. Christie.
Would we be able to transfer this approach so that it can be used for both men and women? Obviously, at the provincial level, there may be medium-security prisons—as you mentioned earlier, where it is easier to operate in this way, compared to the federal system. Earlier, we talked about costs. In my opinion, interesting projects that can lead someone, with respect to mental health, to a level where the individual will become productive when he returns to society are priceless. These are major, significant projects that we should be proud about, as a society, if we are successful.
I would like to hear Ms. Christie speak about the Doing Time project. You meet with the women on a regular basis. However, there seems to be a problem, from the way you describe the situation, regarding community services that are not always available, including social housing. You talked at great length about the women who get out of prison and had no housing. Eventually, they even find themselves homeless.
Unless I am mistaken, our society creates poverty despite the fact that there is a great deal of wealth. We put people in prison and segregate them. You, however, have a new formula which enables these people to be reintegrated into society, through significant partnerships. I am fascinated by this and I would like to hear you speak about the Doing Time project, among other things, and find out whether this project is transferable.
Thank you to the witnesses for coming today. It's been very instructive.
When we visited the prisons in Great Britain--you alluded to Great Britain--I can tell you some of the people we spoke to have varying opinions as to the cost and the affordability of some of the programs. My challenge is going to be for you to tell me, given the real world we live in, and the fact that the cash register is not open and you don't just make a wish list and the money flows.... I guess the challenge to me, when I was working in my previous job, was the boss would come to us and say, given the resources we have, I want you to reconstruct or to change some things. Given, though, that the federal government.... You know we're operating in silos, and I think, Ms. Tole, you alluded to the fact that some of the things we're dealing with can't be dealt with in a silo. So you have the federal government's responsibility, you have provincial responsibility--we were talking about social housing--and we sometimes have municipal responsibilities.,
You were talking about some of your experiences going to a local lockup and the hint is that the federal government hasn't done its share. We've increased and we will be increasing every year by 3% social transfer payments to the provinces. For Ontario, that's $9 billion in various transfers. But I think we have to do things better.
I'm going to ask you some hit-and-miss questions on some of the things I'm going to talk about. We went to Okimaw Ochi in Saskatchewan, first nations treatments--very successful, from what I understand, building on what Ms. Christie has to say. We went to Saskatchewan, and the integration.... One of the prisons there is now basically treated as a hospital, as opposed to a prison.
Then we went to Dorchester and we talked to some of the inmates. One of the inmates who was suffering from mental illness told us that he actually tells them when he needs to go to segregation, that he needs to be by himself. I forget what he was suffering from--schizophrenia, I believe--and he thought it very helpful to his mental illness to be alone. So if we're going to wave a wand and say do away with segregation, I think we have to be careful--that it does have some usages and sometimes people need to be alone and need to be afforded an opportunity to do that.
There's social housing, $2 billion towards that. In my community, $400,000 is going to a home for battered women.
I just wondered if you would each comment on the fact that maybe we need to have some new relationships between the federal government and provinces and share best practices and do some of those things.
My former executive assistant was on leave from Corrections Canada and he's now back working in one of Canada's largest institutions, which is Warkworth. Sometimes we're dealing with staff and unions that actually demand some of those things. So it's not as easy as saying we'll wave a wand and do away with it, when we have unions saying we want more of it.
Some comments, please.
As she was talking, I was just reflecting on something we said at lunch. I think it was Amber who said it doesn't actually cost any money for people to be kind.
You say there is difficulty with staff, maybe, or opposition. I think, frankly, your committee here has an enormous opportunity at this point to actually influence the future of corrections. We've all been appalled by the Ashley Smith death. It would be wrong to say that things like that happen all the time; however, unfortunately I suspect that many people are mistreated because of the system we have.
You have an enormous opportunity to make recommendations that maybe aren't going to cost very much but actually could bring about profound changes. Increasing staff's cultural competence, cultural knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and gender sensitivity probably costs less than trying to increase their security skills.
Rewarding and commending wardens for providing safe, healthy settings would probably not cost very much but actually would reap enormous benefits in terms of staff satisfaction and job enjoyment. I can't see that any staff who are dealing with hostile, angry individuals, locking them in segregation, are actually enjoying their day. I suspect that if they're actually engaged in meaningful ways with the people they're caring for and they're feeling that the whole prison is working on the same vision, it would be a much more fun place to work.
So yes, it will take a paradigm shift and it will take recommendations, but it's not an impossible task.
It's probably all of those things. Poverty is one, in addition to a number of the systemic things the population has suffered.
Generally speaking, from my experience, the first nations population, or aboriginal population, does not do well in our prison system, provincial or federal. Supporting the process of transfer of programs and responsibility to the bands and nations that are able to manage them, and to support that process, would probably have a great deal more success. You can't get much worse than what we're doing. In terms of managing that population, we really can't.
I just want to make one comment about what you said in terms of how to stop people from coming into prison. The female population in Canada, the United States, Australia, and Great Britain has drastically increased, really incredibly, over the last five years. If you look at all those countries you'll see that there has been a reduction in social programs. It affects every population, but women are affected first.
Basically, the leaning more towards a kind of war on drugs, against crime, and the reduction in social programs has basically pulled a lot of that population into our system.
I'm very glad that Mr. McColeman raised the important public debate that's taking place right now about longer sentencing in general. He referred to it in terms of providing enough time to help reintegrate those who are incarcerated. I'm glad that he's put it within that context, because, unfortunately, most of the debate is around sloganeering--“You do the crime, you do the time”--so it's about punishment. It's also often about that issue of security: we're scared of these people, so let's segregate them for as long as possible.
Ms. Christie, you would have been a poster child for those arguments five years ago. You were in and out 30 times.
Something changed. We heard what changed: the programming. A different approach made that change in your life, and you said you could fill this room with other examples of women whose lives have been changed.
In that previous time, when you were in and out and in and out, if you'd been incarcerated in those previous circumstances for a longer period of time, would that have broken that cycle for you? Please give us a quick yes or no.