Mr. Speaker, Bill C-83 has two main objectives.
First of all, it would allow federal inmates to be separated from the general prison population when necessary for security reasons. Second, it will ensure that inmates have access to the interventions, programs and mental health care they need to safely return to the general prison population and make progress toward successful rehabilitation and reintegration.
The bill would achieve these objectives by replacing the current system of administrative segregation with structured intervention units. In SIUs, inmates would be entitled to twice as much time out of their cells, four hours daily instead of two, and two hours of meaningful human contact every day.
We have allocated $448 million over six years to ensure that the Correctional Service has the resources to provide programs and interventions to inmates in SIUs and to implement this new system safely and effectively. That funding includes $150 million for mental health care, both in SIUs and throughout the federal correction system.
Bill C-83 was introduced last October. It was studied by the public safety committee in November and reported back to the House in December with a number of amendments. There were further amendments at report stage, in February, including one from the member for Oakville North—Burlington that added a system for binding external review.
In recent months, hon. senators have been studying the bill, and they have now sent it back to us with proposed amendments of their own. The high level of interest in Bill C-83 is indicative of the importance of the federal corrections system and of the laws and policies that govern it. Effective and humane corrections are essential to public safety, and they are a statement of who we are as a country. In the words of Dostoyevsky, “the degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.”
I extend my sincere thanks to all the intervenors who provided testimony and written briefs over the course of the last nine months and to parliamentarians in both chambers who examined this legislation and made thoughtful and constructive suggestions.
Since the Senate social affairs committee completed clause-by-clause consideration of the bill a couple of weeks ago, the government has been carefully studying the committee's recommendations, all of which seek to achieve laudable objectives. We are proposing to accept several of the Senate's amendments as is or with small technical modifications.
First, with respect to minor adjustments, we agree with amendments that would require a mental health assessment of all inmates within 30 days of admission into federal custody and within 24 hours of being transferred to an SIU. This fits with the focus on early diagnosis and treatment that will be facilitated by the major investments we are making in mental health care.
We agree with the proposal to rearrange section 29 of the act, which deals with inmate transfers, to emphasize the possibility of transfers to external hospitals. The Correctional Service runs five certified psychiatric hospitals of its own and will now have significant new resources for mental health care. Even so, there may be cases when a transfer to an external facility is appropriate. If the transfer can be done safely, if the hospital has the capacity and if it is in the best interest of the patient, then it should be done. In fact, that is why we allocated funds in budget 2018 for more external mental health beds.
We also agree with an amendment regarding the initial review of SIU transfers. The bill would require a review by the warden in the first five days. This amendment clarifies that the clock on those five days would start ticking as soon as the transfer decision was made, as opposed to the moment the inmate physically arrived in the SIU.
With minor changes, we agree with two amendments to the section of the bill that would require consideration of systemic and background factors in decisions involving indigenous offenders. One of them would provide greater precision by specifying that a person's family and adoption history should be included in the analysis. The other would clarify that these factors may be used to lower the assessment of an inmate's risk level, but not to raise it.
These provisions in themselves would obviously not be enough to solve the problem of indigenous overrepresentation in the corrections system. The upstream socio-economic factors that result in higher rates of indigenous people involved with the criminal justice system must generally be addressed in concert with other departments and agencies, and efforts to that effect are indeed under way. The Correctional Service is charged with ensuring that indigenous people in its custody get a genuine opportunity to turn their lives around, and these amendments should help advance that objective.
There are two other amendments on which we agree with the intent, and we are essentially proposing to meet the Senate halfway.
The first is an amendment that seeks to add certain elements to section 4 of the act, which establishes guiding principles for the Correctional Service. In particular, it puts a focus on alternatives to incarceration, and we agree that those alternatives should be consistently considered and used wherever appropriate.
We are, however, suggesting a few changes to the language drafted in the Senate. For example, the amendment lists sections 29, 81 and 84 of the act as alternatives to incarceration. Section 29 refers to hospital transfers, and section 81 refers to healing lodges, so their inclusion here makes sense. However, section 84 is about community-supported release following incarceration. It is not an alternative; it is the next step, so we are proposing to remove it from this list.
The amendment would also require that preference be given to alternatives to incarceration. Frankly, that is very problematic. Alternatives to incarceration should be used where appropriate, but there are situations when putting someone in prison is a valid and necessary approach. Alternatives should be considered, but not necessarily preferred.
Also, for clarity sake, we are proposing to remove or replace certain terms that do not have established legal meanings, such as “carceral isolations” or “incarcerated persons” or “a broad interpretation informed by human rights”. Certainly, everything government agencies do should be informed by human rights principles, but to be enforceable and actionable, legal terms need to have clear and precise definitions. If we asked everyone in this House to explain what it means to interpret legislation broadly and in a manner informed by human rights, we would probably get 338 different responses.