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Results: 1 - 13 of 13
Elizabeth White
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Elizabeth White
2011-03-09 15:32
Thank you very much, Chair, for the invitation to appear before the committee.
I am speaking on behalf of the St. Leonard's Society of Canada, and as it has been some years since we have presented before you, I would simply note that we have 45 years of experience in criminal justice and social justice, supporting member agencies that provide direct service across this country. While in the past we have been best known for our focus on long-term and life-sentenced individuals and for our residential services, it is our belief and knowledge that youth are key to providing safer communities, and for that reason we are pleased to present on this issue.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the round table in Toronto on youth justice in 2008, and now that the report from that has become available, I am struck by how similar its findings are to the matters we raised in the brief we submitted to you some months ago.
At St. Leonard's Canada, we believe it is important to note that since the enactment of the YCJA in 2003, there has been a significant decrease in youth incarceration without a significant increase in youth crime. Something clearly is working very well.
Turning to Bill C-4, we are in support of the inclusion in clause 3 of “diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability” as a principle, and we also wish to express support for clause 21 on the prohibition against the imprisonment of young persons in adult correctional facilities. On the other hand, St. Leonard's has serious concerns about clauses 4, 7, 8, 11, 18, 20, and 24. I would like to take a few moments on those. We are also concerned about the broadening of the definition of violent offence through the inclusion of sweeping wording, which we believe is cause for grave concern.
We would also like to note that the act did give this country the opportunity to overcome its dubious distinction of having the highest western incarceration rate for youth. That is a big achievement.
We believe these amendments respond to isolated and somewhat sensationalized cases, not the best basis on which to reform legislation. We believe that a more thorough examination and a longer-term opportunity for this act to continue to prove itself should occur before changes are made. We find many of the issues raised by Bill C-4 to be already appropriately addressed.
Deterrence as a sentencing principle would not be useful. There is no substantive support of its effectiveness in crime prevention. We submit that the YCJA deliberately omits deterrence as a sentencing principle with good reason and that it currently addresses the needs of the court in providing appropriate sentencing for youth that offers the best chance for rehabilitation and reintegration. Based on the lack of substantive evidence to show that deterrence is effective, we are concerned about amending the rules for pre-sentence detention. The current guidance from the act regarding pre-trial detention does not lack the necessary focus. The authority to detain a young person is already included if such an action can be justified in the youth court. We believe the proposed amendment places the onus on courts to focus on detention for so much broader a spectrum of offences that very few will remain unconsidered.
Extrajudicial sanctions support the key values of the YCJA in its aim to avoid custodial sentences unless those are required, and they support more viable alternatives that increase the likelihood of positive impact on the youth. The current approach allows the youth's admission of guilt to be a basis on which to move forward rather than a means of embroiling the youth further in the system. The youth will take responsibility. Expanding the criteria to allow them as admissible evidence for custodial sentencing will reduce the attractiveness of admissions of guilt for extrajudicial sanctions for the youth, but will also deter police, we believe, from using them.
On publication bans, the act currently allows a ban to be lifted when it is justified to do so in the interest of the youth or public safety. We know that publication leads to stigma. We know that stigma leads to reduced opportunity and often to recidivism. That's simply not consistent with the principles of the act. As Professor Doob noted in his appearance last week, if publication is to be broadened, it ought not to occur until all appeal processes are complete.
I would like to turn briefly to the relationship between mental health and youth crime. It is suggested that about 10% of youths involved in the criminal justice system have mental health disorders. I note this because in our view the attention in youth criminality should be addressing the needs--and yes, therefore the risks--of the many youth who have mental disorders. Ensuring that supports are in place to help them avoid conflict with the law is essential. Given that more than 70% of adults with mental health diagnoses who are in the criminal justice system had pre-age-18 onsets, it is clear that addressing youth mental wellness is key to minimizing long-term health costs and human distress.
Further to this, we are concerned with recent reports of a 70% co-morbidity rate among incarcerated youth who have mental health and substance abuse problems. Additionally, it has been found that more than 30% of youth with major medical issues also have mental health issues. So it's evident that there need to be more good mental health results, which will ensure good justice results. We're not sure that these proposed amendments get at this very serious issue, and we are very sure that punitive measures will not do a great deal to address it.
There is strong evidence supporting the need to reduce the criminalization of youth with mental health disorders in order to increase rehabilitation, reintegration, public safety, and greater cost-effectiveness overall.
I want to reference an example from London, Ontario, where the St. Leonard's community services in that region have an attendance centre program. They supervise around 150 youths over a six-month period, with a high rate of success through diversion programs. In six years of operation it is estimated that the savings between custody and the attendance centre are in the neighbourhood of $7 million to $10 million. That kind of money can go a long way to assisting youth.
I also want to reference the IRCS sentence. This excellent measure is still not being used to its full potential. Indeed, this week we heard that there are many judges in this country who are not aware that it is possible to use it. So despite allocations of funding that would allow 50 sentences of this type a year, since 2003 there have been less than 80. We need to give an opportunity for this very effective intervention to become known and used to further decrease ongoing criminalization.
We believe that the extended costs of further custodial measures are not necessary or appropriate for the Canadian public. We must give this act time to work, in the view of the St. Leonard's Society. There is overwhelming consensus from the report on the round tables that the flaws are not with the legislation; they're in the system. Implementation needs more and better work.
We submit there is indeed a need for action on youth justice: not legislation or incarceration, but vastly enhanced access to interventions and support through collaborative federal-provincial-territorial initiatives that overcome the silos of governance and address what is needed.
Thank you.
Irvin Waller
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Irvin Waller
2011-03-03 9:10
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
I've made available to the committee some materials in both English and French, first of all a book called Less Law, More Order: The Truth About Reducing Crime. This book is totally consistent with what Senator Hutchinson told you, but it adds to it information from studies in England and in the United States on what is in fact effective and cost-effective in reducing crime, and it actually talks about a strategy to move from overreliance on reactive criminal justice to a balance between smart criminal justice and effective prevention.
I've also made available to the committee a document in both official languages, called in English Making Cities Safer: Action Briefs for Municipal Stakeholders. This was funded by some of the money from the National Crime Prevention Centre and has been very widely used. We actually ran out of copies fairly soon after we produced them by cities from coast to coast. Probably the most interesting city to use this is the city of Edmonton, but it also talks about Montreal, Waterloo, and other cities.
I have been on the public record on a number of the issues here today, and I'd just like to remind you a little bit about how I got to where I am now.
I did the first and only independent evaluation of the prison and parole system in Canada in the seventies. I was a director general in the Ministry of Public Safety in the seventies. I won prizes for my work in getting the UN to adopt the declaration on rights for crime victims, colloquially known as the Magna Carta for crime victims, and I was the founding executive director of the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime affiliated with the UN and based in Montreal.
But more recently I've turned to writing two books for legislators and voters and taxpayers, and a lot of what is in these books is consistent with the right on crime website, but it has perhaps two major emphases that were not mentioned by Senator Hutchinson. One, I'm a crime victim advocate; nothing else. I've been head of the World Society of Victimology. I'm personally a victim of crime, and I currently head the International Organization for Victim Assistance. The main contribution that I make in the victim area is that I'm also a professional social scientist who looks at data and looks at standards and looks at what is in the best interests of victims, and I try to share my assessment with them.
This book does that, and I have a book that actually is already released in the United States and ran out in the first three weeks of its publication, called Rights for Victims of Crime.
Now, what I think is missing from what you shared with us today is a focus on.... If you go on the Right on Crime website, you will see they talk about protecting victims, and I think our public policy in Canada, both federally and provincially, should be totally focused on reducing harm to victims of crime. That means reducing the number of people who are victims of crime, and focusing on what can be done about that harm.
Justice Canada released about a week ago an updated study on the cost of crime to victims in Canada, talking about $85 billion as being the cost of pain and suffering to victims. They also, by the way, estimated the cost of criminal justice at $15 billion, and I guess it's because they're in Justice Canada that they're not following what is going on in the policing area in Canada. It's not just prison costs that Justin Piché talked about. It's also policing costs, and policing costs affect our taxes at the municipal level in this country. So I think we have to see this issue of prison construction in the context of rapidly expanding policing expenditures as well as these rapidly expanding correctional expenditures at the provincial level.
In my view, these expenditures are largely out of control, and there is a need for leadership. And the good news is that there is leadership in this country. The Province of Alberta in 2007 set up a task force to look at the best data from all over the world on what actually works to reduce harm to victims. That task force included the chief of police of Edmonton, an associate dean of law, a native, and so on and so forth.
There were 31 recommendations from the task force, and I'm going to divide them into four parts. First, part of them were about building remand cells because nobody has really come to grips with limiting the reaction to crime. They included some additional police officers. Alberta has fewer police officers per capita than Ontario and Quebec do. Second, it included stuff to deal with mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction. Third, it put into practice the sort of stuff that is in this book, and a number of other agencies. By the way, a lot of this research comes from the United States on what actually works to reduce crime. Fourth, and this is the most important thing for this committee, they established a long-term strategy, not reacting by saying we have to build now because there's going to be double-bunking and so on, but a strategy that says yes, we've got to deal with making sure we've got enough reactive capacity, but we've got to get to grips with the sorts of things that lead to this flood of people into our prison system, and we've got to prevent.
I know my time is limited, but I prepared a longer brief and I will be happy to share it with people in due course. What I've decided to do in the very limited time is to focus on a very brief history. I'm not going to go back 30 or 40 years, which I could do, to tell you about the history.
I just want to translate one thing that Senator Hutchinson told you. He said prisons are expensive. What that means is a taxpayer in the United States pays twice what a taxpayer in Canada does for the privilege of having that number of police, that number of lawyers, and an incredible number of people incarcerated. He said 2.3 million, but in my view it's very close to the population of Toronto that's incarcerated. He told you it was 23% of the recorded prison population in the world. You have to think about that.
While you're thinking about that, and it's a rate of 750 per 100,000, the aboriginal rate of incarceration in Canada is higher than that. If you go ahead with expanding penitentiaries, just think who is going to be incarcerated: aboriginal people, disproportionately; women, very disproportionately; men, disproportionately.
I have the privilege of having a PhD student working on how you solve that problem, and the answer is, you prevent. You focus on why there is so much violence, particularly among urban aboriginal people, and we know exactly what to do. By the way, we largely knew in 1993 when the Horner committee looked at these issues. We largely knew when the O'Shaughnessy committee looked at these issues in 1995. Since then, the World Health Organization in 2002 produced a report, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. This report basically tells you in its foreword, and I'll quote from Mandela, that violence is preventable.
You will not find any recommendation in that report that would give you any basis for expanding our prison population. It didn't talk about abolishing prisons. Clearly, we need prisons for the dangerous offenders. Part of what I did as a federal public servant was introduce the first dangerous offender legislation. I don't want Olson calling me up, and I don't want Bernardo being released, and I could mention several other cases. If you look at what Right On Crime says, basically it says to set priorities. You have a certain prison capacity, so use it for those people who are dangerous--I think that was your term, but I may be misquoting you.
The World Health Organization produced their report, and they also produced a major report on return on investment. For me, that's an Alberta term. I was doing a presentation to an American criminal justice group in Toronto yesterday, with the Alberta government, and what they talked about was social return on investment.
These guys in Alberta are smart. They're not just sitting there allowing this flood wave of policing increases and prison construction. They're saying they're going to protect victims; they're going to use taxpayers' money responsibly, which is a very similar line to the website, Right on Crime. The WHO brought that together.
In 2007 the current federal Conservative government doubled the budget for prevention, from $25 million or $30 million to $60 million. When they're spending $4 billion, it's not worth worrying about. Stockwell Day, who is very familiar with the victimization statistics, implied this was going to solve the crime problem. That sort of money for an experimental program will not solve the crime problem.
They've now cut back on that. They couldn't spend the money. There are people out there who could use that money, but they couldn't spend it.
For me, this is an incredible shame. Not only was it too little—limited to experimental—but they didn't spend the money. There are 14 cities in this country looking for $300,000 a year to multiply what works, and they were told there was no longer any money available. This is while we are talking in the press about $400 million.
I've mentioned the Alberta task force. I'm going to go to some bottom lines, and I—
Dave Shipman
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Dave Shipman
2010-05-06 16:09
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak before you on this important issue.
My name is Dave Shipman. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and I currently I live in a rural setting just outside the city. I feel qualified to attend at this hearing as a result of my life experience and involvement in law enforcement from the age of 19 to the present.
I spent 25 years with the Winnipeg Police Service and nearly 19 of those years investigating violent crimes in the homicide robbery division. During 16 of those years I was also a member of the special weapons team and a team leader on the entry team.
I retired 10 years ago and immediately took up a position as investigator in charge of the organized crime/gang unit with Manitoba Public Insurance, where I remain so employed.
I've been involved with the criminal intelligence service in Manitoba during these 10 years as well. For those who are not familiar with it, each province has its own criminal intelligence service with the federal governing body, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.
The CISM includes all law enforcement and investigative bodies in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. The nature of my work, investigating organized crime and gang activity as it relates to organized insurance fraud, and my involvement with CISM, puts me in contact with serving police officers on a continual basis.
My experience in dealing with violent criminals and gang members is probably far more involved than that of the average police officer. Believe me when I tell you that I have put hundreds and hundreds of dangerous violent men in prison over the years, often for unspeakable crimes, including rape, robbery, home invasions, and murder.
It is in the arrest and interviewing of these men and their associates that I've obtained a good working knowledge of their mindset. First and foremost, let me say that a vast majority of violent attacks, attempted homicides, and homicides committed domestically involve weapons other than firearms--knives being the preferred weapon.
Of the few domestic homicides I can recall that involved long guns, committed by either sex on the spouse, they were long guns that were legally owned and there had been no previous encounters with the law. No amount of gun registry would have stopped lives from being taken.
I have watched the long-gun registry with interest, both as a serving police officer and a gun owner/hunter. First, and it has been said time and time again, criminals do not register guns. The guns they seek out and use to commit violent crimes are most profoundly smuggled or stolen handguns and, to a lesser extent, stolen and cut-down shotguns or rifles. Firearms that are capable of firing at an automatic rate are smuggled in from the U.S., and drug dealers and gangs--the two intertwined--are the favourite customers. None of these situations can be corrected by a long-gun registry.
Handguns have always enjoyed a restricted status, and ownership brought significant restrictions as to how and where the firearm could be possessed. Automatic weapons were always illegal to possess, with the exception of law enforcement and legitimate grandfathered collectors. The national gun registry has done nothing to deter illegal possession of these guns.
Again, criminals intent on procuring and possessing these guns are not about to register them. So how does the gun registry assist the police in preventing gun crime? It simply does not, and it offers nothing to protect our citizenry from being victims of gun crime perpetrated by well-armed criminals.
I'm not against licensing of gun owners. The possession and/or acquisition of firearms should be a licensed, controlled process to prevent criminals and otherwise unstable or dangerous individuals from legally obtaining and owning firearms. But the registry is really only about counting guns--guns belonging to people who have chosen to involve themselves in the system.
Civil disobedience to the registry has been rampant, with entire provinces refusing to enforce the failure to register and attorneys general announcing refusal to prosecute. Amnesties that have lasted for years have been put into place. Thousands and thousands of legal guns remain in our country outside of the registry, and many thousands of illegal guns are stolen or smuggled into the hands of criminals whose last worry is the gun registry.
I've heard from proponents of the registry that it assists police officers because they can check with the gun registry to determine if guns are registered to the person they are interested in or the residence or location they are attending. While this check can certainly be done, I've yet to talk to a serving street cop--I'm talking about the average constable attending call after call after call--who has checked the registry, even a single time, or who even knows how to use it. In checking with the supervisor officers of the major crimes unit, the homicide unit, and the organized crime unit, not one can ever recall using the registry before going to make an arrest.
I spoke to the head of the Winnipeg Police Service tactical support team, which is the new term for the old SWAT team that we were on. This is a 24/7 support unit that, from its inception to the level of coverage two years ago, has been involved in several hundred planned operations, mostly high-risk warrant service, drug warrants, Criminal Code firearm search warrants, and the like. He indicated that the gun registry is worthless in preventing gun crime. He did advise that, by protocol, members of his unit confer with the registry when planning tactical operations, but their experience was that the registry has been only sometimes accurate, only sometimes up to date, and largely ineffective—and I quote—“because we all know that criminals don't register their guns”.
By way of history, upon the inception of Bill C-68, the Winnipeg Police Association membership voted by way of referendum that they were strongly opposed to the long-gun registry. Identically, the Manitoba Police Association also opposed the long-barrel registry, after taking the issue to a vote by the membership. And so it went for the police associations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Then-WPA president, Loren Schinkel, now with Manitoba Justice as coordinator of aboriginal and municipal law enforcement, often referenced Premier Gary Doer's line about the Government of Manitoba not supporting the bill, saying that we need to get tough on gangs and restricted guns, not turn goose hunters into criminals.
If the long-gun registry was going to be such a significant crime-fighting tool, does anybody believe that entire police services would fail to embrace it wholeheartedly? Yes, fragments of police services utilize the registry by way of protocol, but with criminals not registering their stolen or smuggled handguns or cut-down stolen firearms, previously legally registered or not, it is of little use. Because of the hit-and-miss situation of any individual actually registering legal guns, because the registry does not keep up with the movement of individuals from place to place, because criminals do not register, no police officer could ever rely on a check against the registry to determine if a danger did or did not exist. A police officer must be ever vigilant, no matter the circumstance, and the fact that the registry might indicate that an individual or an address does or does not reflect legal gun registration is of little assistance, all things considered. The old possession and acquisition certificate did as much, without the arithmetic of counting guns.
The most alarming area of gun use escalation surrounds the ever-increasing street gang activity tied dramatically to the drug trade. As I deal on a daily basis with gang members in my current occupation and monitor their other criminal activities through my involvement with serving police officers in the criminal intelligence service, I can tell you first hand that gun crime is escalating and that handguns are far and away the weapon of choice of these criminals to enforce their piece of the drug trade pie. Anytime I get a gang member in my office, I turn to the subject of guns somewhere along the way, and it is not unusual for the gang banger to brag, “I've got a nine; I've got a Glock.”
Shots ringing out in certain parts of Winnipeg have become commonplace activity, and drive-by shootings of individuals and residences the same. The registry is not the answer to stopping this.
The long-gun registry was an ill-thought-out piece of legislation in answer to the tragedy at École Polytechnique in 1989. It did not stop another similar tragedy at Dawson College in 2006. It will not stop the next deranged individual from attempting a similar attack in the future.
Holding the long-gun registry out as a protector of women is simply not valid. It is a lie. We must do better to protect women and the citizenry of our country by putting meaningful consequences in place for criminal offences and concentrate on stopping the flow of illegal gun traffic over our border into the hands of criminals.
A minimum sentence for gun crimes with minimum time served would serve as a far better solution than the long-gun registry. It is said that the abolishment of the two-for-one sentencing issue will increase incarceration and associated costs an additional $2 billion, roughly what we've spent on the registry already. Having only registered six million to seven million, with an estimated 17 million total guns in Canada, if that is correct, I wonder how much more money that would cost us. I would rather put the $2 billion towards keeping those criminals in jail and making sure they could not hurt anybody else.
Thank you for offering me this time to speak to you. I sincerely hope that what I've said will assist you in making an informed decision.
Floyd Wiebe
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Floyd Wiebe
2010-03-30 10:05
In our case we had one juvenile, the mastermind behind TJ's murder. He was held in the Manitoba Youth Centre for 32 months. Even though the murder happened prior to the Youth Criminal Justice Act--it came in on April 1, 2003--my son was murdered January 5, 2003, so he came under the YCJA instead of the YOA.
Not that I'm commenting about the YCJA so much, but just based on what Kelly said, this individual who masterminded my son's murder received absolutely zero intervention in his life from a psychiatrist, psychologist, nothing. I'm not supposed to know this, but I found out. We victims have an incredible way of finding things out we're not supposed to. I was so disturbed, even though I was enraged that this person—he was three weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday—had the capacity to convince three other people to murder for him because they did not even know my son. Even though, as Mr. Murphy said, I could be filled with rage at that, what I was more enraged with was this person was held in an institution for 32 months before he was acquitted and received absolutely no help. So what does that say to this peer? First of all he goes into a youth institution, he's held there for 32 months, gets absolutely no mental help. Do you think he needs mental help? He just had someone murdered.
It's hard for me to even go there, yet nothing happened. So what Kelly said is absolutely correct. This person needs to be dealt with; otherwise he'll kill again, because not only did he not get intervention for 32 months, he got off, which is totally another thing. Think of the power this young man may have in his system right now.
View Shelly Glover Profile
Back home, I believe it was 18 years ago that they closed the last...
Do you think there is any benefit to having institutions for individuals with mental health problems managed by the provinces, that is to say to stop those individuals before they become criminals? We've heard a lot of witnesses say that, if only the mental problems of those individuals had been identified before the crime was committed, they could have prevented them from being incarcerated in a federal prison.
Do you agree with that?
Johanne Vallée
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Johanne Vallée
2010-03-23 16:22
There are a number of perspectives on the way to manage mental health cases. Should they be criminalized or not?
The government has conducted consultations and Correctional Service Canada is working with the correctional services of the provinces and studying this mental health issue in the adult correctional system. Perhaps it might be worthwhile to see with the committee whether we can call the heads of the correctional services to see where they are in the midst of their proceedings.
I obviously don't have them in hand at this time, but there are also the analyses of the tribunals specialized in mental health. Such tribunals exist in various places. When an individual must appear before a judge, the mental health issue will be examined and the decision will be made whether to refer that case to the criminal justice system. An enormous amount of research is being done on those tribunals. That research is relatively recent. I think it would be worthwhile to look at what is coming out of that research.
View Bonnie Crombie Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for being so personal with us.
Obviously, with 10% of those who are in prison being women, even one is too many, and such a large percentage are aboriginal. Do you think, panellists, that treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues or homelessness, all the social issues, would help to reduce our prison population? In your opinion, if we could cure some of these social ills ahead of time, would we have fewer men and women in the corrective system?
Ruth Martin
View Ruth Martin Profile
Ruth Martin
2010-03-16 17:05
Absolutely. As I alluded to, mental health is so interrelated with the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual. When we actually asked women what would help them to get healthy, they came up with these nine health goals over the course of the two years of the project.
The Doing Time project actually asks women who are now out in the community what is assisting them in achieving those nine health goals and what is preventing them from doing so. As Amber alluded to, so far in the interviews, 40% of the women are homeless when they're released from prison. So how is anybody going to get healthy when they don't have a place to live, and how are they going to support themselves? The easiest route for them is to go back to what they know, which is their drug addiction and their substance use. Hence, they commit a crime and they go back to prison.
Brenda Tole
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Brenda Tole
2010-03-16 17:07
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.
Craig Jones
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Craig Jones
2009-10-27 11:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, committee members.
I address my remarks today to two audiences: first to you, the members of this special committee; and second, to the historical record.
Let me say that I appreciate the opportunity to bring before this committee the views of the John Howard Society of Canada. You will know that we are a non-profit charitable society governed by volunteers committed to effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.
Our 65 front-line offices deliver evidence-based programs and services intended to ensure the safe and effective reintegration of prisoners at the end of their sentences. We also deliver numerous services to young persons to divert them from the criminal justice machinery.
We subscribe to the view that crime is a community issue and that an intelligent response ought to involve the community. So thank you, committee members, on behalf of our front line, our volunteers, and our boards of directors for the chance to bring our message to you.
My second audience is the future. I suffer no illusions that I will be able to alter the course of the government’s crime agenda, whose legislative components contradict evidence, logic, effectiveness, history, and humanity. The government has repeatedly signalled that its crime agenda will not be influenced by evidence of what does and does not actually reduce crime and create safer communities. So if we can’t persuade on the evidence of effectiveness, justice, or humanity, we will speak to future historians, criminologists, and parliamentarians to show them that we were dissenting voices when the government’s crime agenda was being deliberated.
A little context is in order. Prisons are dumping grounds for Canada’s mentally ill. It was not supposed to be this way when, in the 1970s and 1980s, the provinces closed their mental hospitals and transferred care to the communities. As is now understood, the resources for community-based care never appeared, and as increasing numbers of people went off their meds or fell through the cracks created by cutbacks to provincial social services, a larger number of them have been criminalized and ended up in federal custody. The federal prison system is the only component of the state apparatus that cannot say “Sorry, we’re full”, so today we face a crisis of mental illness and substance abuse in our federal prisons.
Simultaneously, governments have been pursuing a utopian experiment in social engineering called “drug prohibition”. This policy transforms a public health issue—that is, drug abuse and addiction—into a criminal justice matter and has the effect of filling prisons with people who need medical attention, psychiatric care, and substance abuse treatment.
The government has recommitted to this madness with the national anti-drug strategy. Ignoring the experience and evidence from the United States, the national anti-drug strategy adds, for the first time, mandatory sentences for drug crimes. The historical experience of the United States illustrates that “getting tough” on drug offenders simply stuffs prisons and jails with low-level users, many of whom show clear evidence of mental illness that, in most cases, preceded the onset of their substance abuse problems.
Drug prohibition has had other consequences too. It has produced a hardened cohort of violent young men schooled in ruthless gang violence over drug profits, and this is what has given rise to CSC’s changing offender population.
These young men are not necessarily mentally ill—though many of them do suffer the effects of prolonged drug abuse—but they create legitimate management problems for Correctional Service Canada. And prisons have become, in the words of one aboriginal gang member, “gladiator schools” for young men as they cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
So our federal prisons have become gladiator schools where we train young men in the art of extreme violence or warehouse mentally ill people. All of this was foreseeable by anyone who cared to examine the historical experience of alcohol prohibition, but since we refuse to learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.
That brings us to the present. I call on the federal government to engage the Mental Health Commission of Canada in the development of a national strategy that would achieve collaboration and coordination among federal-provincial-territorial criminal justice, correctional, and mental health systems to, one, promote the seamless and cost-effective delivery of services to offenders with identifiable mental disorders; and two, to initiate innovative community-based service delivery models for these offenders and focus resources in particular on those mentally disordered offenders with co-occurring substance abuse problems who are living in disadvantaged social circumstances, a population that poses the greatest challenges for effective service delivery and social reintegration.
A national strategy to address mental health in the correctional system must grapple with the reality that the great majority of persons in the correctional system suffer from concurrent disorders. They have a mental health condition as well as a substance abuse disorder, which means that both conditions have to be treated simultaneously.
If the government achieves its objectives, estimates are that the current population will grow by as many as 3,000 new beds for men, and as many as 300 for women. These are conservative estimates, because so far no one has made public the anticipated costs and consequences of the crime agenda. But we can make some general projections based on the American experience.
Number one, crowding increases tension among inmates. Among the first noticeable effects of crowding is elevated blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic. Elevated blood pressure is a gateway to metabolic syndromes, including diabetes and heart disease. So the first obvious effect will be to create the conditions for chronic health conditions downstream.
The second immediate effect is that crowding elevates the incidence of viral and bacterial transmission between inmates, so crowded prisons are sicker prisons. Crowded prisons are also less habitable environments, because malodorous air pollutants heighten negative psychological effects and cause behavioural disturbances and depressive symptoms.
Currently, the federal system is running at about 10% double bunking. No one, to my knowledge, has assessed the population health burden of the crime bills once they come into force, but it would be prudent to assume that our prisons, which are already incubators of HIV and hepatitis C, will begin to breed numerous other infectious diseases as they fill up.
To my knowledge, no one has assessed the consequences of this elevated level of infectious conditions for labour requirements across the federal system. People have to work in these places too.
Number two, tension increases stress levels among inmates and staff. As tension increases, staff feel less safe and limit their personal contact with inmates. They adopt a more cautious posture and keep a greater distance from inmates on the ranges. This contributes to increased tension, because it creates a self-escalating cycle as staff and inmates perceive elevated anxiety in each other’s non-verbal behaviour. Disputes that might have been resolved with conversation take on a combative quality, and staff—in order to protect themselves—wear heavier apparel, such as stab-resistant vests.
Behaviour symptomatic of mental illness is sometimes treated in prison as a disciplinary rather than medical problem. This cycle rapidly degrades the quality of work for staff and guards, which is an outcome that this committee should examine closely, because among other problems, it will eventually drive good correctional officers out of the profession. As CSC will admit, they already have problems attracting and retaining staff. Rapid growth in the rate of incarceration can only exacerbate this problem.
Number three, as stress levels rise, we can expect to see more incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts. As Alison Liebling has written, prisoner suicide is not exclusively or predominantly a psychiatric problem. There are multiple psychological pathways to suicide in prison, one of which is the social isolation that accompanies the management of a rapidly growing population. Furthermore, there are at least three identifiably different kinds of prison suicides in the literature: life-sentence prisoners, the psychiatrically ill, and the poor copers. These latter are generally younger and non-violent, which is exactly the population that will be caught up in this new binge.
Liebling claims that women far outnumber men in terms of incidence of self-injury per head of population, up to as many as 1.5 incidents per week per woman, and that 20 or 30 incidents of cutting during one sentence is not unusual among women prisoners.
Fourth, elevated stress correlates with population management problems. As populations become harder to manage and control, staff turn to segregation and other forms of offender control. Invariably, these fall disproportionately on those least able to cope with the pace of change and who act out of desperation and frustration. Again symptoms of mental disorder manifest as behavioural misconduct, which are disruptive to the good order of the institution, and mentally ill persons find themselves singled out for special, usually harsher treatment, but also for the hostile attention of other inmates.
So crowding turns into elevated stress, which turns into heightened tension, which manifests as violence.
I'm going to conclude now.
If the government is committed to growing Canada’s rate of incarceration, it will impose great costs on the correctional system in the short term--costs that will be felt in the safe management of the population, in staff and inmate stress levels, and in the overall incidence of violence. The service will have to fill many vacancies in its therapeutic complement—social workers, psychologists, and substance abuse specialists—if it wants to prevent the worst effects of overcrowding upon inmates with concurrent disorders. As the correctional investigator told you, “...many institutions are currently not staffed, funded or equipped to deal adequately with the needs of mentally disordered offenders…. Interdisciplinary mental health teams are supposed to be on-site, but in many facilities these teams exist in name only.”
The last point is that we could be heading into a very difficult time for the service. It is urgent that the government grow the service’s capacity to address these issues with the same alacrity as it seeks to grow the rate of incarceration.
Thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you very much to the witnesses for appearing before our committee today. This is very sobering testimony and I think quite a disturbing picture that's painted of the direction we're currently headed in with this government's policy on crime.
Let me start, Mr. Jones, with a comment you made at the beginning of your statement. You stated that the “government's crime agenda...contradict[s] evidence, logic, effectiveness, justice and humanity”. It would be an understatement to say that this is a strong statement. Could you elaborate specifically on how you feel this is so?
Craig Jones
View Craig Jones Profile
Craig Jones
2009-10-27 11:36
We have a grand social experiment on incarceration and the consequences for crime to our south, in the United States of America. You will know that the United States is now the largest incarcerator in the world; that one out of every four persons in the entire world—that is, on the planet—who are in prison is in a prison in the United States. Approximately 1% of the American population is under some form of judicial supervision. It has been a catastrophically expensive exercise, but it has not produced the reduction in crime rates that you would expect for that rate of incarceration.
So the evidence from the United States and the evidence from the U.K. is that growing the rate of incarceration does not reduce the rate of crime. In fact, there is emerging evidence, again coming from the United States and the U.K., that growing the rate of incarceration may actually increase the rate of crime because of what's called “prisonization”, or the experience of incarceration and the difficulty thereafter of successful reintegration. There is a large body of evidence, and I'm happy to supply it to you—some of it is referenced in this paper—that simply growing the rate of incarceration does not reduce crime.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
We've seen, in some of the jurisdictions you've mentioned—for example, in the United States, and in California specifically, where the governor now has said that their system is literally collapsing under its own weight; where recently they had to release thousands of prisoners into the streets because they simply had no more room for them, in a jurisdiction that has a rate of recidivism that's now 70%, which is staggering.... Seven out of every ten prisoners are reoffending, while the comparable rate is 36% in Canada.
Is it your assertion, then, that the direction or the trajectory we're following is the same one the Americans began following in the early 1980s? Are we walking that same road, if you will?
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