870 words; 4 minutes to read
This summary prepared by volunteer Jamie Davison.
The John Howard Society has a long standing 5-Point Plan to improve the corrections system in Canada. This post provides a summary of key issues and strategies in that plan.
1. Respect the presumption of innocence
Canada is in a bail and remand crisis. More than half of prisoners in provincial and territorial jails have yet to be convicted or sentenced. Keeping Canadians in custody who have yet to be convicted erodes the presumption of innocence. This practice is expensive and inhumane as provincial and territorial facilities are some of the worst in corrections due to overcrowding, violence, and a lack of essential services and programs.
What must be done: Reduce crowding, shorten stays, mitigate violence, and increase access to medical services. Unnecessary detention prior to trial can be reduced through policy change and programming, and the use of release on recognizance as opposed to sureties. By restricting the imposition of bail conditions to those that are reasonable, we can reduce the number of those detained for breaching conditions.
As well, Canadians are subjected to police record checks that reveal prior contact with the justice system without conviction. This can lead to a loss of liberty of those who have not been convicted of crimes.
What must be done: Policy change is needed to limit the use of police and other records reflecting contact with the justice system.
2. Sue for Peace in the War on Drugs
The War on Drugs in Canada has filled prisons with individuals battling addiction. There are better ways to deal with people with substance abuse issues who commit crimes than long sentences of incarceration.
What must be done: A new drug strategy should be developed to emphasize harm reduction, prevention, and the treatment of the illness of addition. Effective, non-criminal justice system responses to addiction must be implemented. The effectiveness of the interdiction strategies in federal prisons should be assessed and resources reallocated to harm reduction and treatment programs.
3. Treat rather than punish the mentally ill
The number of prisoners battling mental illness or suffering from brain injuries is ever-increasing. The use of imprisonment, especially solitary confinement, has been shown to worsen mental health and has led to self-harm and suicide.
What must be done: Effective, just, and humane approaches to the punishment of Canadians with mental health struggles who commit crimes must be implemented. Those with mental illness or brain injuries should be responded to through measures outside the criminal justice system. Criminal code provisions such as “Not Criminally Responsible” designations must be evaluated and amended. It is vital that the overall treatment of incarcerated Canadians with mental illness be improved.
4. Impose proportionate and constructive penalties
Mandatory minimum custodial and financial penalties constrain judicial discretion and have resulted in disproportionately harsh sentencing especially of minorities. The availability of effective and more affordable community-based sentences and alternatives has been reduced.
What must be done: Improving the current sentencing regime could address this structural unfairness. Fine option programs and programming that allows Canadians to repay their debt to society through community-based sentencing are good alternatives. We must address the unfairness of indeterminate sentencing, such as dangerous offender designations, and include an independent review process for those who may have been wrongfully convicted.
5. Create effective corrections by transitioning from confinement to contribution
The changing nature of provincial and federal prisoner population poses challenges for correctional facilities in meeting the essential needs of prisoners as well as rehabilitative programming. Jails and prisons are places of overcrowding, violence, and a lack of opportunity for skill development and constructive use of time. Prisoners are facing longer periods of incarceration with fewer systems to support their return to the community, resulting in an overall decrease in community safety.
What must be done: This issue requires a three-pronged approach.
- Corrections must meet inmates’ essential needs. For corrections to be humane, they must comply with the Human Rights Standards for prisoners set domestically and internationally. This requires reducing overcrowding, limiting the use of solitary confinement (or as it is now called, administrative segregation, and protecting prisoners from violence.
- Corrections must offer effective programs. The system of corrections is intended to be a system of skill building, not warehousing. The institutions should provide effective education, provide life skills and job training through certification programs. They should also create employment opportunities and prisoner-based co-operatives.
- Corrections must offer graduated, safe, and supported reintegration to generate success in communities. Comprehensive parole reform is required to encourage supervised and supported graduated release, for the benefit of all Canadians. This includes an effective pro-social approach, such as temporary releases for work or compassion. Fees, eligibility, timelines, and registries of the record suspension system must be assessed and reworked to end the continued punishment and discrimination suffered after prisoners have served their sentence.