OTTAWA — A mandate letter for Canada’s new corrections commissioner calls for more engagement with community groups to help prevent released prisoners from re-offending — something prisoner advocacy organizations say the prison system has not been very good at doing.
The letter, issued to Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) commissioner Anne Kelly in mid-August but only made public today, also calls on her to reduce the use of segregation, especially for inmates suffering from mental illness.
Two major lawsuits launched since 2015 have challenged how the prison system uses segregation to keep inmates in line, or to prevent them from harming themselves or others.
The letter says prisons should explore new, supervised use of computers so inmates are more prepared to enter the workforce once they are released.
And it calls on the commissioner to do more to address the needs of Indigenous offenders, including increasing the use of community-run healing lodges.
The government said the letter marks the first time a CSC commissioner has received a public mandate.
The letter to Kelly from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the prison system can not take a one-size-fits-all approach to incarceration.
“Different groups of offenders — including black Canadians, women, young adults, LGBTQ2 people and aging offenders — have different needs and experiences, which require tailored approaches,” Goodale said in a statement to Kelly, dated Aug. 17.
“In particular, more work needs to be done to address the needs of Indigenous Peoples, who are overrepresented in federal custody.”
Jennifer Metcalfe, executive director of Vancouver-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, applauded the mandate, but said she is frustrated the government has appealed recent court decisions denouncing the use of segregation.
“If the government was really committed to making concrete changes that would have a positive impact on peoples’ health and mental health, they shouldn’t be fighting these issues in the courts,” she said.
Her legal services clinic has filed a human rights complaint on behalf of prisoners with mental disabilities that calls for significant changes to Canada’s prison system.
“We would like to be at the table to help (CSC) come up with alternatives to solitary confinement that would better treat people with mental disabilities,” said Metcalfe.
She said more money needs to be invested in mental health care services for offenders, rather than warehousing people where they can develop bad behaviours including self injury.
Goodale said the CSC commissioner has four critical responsibilities: ensuring offenders can live law-abiding lives when they are released, providing a safe workplace for prison employees, showing victims of crime compassion and keeping them informed, and ensuring offenders are treated safely and humanely.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of Kelly as CSC commissioner in late July.
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press