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A new report finds that Canada’s prison population is more violent and requires more intervention and rehabilitation strategies than in the past.

Article by: News Staff
– The Correctional Service of Canada Review Panel released its 250-page report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Thursday.
The report says it discovered an “alarming” picture of who is arriving at Canada’s penitentiaries:
• Nearly 60 per cent are now serving sentences of fewer than three years and have histories of violence;
• The proportion of offenders who are classified as maximum security upon admission has increased by 100 per cent;
• One in six now have links to gangs and/or organized crime;
• Four out of five arrive at prison with a serious substance abuse problem;
• 12 per cent of male offenders and 26 per cent of females are identified as having a serious mental health problem.
All this means the prison system itself faces a host of new challenges and must adapt to deal effectively with the new makeup of the prison population, according to the report.
The situation “requires either more interventions or possibly different types of intervention and this must be done in an even shorter timeframe than in the past,” the report states.
The system should be commended, the report states, for its efforts to rehabilitate offenders, but more must be done to reach those who slip through the cracks or avoid rehabilitation until release.
“It is the belief of the panel that life inside a penitentiary should promote a positive work ethic. Today, an offender working hard at rehabilitation is often treated no differently than an offender who is seeking only to continue his criminal lifestyle.”
The report also looks at challenges to the prison system in terms of safely housing prisoners in old or out-dated facilities.
Many of the prisons in use today were built in the 1800s and early 1900s. Many that were built more recently, in the mid-1900s for example, reflect a philosophy “that all inmates could function as a homogenous group.”
That simply doesn’t fit with today’s prison population, the report finds.
“It is not uncommon today to find four or five distinct sub-populations that cannot safely intermingle and two or three groups of offenders who have to be physically separated from other populations for their own safety, either through the use of segregation or special units.”
Tough spending pressures that have emerged over the past decade have meant the upkeep of aging bricks and mortar infrastructure have been neglected, the report finds.
“The panel believes that this situation has to be addressed to provide the best cost-effective approach to addressing physical plant pressures without jeopardizing CSC’s ability to fund its operating requirements,” states the report.
“The panel is particularly concerned about the safety of front-line staff and we are of the opinion that they require more tools and training.”
Those tools and training should focus on the following areas:
• The detection and prevention of illegal drugs entering penitentiaries;
• Training to work with inmates with mental illness;
• Motivational training for offenders who resist treatment.
The report suggests there are five key areas that need to be addressed in order to offer greater public safety results to Canadians.
On the subject of offender accountability, the CSC must provide the tools to allow the offender to correct his behaviour, and the detainee must embrace those tools — that shared responsibility must be strengthened.
On the issue of drugs in prison, the panel finds the CSC must do more to reduce the presence of illicit substances through enhanced perimeter control, technology, drug dogs, search tactics and intelligence sharing.
Renewed focus must be placed on providing more meaningful skill development to prepare inmates to get jobs upon their release.
On the subject of physical infrastructure, the report states that larger, regional prison complexes would be more effective than smaller facilities that can provide fewer programs or incentives.
Finally, the report found that statutory release, which sees prisoners freed after serving two-thirds of their sentence, should be phased out in favour of an “earned parole” system.
“To improve public safety and re-orient the correctional system to a system that places true accountability on offenders is to require offenders to earn their way back to their home communities and demonstrate to the National Parole Board that they have changed and are capable of living as law-abiding citizens,” states the report.
The five-person panel was chaired by MPP Rob Sampson, a former minister of correctional services for Ontario.