by Justin Piché
While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty preached fiscal constraint during his unveiling of the Federal Budget yesterday, announcing decreases and freezes on various areas of government expenditure, he managed to set aside funds to feed the Reform Party’s addiction to imprisonment. According to a statement released today by NDP Public Safety Critic Don Davies, the latest budget features a plan to raise spending on federal prison construction from $230 million in 2009-2010 to $329 million in 2010-2011.
What these figures reveal is that CSC is not going ahead with building new regional complexes proposed in the 2007 Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety, at least not this year. However, that does not mean that significant construction will not take place in 2010-2011.
Take these excerpts from CSC’s “National Report on Requests for Exemptions to Commissioner’s Directive 550: April 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009” obtained through Access to Information that describe some of the projects that were on-going last year:
“The new 96 bed units at Kent and Saskatchewan Penitentiary should soon be fully operational…”
“The conversion of Grande Cache Institution (GCI) from minimum to medium security…”
“In the Ontario Region, opening of the new units [n=5] at Collins Bay…”
We can likely expect additional similar projects, such as those listed above, to take place this upcoming fiscal year.
Explaining Federal Prison Expansion
In a context of declining crime rates and massive deficits, how can we explain why federal prison expansion is occurring? Examining the information that is available, it seems to not be the case of a carceral field of dreams (if you build it, they will come), where CSC is building prisons in anticipation of future growth, but rather a carceral nightmare (you need to build it, they’re already here) where CSC is playing catch-up to a crisis that is being exacerbated by their political masters.
Increasing sentence lengths along with adjustments to release practices and “an ongoing realignment of the offender profile resulting in a reduction in the minimum security population and increased pressures at medium and maximum security” (CSC, 2009) – likely in anticipation of legislative changes to the CCRA and the implementation of the so-called Transformation Agenda – are contributing to overcrowding in many federal penitentiaries.
Prospects for Canada’s Carceral Future
Faced with a situation where “…in the last five years, the rate of “double-bunking”… in federal Corrections has significantly increased about 50%, and now directly effects almost 10% of the total federal inmate population” (Sapers, 2009), coupled with the fact that 29 of 54 of its institutions recently requested permission to double-bunk prisoners (CSC, 2009), the federal prison authority is left with few options.
Option 1 would involve CSC advising their political masters that, according to academic studies, continuing to pass laws that will result in more prisoners and prisons will not enhance public safety. While this option would entail telling the truth, if communicated, it would likely not resonate with the Reform Party – after all… they believe academics are ‘soft on crime’.
Option 2 would involve the prison authority going along with the misguided agenda of their political masters by deploying a number of strategies listed in their “CSC Capacity to Handle Over-Crowding” document obtained through Access to Information such as:
“Increased double bunking
ESA increased utilization and Partnership with provinces
Increased use of CCRA Section 81 – Aboriginal community Healing lodges
Rental of trailers (e.g. minimum or medium security)
Conversion of units (e.g. William Head)
Construction of new units
Same design (96 bed unit)
Different design (120 bed unit)
Use of specialized cells (e.g. using cells that are identified as part of CSC’s physical capacity but for one reason or another are not included as rated capacity – e.g. closed beds, admin segregation, etc.)
Use of gyms as dorms
Voluntary / involuntary transfers
Transfers: international, interregional, intraregional
Review of physical capacities to determine if any cells currently closed can be reopened” (CSC, no date).
Option 3 would involve CSC going along with the misguided agenda of their political masters and examining avenues to construct new federal penitentiaries, perhaps in the form of multi-million dollar regional complexes for federally sentenced men (see slides 194-220 of the ‘Roadmap’ ).
Noting the increase in the federal prisoner population that would likely result from the now passed Bill C-25 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code – limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody), the following statements by CSC Commissioner Don Head during his May 25, 2009 appearance before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights are indicative of the options being pursued by the prison authority at present:
“With respect to the impact of C-25 on the Correctional Service of Canada, it is important to note that while additional offenders would now receive a federal sentence and come to CSC, the majority of offenders impacted would be those that would have already received a federal sentence. However, they would now receive a longer sentence and therefore stay longer in our system”.
“CSC will face accommodation challenges as a result of this legislation. The additional influx of offenders from this legislative amendment will require CSC, in the short term, to implement temporary accommodation measures such as increasing the use of double bunking and additional temporary structures to house offenders”.
“In the long term, CSC will have to look to construct more permanent accommodation, including the construction of new units or institutions to manage population growth”.
While it may be the case that CSC has no choice but to adopt such measures if the current legislative push persists, the Canadian public and their representatives in Ottawa remain in a position to say “no” to a costly, ineffective and unjust approach to addressing conflict and harm in our communities. The challenge now is to convince them of the existence of this choice.
Unlinked References Cited
Correctional Service of Canada (no date) CSC Capacity to Handle Over-Crowding, Ottawa. Obtained through an Access to Information request processed by CSC.
Correctional Service of Canada (April 2009) National Report on Requests for Exemptions to Commissioner’s Directive 550: April 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009, Ottawa: Comptroller’s Branch, Financial Strategies & Analysis. Obtained through an Access to Information request processed by CSC.
Head, Don (May 25, 2009) Commissioner’s speaking points – Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada. Obtained through an Access to Information request processed by CSC.
Sapers, Howard (May 25, 2009) Speaking Notes for Mr. Howard Sapers – Correctional Investigator of Canada: Appearance before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Ottawa: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada. Obtained through an Access to Information request processed by CSC.