Canadian prison overcrowding going to get worse in long-term, auditor general reports

Posted on May 6, 2014 in Child & Family Delivery System – Canada/Politics
May 6, 2014.   Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News

Canada’s prisons are so jam-packed with inmates that many are forced to “double-bunk” in shared cells — even though corrections officials recognize this breeds violence and poses a risk to offenders and staff at the facilities.

Moreover, although recent construction will resolve the over-crowding in the “short-term,” Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has failed to develop expansion plans for its penitentiaries to properly take into account the growing number of inmates, according to a report released Tuesday by Auditor General Michael Ferguson.

Double-bunking is, according to government policy, supposed to be a temporary measure. But it has grown and appears to have become a permanent fixture of the system.

Ferguson reported that the CSC policy states double bunking should only occur in approved areas and not exceed 20% of a prison’s population.

“We found that 26% of offenders were being double bunked in the Ontario and Prairie regions in the 2012–13 fiscal year. That same year, we also found that double bunking was occurring in segregation cells and in cells smaller than 5 square meters, which is contrary to the intent of CSC policy. Even after the construction is completed, CSC officials expect double bunking to continue.”

This is occurring, Ferguson found, even though Correctional Services determined in 2009 that it wanted to “minimize” overcrowding in higher security jails.

“At that time, CSC identified serious implications with double bunking, including increased levels of tension, aggression, and violence. It also identified increased safety and security concerns for staff and offenders, especially at maximum and medium security penitentiaries.”

Ferguson’s audit also found that as CSC expanded prisons in recent years, it failed to properly add sufficient segregation cells to isolate some offenders, and add health-care facilities for inmates at the jails.

The prisons are particularly overcrowded in Ontario and the prairie provinces, while jails in British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces have available space.

That has led to a costly consequence: prisoners are being transferred between facilities. In 2010–11, it cost $1.5 million to move 529 inmates. During the first nine months of 2013, costs had risen to $3.4 million to transfer 908 offenders.

“CSC officials expect that the long-distance relocation of offenders, and the associated costs, will continue after the expansion of facilities is completed,” reported Ferguson.

And although the government boasted its closure of three facilities — the Kingston Penitentiary, a regional treatment centre in Ontario, and the Leclerc Institution in Quebec — would save $120 million annually, the actual savings have been $86 million a year.

In recent years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government introduced a law-and-order agenda that was expected to increase the inmate population.

In 2012–13, Correctional Services spent about $2 billion on prisons and inmate rehabilitation. This figure has grown by 17% in the past five years, driven in part by a rising offender population. In March 2013, there were 15,224 prisoners in 57 federal penitentiaries across Canada.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenetteThe special care medical inmate facility is shown during a media tour of the Toronto South Detention Centre in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. The facility is slated to open this fall.

In recent years, Correctional Services has been on a construction spree — adding more than 2,700 cells to 37 facilities. When completed in 2015, prison officials expect that “these cells will alleviate much of the overcrowding experienced at the time of our audit,” reported Ferguson.

“We concluded that CSC did not plan the expansions to its penitentiaries in a manner that took into account its accommodation needs in the long term.”

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Auditor general: Report at a glance
By Christina Spencer

Here are some findings of the Spring 2014 auditor general’s report:

  • In the last three years, the federal government’s major pension funds had deficits of $6.5 billion, requiring special payments to cover the gap. No one appears responsible for carrying out a regular or systematic study of whether these government pension plans are sustainable over the long run. “Factors such as prolonged low interest rates, lower than expected returns on assets, and increasing longevity could have a significant impact on pension liabilities and on the financial position of the government,” the auditor general’s report warned.
  • Correctional Service Canada, which runs federal penitentiaries, was on schedule to build 2,120 new cells by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year with more promised in the current fiscal year, meeting the immediate needs of housing inmates. But Corrections “will again be at or over capacity within a few years of completing construction.” What the auditor general termed “capacity pressures” are highest in women’s institutions.
  • The Canada Revenue Agency has some significant gaps in how it detects and fights so-called “aggressive” tax planning, including on high-risk business files, training of its auditors and monitoring of its programs.
  • The First Nations Policing Program, originally created to address concerns about policing in aboriginal communities, “is not working as intended, and many issues persist,” according to the auditors. In Alberta and Manitoba, funding agreements for the program that were studied by the auditor general complied with provincial legislation and standards. Two agreements studies in Ontario, however, carried no clear requirement to comply with provincial standards.
  • The federal government has been handing out millions in bonus payments to private companies that manage the buildings housing bureaucrats, often with little explanation for doling out the extra cash. Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s report looked back at almost 10 years of outsourcing contracts worth almost $6 billion, just as the government readies to sign new deals that could be worth $12 billion or more.
  • A specific study of the 2009 contract award for the government’s Integrated Relocation Program – a plan meant to assist with employee moves by providing services such as providing realtors, home inspectors and marketing advice – found that decisions by government officials did not “encourage competition,” which led to only one service provider, Brookfield Global Relocation Services (formerly Royal LePage Relocations Services) bidding on the lucrative contract. But “we found no evidence to suggest that this was done intentionally,” the auditors concluded. The government spends hundreds of millions annually on the program.< >

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