Report on prisons likely to be critical

Ombudsman expected to reveal findings Monday
CBC News
Monday, November 2, 2009

Canada’s ombudsman for prisons is expected to deliver harsh criticism of the country’s correctional service when he tables his annual report in Parliament on Monday.

The main focus of Howard Saper’s report will be mental health and health care, but it is expected it will also discuss aboriginal inmates, federally sentenced women and access to rehabilitation programs.

Observers say Canada’s prisons are tense places these days because of the government’s get-tough-on-crime approach, which has resulted in overcrowding. With more people going into prison and fewer getting out, there’s a shortage of jobs for inmates inside and a lack of rehabilitation programs.

This has led to tempers flaring, more violence and a growing number of lockdowns, such as the one in July at Warkworth Institution, in Campbellford, Ont., about 70 kilometres southeast of Peterborough. One man died and 13 others were sent to hospital after more than 200 inmates rioted.

"When you start squeezing people, they’re going to push back," said Rick Sauve of Lifeline, a group that works with prisoners who are serving life sentences. "It’s the pressure cooker that keeps building and building and building. It gets one little leak and, poof, it goes off, and my fear is that may start happening."

Saper’s report is expected to reiterate his concerns about the treatment of inmates who are mentally ill. Craig Jones, head of the John Howard Society of Canada, says federal prisons have become the dumping grounds for those who are mentally ill.

"Many of them should not be in prison because the system is not equipped for it, and it just worsens the environment for everyone," Jones told CBC.

The federal ombudsman has already issued reports and made many recommendations on mental health in the past two years. Critics say, so far, there’s been little action.

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