Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Double bunking OK? I don't think so
OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says double-bunking in Canadian prisons "is not a big deal" but critics say his plan to impose more cell sharing contradicts the government's own policy and is bound to breed more penitentiary violence.
More than half of Canada's 54 federal prisons recently applied to the Correctional Service of Canada to double bunk, according to a Toronto researcher.
The practice requires approval from headquarters because it contradicts a 2001 prison service directive that "single occupancy accommodation is the most desirable and correctionally appropriate method of housing offenders."
Toews, since assuming the public safety portfolio in January, has spoken in favour of double-bunking as a solution to ease prison overcrowding, which is expected to escalate in the coming years as a result of new and pending federal laws to put more people in prison and to keep them there longer.
"It's not a big deal," he said last week on Parliament Hill, echoing a sentiment he has expressed several times. "It's an absolutely important aspect of facilities, it's constitutional, it's legal. Many western democracies do that. There's nothing inappropriate about that."
Toews said the government also plans to expand or renovate existing facilities for the time being, rather than build new penitentiaries.
A bill that is expected to have the biggest strain on prisons -- by automatically incarcerating offenders convicted of serious drug crimes -- will be resurrected today in the House of Commons, after dying when Parliament prorogued in December.
Howard Sapers, Canada's prison ombudsman, says that double-bunking has already increased 50 per cent in the last five years, so that prisons have approval to let 1,300 prisoners share cells -- some sleeping in bunk beds and others in cots or mattresses on the floor. That's 10 per cent of the prison population.
"We know, for reasons of sanity and personal safety, you need some respite, you need some privacy and that doesn't happen when you're in double-bunk situations," he said.
"As double-bunking goes up, you see increased incidents of institutional violence. Correctional centres when they are filled over capacity, tend to be very noisy and very chaotic. You end up with institutions that look less like correctional centres and more like warehouses."
Sapers also said that prisoners don't make the best roommates, given that the majority are either mentally ill, drug addicted, or belong to criminal gangs.
I dont think Toews truly understands the consequences of double bunking and the impact it will have. Mandatory sentencing has caused prison overcrowding, and the need for double bunking. Overcrowded conditions cause increased levels of violence, hostility, stress among the inmates an guards which is likely to cause more riots, institutional violence and in turn, continue/transfer outside the prison when these offenders are released. It will very likely cause increased recidivism when they are released, which is not in the best interests of society.