Sunday, May 30, 2010
Prison overhaul plan dismissed as amateur and ignores human rights
OTTAWA -- Canada's blueprint for overhauling federal prisons is an amateur and "alarming" document that ignores human rights, gives the false impression that crime is rising, and provides no costs for flawed policies that would flood penitentiaries with more inmates, says a new report.
The study by two veteran prisoner-rights advocates attacks the Harper government for its speedy, wholesale adoption of a 2007 Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety that made more than 100 recommendations, based largely on the premise that prisoners don't have automatic rights -- they earn them.
The government-appointed panel called for an end to "statutory release" after prisoners serve two-thirds of their sentences, in favour of earned parole that is tied to following a corrections plan.
The government has committed to implementing the new vision set out by the panel.
"With no public review or consultation, the plethora of recommendations -- some good, some trivial, but many with draconian implications for the protection of human rights, public safety and the public purse, are being presented as the future of federal corrections in Canada," wrote Michael Jackson, a University of British Columbia law professor, and Graham Stewart, former executive director of the John Howard Society.
Mr. Stewart and Mr. Jackson said prisoner advocacy groups estimate that ending statutory release, which would mean offenders would spend 50% more time incarcerated, would cost at least $1-billion.
The panel said that repealing statutory release, which is currently followed by a period of mandatory supervision in the community, would enhance public safety because it would reduce the number of prisoners who reoffend after release.
Mr. Stewart and Mr. Jackson counter that one of the justifications for adopting statutory release in the first place was to better protect the public by ensuring prisoners would be supervised in the community for a period of time rather than leaving penitentiaries with no strings attached.
"While cost should not outweigh community safety, proposing huge expenditures of this nature without any evidence of increased community safety is irresponsible public policy especially in the context of the lost opportunities that spending in this way represents," said their report.
They planned to release their study at a news conference Thursday, but an advance copy was provided to Canwest News Service.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said recently that the government intends to move forward with the recommendation.
Mr. Stewart and Mr. Jackson charge that commitment to human rights in federal prisons has deteriorated in recent years because of sentiment in the upper echelons that it "has no place in a get-tough-on-crime-and-criminals world."
The Harper government has promised in each of the last three election campaigns to clamp down on prisoner rights, including a 2006 pledge to work toward a constitutional amendment to repeal prisoner voting, ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002.
The government also has adopted or proposed several new laws that would send more people to jail for longer.
Then public safety minister Stockwell Day established the prison review panel in April 2007, appointing Rob Sampson, a former Ontario Conservative cabinet minister who spearheaded that province's short-lived move toward privately run jails, as the chairman. He presented his report six months later.
The panel called for prisoners to have only basic rights, and that any additional privileges would have to be earned.
The Sampson report also called on government to recraft federal legislation governing penitentiaries to eliminate a provision that inmates be imprisoned according to the "least restrictive measures," wrote Mr. Stewart and Mr. Jackson.
They conclude that the panel's report flies in the face of the Charter of Rights, regards human rights as "an expendable hindrance," and ignores 170 years of historical perspective about successes and failures in the penitentiary system.
Also, the premise that privileges and freedom must be earned ignores barriers faced by mentally ill prisoners, drug addicts, learning disabled, illiterate and other disadvantaged groups, says Mr. Jackson's and Mr. Stewart's report.
I believe and advocate for more rights available to all prisoners. I also disagree with abolishing the practice of stat release. This will only make society more dangerous as more prisoners would be released with no supervision, conditions or assistance, making them much more likely to re-offend in the community. A period of gradual supervision is needed to ensure an inmate is successfully reintegrated into society.