Senate prison tour finds focus on punitive instead of rehab measures
- NC Raine | October 10, 2018
Another well-documented theme is the over-representation of Indigenous people
The Senate Committee on Human Rights was in Saskatoon this week as part of their Canada-wide study of conditions in federal prisons. The Senators toured the Regional Psychiatric Centre and the Prairie Region Correctional Learning and Development Centre to examine issues related to basic human rights, rehabilitation, and systemic and institutionalized discrimination.
Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said several major themes have emerged from their study, one of which the lack of opportunity for inmates in Saskatchewan to engage in meaningful rehabilitation.
“What we’re hearing from Saskatchewan prisoners is that there is no emphasis on rehabilitation,” Bernard said. “The emphasis is very much punitive – the emphasis that used to be on rehabilitation is gone.”
Bernard said the inmates she has spoken to often complain about having little to do. Prisoners report a lack of access to computers and educational programs; feeling like they are being “warehoused,” she said.
“The post-secondary skill development in a lot of places is just not available,” she said. “To be in an institution for a long period of time and not have the opportunity to do things that contribute to their rehabilitation (...) that is hugely disadvantaging to people.”
Both inmates and prisoners have reported missing work farms, said Bernard, which allows inmates to engage in meaningful, healthy work and acquire transferable skills.
Another well documented theme found in the Senate’s study is the extreme over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prisons. First Nations, Metis, and Inuit make up one third of Canada’s prison population.
Further, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data, 76 percent of admissions to Saskatchewan jails were Indigenous people, which far exceeds the 14% of Saskatchewan people who are Indigenous. Once incarcerated, Bernard said that Indigenous prisoners are more likely to report discrimination.
“If you look at the statistics, the people who have spent more time in segregation (isolated confinement) are more likely to be Indigenous,” said Bernard. “In the classification system, an Indigenous person is more likely to be classified as maximum, and it takes longer to cascade down to minimum.”
Conversely, Indigenous people are under-represented in prison staff, said Bernard, particularly those in management positions.
“We have heard this may relate to the Prison Industrial Complex – prisons bring employment to some communities across the country, and some of those federal prisons are in small, isolated communities.”
The number of Indigenous women in prisons has more than doubled in the last ten years, making them the fastest growing prison population in the country. In Saskatchewan, 85% of female prisoners admitted in 2016/17 were Indigenous.
“What I do know is that many of the women coming into prison, there’s trauma. An unnamed, unresolved history of trauma,” said Bernard, who added there’s a lack of resources to help inmates cope with mental trauma. Many of the mental health professionals have limited hours, sometimes leaving those with special needs unattended.
“(Multigenerational trauma), if that history is contributing to you being in prison, and it isn’t being dealt with, what happens to you when you get out?”
The Senate continues their cross-Canada study, following their Saskatoon visit with a public hearing of expert panelists in Winnipeg.