Safe Streets and Communities Bill C-10

Speeches

December 13th, 2011

Second Reading - Debate Continued

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-10. Bill C-10, as you know, is a very lengthy bill, so I will speak this evening specifically to the lack of support and treatment for those mentally ill Canadians who find themselves in our prisons and the increasing number of these Canadians who will find themselves in prison as a result of Bill C-10.

Sweeping changes are on the way for our correctional services. With restriction on the availability of conditional sentences through mandatory minimum sentencing and the elimination of two-for-one credit for time served in pretrial custody, the Canadian correctional services are bracing for a dramatic influx of inmates. In addition to the influx, these inmates will now be serving for longer periods of time, further adding to the strain on capacity. It is estimated that the federal prison population is expected to grow by 4,000 inmates over the next five years. This is an increase of over 25 per cent.

Currently, Canada's prison facilities are bursting at the seams and are not capable of housing an increase of 4,000 inmates. To accommodate this influx of inmates, hundreds of millions of dollars will have to be spent to expand our prisons. As Senator Tkachuk said earlier, there is no question that many our prisons are in need of infrastructure improvements; unfortunately, the government's motivation for the infusion of prison spending is not to renovate but, rather, to lock up as many Canadian offenders as possible, all in the name of crime prevention.

An issue that Canada's correctional services will have to face is that new cell construction will not be able to keep up with the wave of new inmates. The concern is that this will lead to prison overcrowding. Prison managers are already forced to implement double-bunking to squeeze in the large number of inmates. Some prisons are already reporting 200 per cent occupancy. As the increase in prisons climbs, more managers will be forced to double up inmates in cells designed for one. We will also see an increase in "responsibility units," which is an open-concept accommodation similar to an army barracks type of setting. In some women's prisons, the inmates are housed in gymnasiums in order to handle the overcrowding. This double-bunking increases threats to prison employees and guards, as do the responsibility units, because there are few locking barriers to restrict inmate movement. We are putting the safety of prison employees at risk with this bill.

However, as we all know, prisons are more than just bricks and mortar. Along with more prison cells to accommodate the increase in prison population, the Canadian correctional services will require a significant increase in personnel to manage the prisons. It is estimated that over 3,000 new employees will be needed to manage the 4,000 new inmates created with the Conservative's so-called "tough on crime" legislation.

My understanding is that the staffing strategies by Correctional Services Canada for the required 3,000-plus new hires will be 1,373 correctional officers, 423 new parole and program officers, 445 administrative services personnel, 399 clerical workers, and only 35 new health professionals.

Correctional Services Canada has stated that inmates' mental health is a top-five priority and advances have been made educating staff on mental health awareness. However, with only a commitment for 35 new health care professionals — 10 psychologists and 25 nurses — I am unsure of how much of a priority this truly is. Thirty-five new health care professionals spread across the country will do little to advance the treatment of the increasing number of inmates with poor mental health.

Indeed, recent studies have shown a sharp increase in the number of inmates suffering from poor mental health. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of male inmates in Ontario with a mental health disorder increased by 5.7 per cent. The percentage of those with a mental illness is starkly higher in the female inmate population, with close to 31 per cent of female inmates having mental health problems. Unfortunately, these numbers continue to rise, and, honourable senators, these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. These are only the numbers diagnosed.

There is a clear need for treatment for these inmates who suffer from poor mental health on both a compassionate basis and a crime prevention basis. In most cases, inmates who enter the correctional facilities with a mental illness and who remain there without treatment come out in worse condition. The chances of these people reoffending, or even committing a much worse crime once released, are significantly higher unless they receive the help they need. Now, with overcrowding becoming ever more prevalent, the prisons are creating an environment that is only compounding inmates' mental illnesses, whereas if these offenders receive proper treatment for their diagnosed psychiatric conditions while in custody, it is shown that the percentage of those reoffending goes significantly down.

As it stands right now, our prison system is feeling the strains of increased inmate numbers, and mental health treatment among those inmates seems to be increasingly relegated to the back burner. Canadian prisons are increasingly unable to handle and treat the large number of inmates with psychiatric issues. They just do not have the staff, the resources or the facilities to do so.

A common tactic in our prisons when dealing with an inmate with a psychiatric condition who acts out is either segregation, which is solitary confinement, or restraint by physical or pharmaceutical means. None of these tactics is treatment, and, specifically in the case of solitary confinement, they can lead to additional mental health issues. The recent inquiry into the suicide of female inmate Ashley Smith only highlights how our system is currently failing to recognize and provide treatment for those inmates with poor mental health.

Something as simple as family visits have been shown to help ease the conditions of inmates with mental illness and have a positive impact on their rehabilitation. However, Bill C-10 proposes to limit even the access to family visits for those in segregation. What are we doing as a government?

I applaud Senator Runciman's achievement of pioneering the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville while Ontario's Minister of Correctional Services. The institution is run by the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group and provides treatment for male offenders in a hospital environment while providing prison-level security. The program works. Over the first five years of the treatment centre's operation, inmate recidivism rates dropped by 40 per cent for those who received treatment.

I understand Senator Runciman is spearheading efforts to establish a similar facility for female offenders, and I wholeheartedly support his efforts. He should be commended for his understanding and his efforts to help those with mental illness who find themselves in the prison system.

No one can deny these types of programs and facilities are effective and are desperately needed. Therefore, why is none of the $2 billion earmarked for Canada's prisons dedicated to supporting facilities for treating mentally ill offenders? This approach is shown to work. Our streets are safer when those offenders requiring psychiatric treatment receive it. Is that not what we want, safer streets? It is a win-win situation — safer streets and a better life for those who have poor mental health.

I believe that the Canadian government must make treatment of Canada's mentally ill inmates a priority. Locking up those with poor mental health and not providing treatment is not making our streets any safer, and in many cases it actually puts our correctional services front-line workers in more dangerous situations.

Leaving many mentally ill inmates languishing in overcrowded prisons untreated and among the general prison population adversely affects their condition. As noted, in many cases the inmate's illness is compounded with additional psychiatric conditions while in prison.

More has to be done to support health care staff within Canadian correctional services. Staff recruitment and retention are a problem. The system is understaffed and has a hard time enticing new mental health professionals, as many are apprehensive about working in the prison environment. This will become worse with the implementation of Bill C-10, when resources will be stretched as prison overcrowding grows.

The myopic view of Bill C-10, locking up Canadian offenders and throwing away the key, is not good crime prevention. We must include rehabilitation, and in the case of diagnosed psychiatric conditions, treatment is needed. As much as the Harper government would like those with mental illnesses who have committed a crime to never get out of prison, that is not the case. Having them released after they have rightfully served their sentence in worse condition than when they went in does not make our streets safer.

Crime prevention requires a multi-faceted approach. This is a fact that I believe Bill C-10 ignores in favour of ideology. Failing to address the needs of the staggering number of Canada's inmates suffering from mental health and addiction issues leaves everyone vulnerable.

I have made much mention of the effects that Bill C-10 will have on those prison inmates with mental illnesses, but what I find most distressing is the number of Canada's young people who suffer from mental illness who will be swept up in our youth legal system and, in increasing numbers, tried as adults.

Studies show that up to 70 per cent of young offenders have some form of mental illness. There are numerous reasons for this fact. Some mental illnesses are manifested in aggressive behaviour, typically toward an authoritative figure. Doctors tell us that this behaviour is more prominent in youth with mental illness, as they are still learning to cope and deal with their issues. It is not uncommon that the first point of contact for someone who is acting out is not trained to deal with youth with these issues, and the police are often called upon to handle the situation.

It is unfortunate that, while some police departments are training their officers to deal with those with poor mental health, many officers are not specially trained, so a situation can quickly escalate, resulting in youth in trouble with the law.

It is shown that when a police force does employ officers with the proper training to deal with people with mental illnesses, the outcomes of these interactions are drastically improved. Unfortunately, not all police forces across the country have the resources to train their police force to recognize and deal with these types of situations.

The sad truth for many young people in conflict with the law who have poor mental health is that their condition is exacerbated by a poor, indifferent or abusive home life. By the time they find themselves in front of a judge, it is not uncommon for the offenders to have been failed by their own family, then by law enforcement. Now, with minimum sentencing clauses contained in Bill C-10, judges will lose their powers of discretion to send offenders for treatment instead of incarceration.

An amendment to give judges discretion in sentencing put forward in the other place by Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP, was voted down by the Conservative majority. That is unfortunate. The judges will now have no discretion when someone with poor mental health comes before them. For some youth in this situation their mental well-being can be at a crossroads. The difference of receiving treatment or not, for a young offender with a mental illness, could set their path for life. Studies show that an offender's mental health will deteriorate the longer they are untreated.

This is especially true in the cases of young offenders who are tried and sentenced as adults and find themselves in adult facilities. These facilities are not structured for young people, and in many cases staff are under too much strain to cope and meet the needs of adolescent offenders with or without a mental condition. In many cases, abuses may occur within the system by other inmates. When these concerns are raised, I hear too often, "Who cares about prisoners' well-being? They deserve it." That is unfortunate.

The gut reaction of vengeance is a powerful impulse when dealing with crime in our society. The government says this legislation is for victims' rights, but punishment without treatment of our mentally ill offenders does not serve society or keep our streets any safer in the long run.

May I have five more minutes, please?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, is five more minutes granted? Senator Day: Absolutely.

Senator Mockler: In the spirit of cooperation.

Some Hon. Senators: Yes.

Senator Cordy: I truly hope that there is room for compassion and discretion in a just and fair Canadian justice system.

I am not for a second advocating that all offenders, mentally ill or not, who are convicted of violent crimes do not deserve the extent of sentencing laws, but I believe taking away a judge's discretion when dealing with young offenders for treatment over incarceration will have the reverse desired effect.

I know many will stand in this chamber and accuse opponents of Bill C-10 of being bleeding-heart liberals in contempt of Canadian victims of crime. I find this offensive. I believe, and the evidence shows, that locking up offenders without treatment of underlying mental illnesses does not just fail the offender but it also fails society in the longer term.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Cordy: I have met with many young people and many adults who suffer from different mental illnesses from all across this country. I was proud to be a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology when we studied the issues of mental health, mental illness and addictions. Our report, Out of the Shadows at Last, was an excellent study and led to the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Many senators across the aisle were also part of this study and can attest to the hardships suffered by those falling through the cracks of not just our justice system but our health care system as well.

At a time when public opinion shows that 93 per cent of Canadians feel safe from crime, this bill commits billions of taxpayers' dollars implementing failed American crime prevention policies that ignore evidence in favour of ideology. This is a huge step backwards. The sad truth is this bill ignores the needs of mentally ill persons who are in conflict with the law and who get caught up in the legal system.

This bill, Bill C-10, will ultimately lead to more violent inmates and less safe streets.

As Roy Muise, a certified peer specialist for those with poor mental health in the Halifax area, told the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on May 9, 2005 in Halifax:

To the people of Canada, I say welcome us into society as full partners. We are not to be feared or pitied. Remember, we are your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, your friends, co-workers and children. Join hands with us and travel together with us on our road to recovery.

Honourable senators, one in five Canadians will suffer from poor mental health in their lives. Some, unfortunately, will come in conflict with the law. Let us not, as a society, allow those with mental illness to languish in jail with no treatment. Let us instead, as a society, ensure that treatment is given to those who need it, whether that is administered in a secure hospital environment or by allowing judges to use their discretion to have a mentally ill offender sent for treatment instead of forcing mandatory prison sentences. That, honourable senators, is what will make our community safer.

Let us travel together, as Mr. Roy Muise stated, on the road to recovery for those with mental illness who have come in conflict with the law.

Honourable senators, let us not talk about being tough on crime or soft on crime. Let us talk about being smart on crime or, as the hundreds of emails sent to me state, let us talk about a bill that will make Canada safer, not meaner.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Questions or further debate? Honourable Senator Di Nino.

Hon. Consiglio Di Nino: I have a question, if I may.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Cordy, will you accept a question?

Senator Cordy: If there is time, I certainly will accept a question.

Senator Di Nino: Thank you. The honourable senator referred to truly one of the best reports that this institution has prepared over the years, Out of the Shadows at Last, on mental health issues in this country.

To be fair, the honourable senator should also include the fact that it was this government and Mr. Harper who accepted the recommendation of that report and created a mental health commission and asked the chair of that report, the now-retired Liberal senator, Senator Kirby, to be chair of that particular commission.

Would she not agree that is a very good step forward to deal with the issues the honourable senator was talking about?

Senator Cordy: That is an excellent comment. I thank the honourable senator very much. He is absolutely right; the Chair of the Mental Health Commission was appointed by the Conservative government. Perhaps we could invite Senator Kirby to be a witness when this bill is before the Senate.