OTTAWA — Recent findings from the country's prison watchdog offer compelling proof that change is needed at the top of the Correctional Service of Canada, a Conservative senator and former Ontario solicitor general said Thursday.
The annual report tabled by Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers earlier this month shows the service is failing its most vulnerable inmates, Sen. Bob Runciman said in a statement.
Runciman was a Conservative member of the Ontario legislature before becoming a senator and served in a number of cabinet roles, including solicitor general and minister of correctional services.
"It is increasingly obvious that nothing will change until the leadership at CSC changes," the statement said. "That can't happen soon enough."
Runciman pointed to the inquest into the death of 19-year-old Ashley Smith, the findings of which should have resulted in sweeping changes to how mentally ill offenders are treated behind bars, he said.
"I, like many others, hoped the inquest and its recommendations would be a catalyst for change."
Smith was an emotionally disturbed teenager who died in solitary confinement through self-induced choking while at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007.
"I, like many others, hoped the inquest and its recommendations would be a catalyst for change," Runciman said.
"The CSC has taken what I would call baby steps, with pilot projects that are too small to be effective and may be deliberately designed to fail."
In his annual report, Sapers called for an end to solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. He also said segregation should be limited to no more than 30 days and not used as an alternative to the disciplinary process.
There has been progress in the last year, he noted.
The number of segregation placements and repeat placements has dropped significantly because the policy is being better administered, he said.
"The average daily count in segregation cells across the country used to be around 800," Sapers said. "Today it is around 500 and that's without legislation change."
While the number of people in solitary has been reduced as a result of CSC actions, segregation is still often used to manage the mentally ill, the self-injurious and suicidal inmates, Sapers said.
Goodale: Government sees report from "different perspective"
In a statement, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government saw the prison watchdog's report from a "different perspective."
"By shining a light on the areas within the Correctional Service of Canada that need improvement, and by asking hard questions, the Office of the Correctional Investigator ensures transparency and accountability, and that our correctional system is fair, humane and effective," said Goodale's press secretary Scott Bardsley.
The government has committed to addressing gaps in services for indigenous and mentally ill offenders, and to implementing the recommendations of the Smith inquest, Bardsley added.
Sapers did not respond Thursday to Runciman's statement.
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