Warden, Kingston Penitentiary, Correctional Service of Canada
Thank you very much for the welcome.
Good afternoon, everyone. I'm pleased to be with you today. My name is Jay Pyke. As noted, I'm the warden of Kingston Penitentiary, or KP, as we refer to it most often down here. Joining me today is Ms. Melinda MacCrimmon. She's an experienced grievance coordinator at Kingston Penitentiary.
I'd like to first speak to you briefly regarding KP to give you a sense of institutional life and then address some of the challenges we face pertaining to the offender grievance process.
KP currently houses approximately 390 inmates. It's a maximum security facility that accommodates high-risk, high-needs offenders serving a range of sentences from two years to life. The inmates at KP are serving sentences for a wide range of offences. The majority of them have violent histories, significant mental health and physical health concerns, substance abuse problems, and behavioural issues, or a combination thereof.
At KP, my staff and I are committed to delivering a high level of service to offenders in terms of maintaining their safety and security as well as programs and services aimed to reduce the risk that they may pose to reoffend. Given the profile of KP's offender population, it's clear that a fair, expeditious, and accessible grievance process without negative consequence is vital to us. We recognize that the redress process must reflect the values of our democratic society. For CSC, this process provides the mechanism to test our decisions and to ensure that they're made in a manner that respects the dignity of all individuals, while recognizing that our first priority is to ensure the safety of staff, offenders, and society.
I understand you've already spoken to our commissioner, our director general of rights, redress, and resolution, and a senior analyst in offender redress at NHQ on the matter of Bill C-293.
From my perspective, CSC's complaint and grievance process has four key benefits. First, it provides offenders with a means of redress when they feel they've been treated unfairly or in a manner inconsistent with law or policy. Secondly, it contributes to institutional safety through the early identification and resolution of problems as they arise. Thirdly, it contributes to offender accountability by encouraging offenders to resolve problems through an appropriate means. Finally, the process ensures that CSC's decisions affecting offenders comply with the rule of law.
As you're likely aware, there are four levels of the process. The first two levels take place locally at the institution, consisting of the initial formal complaint, followed by a first-level grievance. The complaint is responded to by the immediate supervisor of the person whose actions or decisions are called into question. The first level is responded to by the warden.
Mr. Chair, the first level will be my area of focus today.
At KP, during the 2011-12 fiscal year, a total of 501 inmate complaints and grievances were submitted locally at the site. Of these 501 complaints, 86, or 17% of the total grievances, were submitted by just three offenders.
The grievances submitted by these three individuals can generally be characterized as lengthy, complex, and involving many subjects or issues. This fact makes the total number of issues grieved actually larger than the 17% would suggest because they require multi-faceted responses.
Of the 86 grievances submitted by these individuals, two have been upheld. Three have been upheld, in part, owing to responses becoming untimely. The remaining 81 grievances were denied on the grounds that they had no merit.
As you can imagine, complaints of this nature place an incredible strain on institutional resources at multiple points of contact. The first point of contact is the inmate grievance coordinator, who's responsible for recording, assigning, monitoring timeframes, logging, and providing a response.
With regard to the three offenders I mentioned above, our grievance coordinators were often faced with the arduous task of checking for duplication of previous submissions and responses. Copies of these similar submissions are then placed into the review package for the benefit of the investigators so they do not reinvestigate an issue already responded to.
The next point of contact are the investigators themselves. Oftentimes at the middle management level it's consisting primarily of a correctional manager or a manager of an assessment and intervention. Each complaint must be investigated. The inmate must be interviewed and a response generated in a written docket to be provided to the inmate.
Remarkably, it only takes one offender to place a considerable strain on the process due to the significant amount of time required to investigate complex grievances. When investigating managers become bogged down by virtue of the volume of complaints, it ultimately leads to an increase in the time required to provide a proper written response to the inmate.
The impact of complaints of this nature, aside from slowing down the response capacity, is that they often create a great deal of frustration for the staff who continue to investigate complaints when they know there are concerns of merit related to them. What this means is that staff are less able to focus their time on investigating and resolving complaints that have actual merit.
This past fiscal year, one of three grievers referenced above submitted 35 complaints, 22 of which alleged harassment by staff. This volume led to the establishment of an external review committee. This three-person review committee was convened on my authority and consisted of an individual from the redress section at national headquarters, one from the redress section at regional headquarters, and a middle manager from a different site in the Ontario region.
Of the 22 complaints related to staff harassment made by this one offender, the committee was responsible for investigating a total of eight. In each circumstance, the committee found that the allegations of harassment were deemed to be without merit and were frivolous or vexatious in nature. This means that numerous steps and resources were invested at the institutional level to respond to an individual who consistently submits complaints and grievances that simply lack merit.
It's also significant to note that in the case of the three primary complaint or grievance submitters at KP, many of the complaints submitted were moved up by these offenders to the first-level grievance where a warden's response is required, despite clear responses being provided by the line managers I referred to earlier.
From my experience, it seems that for certain offenders there's an explicit intent to move the grievance to every level within the organization, regardless of the decision or rationale provided at the lower level. Beyond a strain on resources at all levels of the organization, there are additional impacts at the site level. An example would be that because frivolous and multiple complaints and grievances slow down the complaint or grievance process at the local level, it negatively impacts and affects those inmates who do not abuse the process and who deserve a timely response.
Ideally, the complaints and grievance system is an important check and balance process for institutional heads, wardens. It allows the warden to ensure that the institution and the employees are adhering to the principles of our mission and to relevant law and policy that provides an important redress mechanism for offenders. CSC is committed to providing a redress system that is fair, expeditious, and accessible to all offenders.
With that, I'll thank you, and I would certainly be happy, as would Ms. MacCrimmon, to answer any questions you may have of us.