moved that Bill C-296, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (rehabilitation programs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on my private member's bill, Bill C-296, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (rehabilitation programs).
The purpose of this bill is to require federal inmates to complete programs that will assist in their rehabilitation and make their release on parole contingent, and I emphasize the word contingent, upon their successful completion of such programs.
I hope that I will also be able to shed some light on the problems that exist in Canada's correctional system. I might point out it is a problem that not only I believe exists but the recent report by the auditor general seems also to support my fears.
The mission statement of Correctional Service of Canada is to actively encourage and assist offenders to become law-abiding citizens. Its mission therefore is not only to punish but to rehabilitate at the same time. Good corrections is in effect the successful reduction of the risk of reoffending.
To begin I would like to explain just what process is followed when an offender is remanded into custody at a federal penitentiary. An offender first undergoes an intake assessment to determine their level of risk and their programming needs. Upon returning to the institution, the offender is put through standardized tests which ask questions dealing with their education, intelligence, employment, psychology and lifestyle. Although an offender is allowed to contribute suggestions regarding the correctional planning process, it is rare that their suggestions are actually followed up on.
The recently released report from the auditor general has shown that the assessment process is indeed weak. He questioned just how qualified are the individuals who assess these offenders upon their entrance into custody. He also stated that the length of time offenders have to wait before receiving counselling is far too long, which is another problem.
Systemic inefficiencies, time constraints, scheduling difficulties and program evaluation and availability tend to undermine the effectiveness and benefits achieved during the programming process. An offender may have to wait as long as three years before being put into any kind of program. What good is a program if it is too little too late? An offender is most vulnerable to help and counselling upon first arriving at the institution. After being left on his or her own for a number months, maybe years, the impact of programming to an offender is of little or no use.
In the Correctional Service of Canada's own literature it is stated that programming must be directly linked to meeting offenders' needs an particularly those who need them almost immediately. If addressed it will result in a pro social behaviour. It should be directed at changing lifestyle patterns to make the individual change their habits and hopefully when they are returned to society they can be contributing members. The literature goes on to state that institutions must ensure that a process is in place so that recommendations developed by case managers and program officers concerning program and work assignments are indeed implemented.
There are many questions that need to be answered. There are obvious weaknesses in the system as it is now. My bill may not be the complete answer but hopefully it will help focus attention on problems which threaten society and our homes as a whole.
The auditor general brought forth a suggestion that Correctional Service of Canada could be doing a much better job overall. In his report he stated that the service's range of programs is impressive but there is always room for improvement. He also went on to state that he found serious problems with federal efforts of rehabilitating offenders and returning them to society.
The auditor general also found that there are a number of cost discrepancies which exist within the system. One program may cost $2,000 to treat an offender in one institution and a similar program may cost upward of $7,000 per offender in another
institution. Let me state for myself and I know I speak on behalf of my constituents that this is unacceptable. I believe there should be unanimity right across the board in these programs.
The auditor general also reported that a disproportionate amount of resources is being spent on only very few offenders. For example in the 1994-95 budget only 70 per cent of the budget dollars were devoted to rehabilitating sex offenders which of course accounted for only about 20 prisoners in Quebec. That works out to approximately $85,000 per offender. This is unbelievable and of course unacceptable.
All this is without any proof whatsoever that these individuals had indeed successfully completed the program. Meanwhile approximately 35 per cent of all sex offenders who have been released from federal prisons did not receive any prevention treatment at all. On behalf of my constituents, and I believe on behalf of most Canadians, I say that this is unacceptable.
From the studies I have received from Correctional Service of Canada it seems that the problem does not lie in the programs themselves. On the contrary the programs being developed by researchers of the service are among the best in the world. The problem lies in the way these programs are administered and managed.
Not all programs are accessible in all federal institutions. One reason may be the shortage of trained professionals to deliver these programs. For example, it was recently reported at the Warkworth penitentiary that there are only four therapists to look after 680 inmates. How can four people possibly do an effective job with a population of 680 inmates? I believe they cannot accomplish very much. I offer to the House as a result the tragic examples of two young individuals at the same penitentiary.
The first is a 25-year old by the name of Jamie Taylor who is serving time for killing his best friend when he was 17. When he was first incarcerated he was still considered a young offender and began serving his sentence in the youth detention centres. While there, Jamie began receiving treatment for his anger and violent behaviour on a day to day basis. He worked one on one with case managers and it was reported that he was improving along the way and his attitude was beginning to change.
Upon becoming an adult he was transferred to Warkworth federal penitentiary to complete his life sentence for second degree murder. He is eligible for parole in the year 2000 which if I may remind the House is only just a short three years away. Until that time Jamie Taylor is biding his time. With only four therapists for the entire inmate population, his treatment and therapy sessions have literally stopped.
Mark Williams is the other example. He is a 24-year old inmate at the same institution who is serving a life sentence for killing a Toronto woman during a robbery when he was 17 years old. Mark refers to jail as "a business with him being the inventory sitting on the shelf". He says he has had virtually no treatment since beginning the sentence. He has only seen his case management team four times in six years. He feels he has had no way to rehabilitate himself and no guidance whatsoever. Basically he has felt nothing but anger since he has been in the institution and behind bars and he has had no help in dealing with it.
Mark Williams comes up for parole in 1998, just one year from now. Without any assistance to deal with his problems and feeling anger the way he does, Mark Williams will probably be denied parole. I sincerely I hope he is denied parole because he is not ready to re-enter society. When an individual like Mark Williams is returned, we can see the threat that it might pose on our community and our country as a whole.
The legislation that has been brought forth by the Minister of Justice is intended to punish and rehabilitate at the same time. Therefore we have a responsibility to ensure that programs are available to people like Jamie Taylor and Mark Williams on a day to day basis, but four therapists for 680 inmates simply will not do the job.
These offenders are going to get out one day after they serve their full term. If we do not pay attention to them today, we can well imagine we are going to have problems in the future within our communities as a whole.
My bill today is really nothing historic. More so it is saying that if an offender who is behind bars is asking to be paroled we must make that parole request contingent upon their successfully completing a rehabilitation program. We should use their time in prison to give them the skills they need so that when they eventually become released they can be contributing members to society. It only follows that if a person is given the skills to acquire a job and possibly be a contributing member to society, the chances or opportunities for them reoffending certainly will be diminished greatly. We could help break this cycle which leads to career criminals by offering them these programs.
Correctional Service Canada spends only 7 per cent of its services total budget on rehabilitation programs. If the problem is a lack of funds for making these programs work properly, then perhaps the board could allocate more of its budget dollars toward rehabilitation programs.
I am not saying for more money to be put into the system. On the contrary, the last thing we need to do is ask the Canadian taxpayer to take from their hard earned dollar to put more money into these programs. I am simply saying that perhaps the money that is
already allocated for these programs could be spent more wisely and more efficiently.
It is not only the auditor general who is calling for changes in the systems. Victims rights groups are also questioning the safety of releasing the offenders before they have a chance for rehabilitation.
In a recent news story, the Canadian Resources Centre for Victims of Crimes has called for an inquiry into the National Parole Board's decision to release George Harvey Milne, a convicted sex offender. Milne is currently facing new charges for sexually assaulting young boys. Even though the parole board's own report raised concerns about his potential danger to the community, it approved his release.
The report went on to say that Milne demonstrated no real desire to change and only when all other options were exhausted did he become involved in treatment. When Milne came up for parole on October 30, 1991, the board again noted that he had not benefited to his full potential from treatment and denied parole.
Only one month later the board stated that the risk presented to the community was not unmanageable and granted Milne parole. Shame, I say.
Call me crazy, if you will, but I do not believe that this man could have been rehabilitated in less than one month. Due to the new charges pending against him, obviously he was not.
This is just another example of how the safety of the public is at risk. If the parole board felt that Milne was not fully rehabilitated and still posed a risk, even if it is a small one, it should not have granted him full parole. Because of its decision, more young boys were caused terrible suffering, along with the families and communities as a whole at the hands of this-I do not even know what to call him.
My bill has also received the attention of representatives, for example, from long term offenders in Saskatchewan. A gentleman by the name of Darrell McPhedran is currently the representative of long term offenders in this penitentiary and he has provided me with some insight regarding how our correctional system works from the perspective of an offender.
McPhedran has informed me that he has been exposed to a wide variety of both positive and negative feedback with regard to the usefulness of rehabilitation programs and the delivery of such programs at his institution.
He stated that the general consensus is that programs delivered under the auspices of the psychology department do appear to serve a purpose and are helpful indeed. However, the core group of programs such as educational, vocational and substance abuse tends to be very basic and watered down.
He states that programs are very limited in their scope and that those who are delivering the programs are also under qualified. He has expressed great concern with the way Correctional Service Canada runs its institutions, but in the end his main concern is in the area of programs or lack of available space, especially for long term offenders.
One would say why worry about long term offenders. After all, they are serving lifetime sentences. I would remind people and everybody in this House that today we do not have capital punishment and at some point in time these individuals will serve their full time and re-enter our communities.
If an offender is given a life sentence, they are still eligible for parole after 14 or 15 years. Therefore, do we just forget about the offender for those 14 or 15 years? I do not think we should. We simply cannot just warehouse these people and throw the key away because after 14 or so years, there is that possibility that they might be released.
We feel secure that if we put them in these programs, possibly when they do return to the communities the chances of their reoffending will be greatly diminished. They will become, eventually, individuals who will be eligible for parole.
If I may point out again, my bill proposes that for individuals who are serving long or short term sentences who are asking for early parole, it should be contingent on their successfully completing a rehabilitation program before their request is accepted.
This brings me to another weakness, the lack of proper support being in place to help the offenders in their transition from an institution to the community. There must be in place community support groups for offenders to provide a bridge for individuals once they re-enter the community.
The auditor general has stated that the service has not established a continuing program in that area to support these individuals in their transition back into the community. Studies show that it is critical that offenders have access to such treatment programs so that their bridging back into the community is made easier and, of course, much more safe.
This is a time when they are confronted with the factors that originally led them to offend. The auditor general has stated that approximately 65 per cent of the demand for community based sex offenders relapse programs is being met. However, I am concerned about the other 35 per cent. This is why we have to address the concern in that area.
One criticism I was surprised to hear about my bill is that it is unconstitutional, that it would infringe on the constitutional rights of individuals if they are asked to participate in these programs against their will.
I hear comments from across the way. It is unfortunate that the criticism comes from members the Reform Party. If we want to talk about hypocrisy, I believe the use of that word has reached an all time high. In public they say "hang them high, throw away the key". They are the lone rangers with the white hats fighting crime. But behind the scenes they say something else.
I am disappointed that not one Reform Party individual would come forward to speak on the bill and give it some support and at the same time provide constructive criticism or input as to how we can possibly correct the system that unfortunately today is not working. Instead of calling them the lone rangers, I will just call them the lone.
In answer to the question whether my bill is unconstitutional, let me state that I am not asking anyone to do anything against their will. I am just interested in seeing that offenders are given the option of assistance that will help them rehabilitate themselves and prove that they can return to society without risk of reoffending. If they are not prepared to enter the program to rehabilitate themselves, their parole requests should not be considered.
The Minister of Justice has brought forward amendments that will increase sentences for individuals who are considered dangerous offenders. He has introduced measures to keep track of high risk offenders after they are released. I applaud the minister for those initiatives. But we also need to fine tune the system because nobody and nothing is perfect.
I do not believe my bill is the only or the perfect solution. I do believe it might be just one step to help our society become safer and maybe will help those people who have served their full sentence to re-enter society as contributing members. I hope my bill will receive the support of the House.