Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill.
I am going to start by talking a little bit about some of the elements of the bill, some areas where I think we are going to have to look further, then some general concerns and some very specific concerns about the direction the government is heading overall, and some concerns about the document upon which this bill is built, which is the Conservative 2007 road map.
Before I get to that, in its first clauses and in what it is seeking to do, this bill changes the nature of the mandate of Correctional Service Canada. Traditionally its mandate has been rehabilitation. What this bill is seeking to do is to clarify that it is the protection of society.
This is placebo policy in my opinion. It is supportable, but let us admit that the principle objective of rehabilitation is to make people better and to not have them offend. Therefore, when somebody does not re-offend and does not commit a crime, there is a safer society. That could be worded differently and that is fine, but obviously rehabilitation is central, if not essential, to that particular objective.
The second clause is concerning, because it does not add any specificity as to how the government would actually implement it. The government is saying in this bill that every inmate would provide a correctional plan to include the level of intervention of their behaviour and their participation in programs, meetings and co-ordinated obligations.
It is all well and good for the government to say to have a plan, but right now there are no resources. Oftentimes in talking to corrections officials or inmates in facilities as I tour the country, I find there are no resources for them to actually carry out their plan. There could be a situation where inmates are forced to have a plan and their parole or release is conditional upon achieving the plan, and yet it is impossible for them to achieve their plan because there are no resources for them to be able to go through and do the programs to meet what they have been asked to establish.
I would have no problem with the idea of saying to an inmate that they have to have a plan and that they have to meet that plan, but correspondingly there have to be resources, plans and programs to ensure that, in fact, happens and that plan can be met. If not, it is an exercise in futility and it means those people are going to be trapped in a situation where they cannot get out and cannot meet the objectives established for them.
The expanded range of disciplinary offences to include intimidation, false claims and throwing a bodily substance are not particularly objectionable.
The establishment of the right of the victim to make a statement at parole hearings is something that I think is very supportable. I think we would have to hear more about how that would work specifically.
There are some concerns, and I think we would have to talk about that at committee, with respect to permitting the disclosure to the victim of the name and location of the institution to which the offender is being transferred, the reason for the transfer, information about the offender's participation, et cetera. We would have to know how that was happening and how we would deal with the privacy laws that exist in the country.
There is a provision that would eliminate the accelerated parole review. It is important for members to know that the accelerated parole review is only applicable to non-violent offenders. There has been some debate in this House previously about eliminating the accelerated parole review for individuals who committed non-violent offences that were still extremely serious.
A white collar crime that victimized a great number of people clearly is a very serious crime, and we would want to make sure that there is an appropriate sentence for it and that the person who committed it is not given the opportunity to end a sentence early.
However, to eliminate all accelerated parole review might be a concern, particularly when we look at the fact that in 2006 and 2007 an offender on conditional release cost an average of $23,000, and this is to correctional services, while an incarcerated offender cost an average of $93,000. So if these are non-violent individuals and there is another way for them to serve that sentence, the question has to be asked whether or not the country should bear those kinds of costs, or whether or not that is in fact appropriate.
There are also provisions to authorize a peace officer to arrest offenders without warrant for breach of conditions of their conditional release. There may be legal issues with that. We would have to take a look at it.
If I could, I think we should look at the document upon which this is founded, the road map that the Conservatives were following with respect to the corrections system and with their agenda as it comes to prisons overall.
Both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stewart reviewed this particular road map in a report entitled, “A Flawed Compass: A Human Rights Analysis of the Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”. They stated they had three very specific areas. They called them three strikes. They started with the fact that:
It tramples on human rights and human dignity—strike one.
It will threaten public safety by making conditions in prisons more dangerous and undermine the pathways to prisoners' reintegration—strike two.
It will place enormous financial burdens on taxpayers in lengthening and deepening the level of imprisonment, the disastrous path the U.S. has travelled-—strike three.
They went on to say:
And lest there be any doubt of its abject failure as an exercise in principled and effective corrections, there is a fourth strike—it will intensify what the Supreme Court has characterized already as “staggering injustice” of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the prisons of Canada.
In his portion of the address, Stewart noted a fifth strike against the so-called roadmap, “the near total absence of evidence to support its conclusions and recommendations”.
We need to consider this carefully not only because this plan is ineffective, because it has been tried in other jurisdictions and failed so miserably, but because the costs are so staggering that they have already buried other jurisdictions that have attempted this. The government is chasing after California when California itself is running away from the disaster it created.
We know that California adopted a very similar strategy with respect to corrections, building ever-larger prisons, upping the number of people and the time they spent in them. The result was not safe for communities. It was staggering debt, unbelievable cost and, in fact, less-safe communities.
In California the rate of recidivism, the rate at which people reoffend, has now crossed the 70% line. That means 7 out of 10 people who will walk out of a prison will recommit a crime, or recidivate. It is not exactly an example we want to follow, particularly when California is left in a situation where prisons, like a vacuum, have sucked money out of health care, education, infrastructure and priorities that Californians otherwise would want to see their government invest in.
We are barrelling down this path and what is particularly concerning with all the bills in front of us, not just this bill but others, is that there is not even a bother to offer a costing of this direction. In fact, the public safety minister has said he knows the cost but will not tell.
What we do know in just one bill is that the former public safety minister told the House that a bill was going to cost $90 million. I requested Mr. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to do a review and he agreed to do that review. As soon as there was the threat of review, that number changed from $90 million to the minister saying he made a mistake and it is $2 billion. When the Parliamentary Budget Officer concluded his report, he did not say it was $2 billion but said it was going to be $10 billion to $13 billion in costs over the same period of time that they were talking about $90 million. This is an egregious amount of money but it is only one bill.
When we consider the fact that Canada right now is suffering under the largest deficit in its history, where the country is going to have to make tough choices about how to undo the fiscal mismanagement that we have seen over the last number of years, one has to ask how we can possibly afford tens of billions of dollars in constructing new prisons. The problem with this strategy is that at the same time the government is building all these prisons and ratcheting up all these costs, it is slashing from the very things that stop crime from happening in the first place.
As an example, crime prevention has been cut by more than 70%. The victims of crime initiative has been cut by 41%. The very things that develop community capacity, that allow for organizations at a community level to break cycles of violence, addiction and the things that drive crime, are being cut.
When I go across the country and talk to people in communities, whether it is boys and girls clubs, church organizations or not-for-profit groups, they talk about how that cut in funding has impacted on their ability to make a difference in their communities. They talk about the fact that they have no doubt in their minds that it will lead to more crime, less safety. We need to reflect on that.
Dr. Irvin Waller, a leading thinker in the country about how we should approach preventing crime and keeping our communities safe, has quite clearly proven that for every dollar we invest in prevention, we save $11 in other costs, whether it is incarceration, probation, parole, or all the other things that are related. If we are cutting from the thing that saves money at a ratio of $11 for every dollar we spend and at the same time we are ratcheting up prison spending, it is a disaster in terms of its fiscal impact. It will blow a crater into the budget the likes of which it will be almost impossible to repair.
We are at a critical juncture where we have to make a choice about what road map, using Conservative language, we choose and how we deal moving forward. I would suggest that beyond reinvesting that money in crime prevention, going back to those communities, that we should go one step further. In communities like Kitchener-Waterloo or Summerside, P.E.I., I was able to visit crime prevention councils, which developed an action plan to enhance safety in those communities. It was driven from the ground up, saying exactly what they needed to make communities safe places, not some federal dictate that comes down, or some federal program they have to twist and contort themselves to fit into, but a locally driven community action plan that the federal government gets behind and supports, a plan that recognizes the importance of breaking cycles of violence, that recognizes that for inmates more than 80% of them are facing addiction issues and that for most crime that is being faced in communities it stems back to problems with substance abuse.
We need programs that recognize that victims of crime often later become perpetrators of crime in a cycle of victimization that must be broken at a community level. They recognize as well that having additional police on the ground, having proactive policing, going out and engaging young people in a positive meaningful way, giving them positive outlets to express themselves are all ways of making our communities actually safe, not just using words or trying to play politics with crime.
However, it does not end there. We also have to look at what we do in the prisons. At a point at which a young person first has their interaction with the law and makes a mistake, what is the course of action we will take? Right now too many young people, when they first commit a crime, are stuck in remand, where they are unable to get access to any programs or services to make them better. I do not disagree with elimination as an example of the two-for-one remand credit, but let us understand why the remand credits existed. It is because the conditions in remand were so reprehensible and young people going into conditions as minor criminals were spending time with major criminals and coming out ready to commit major offences. In essence we were creating crime factories.
If we are interested in breaking these cycles, we need to do what so many parents have done when faced with the struggle of having a young person who is heading down a dark path. They told me if they had a place to take their son or daughter and know that by bringing them there they would become better and be able to break that addiction, they would walk them to the door themselves. However, they know prison is not that place. They know that when they go to prison, their addiction issues get worse, not better. They are facing not only addiction issues, but when they get there, they are often facing extremely high rates of infectious disease.
Some people have said who cares if the HIV rate is four or five times the rate of the general population, or the hepatitis rate is many more times in prison than the general population. We have to remember that more than 90% of people who walk in a prison door will walk back out. Their health, their rehabilitation is not some criminal hugging interest. It is a self-interest. It is an interest of every Canadian because it has a direct and deep impact on community safety and on public health. Therefore, we need to have places where people actually go to get better.
What is disturbing about the path the Conservatives are choosing to walk down is at the same time they cutting from prevention and cutting from support for victims, they are cutting programs in the prisons.
I had an opportunity to visit every prison farm in the country. I talked with correctional officers who worked in these facilities, in some cases for longer than 30 years. To a last one, every one told me it was the best program we had in corrections. I met with inmates who went through the prison farm program, looked them in their eyes as they talked about the transformation that it caused within them, how working with animals bred empathy and compassion, about how the program placed at the end of their sentence got them ready to reintegrate.
It is not because agriculture on to itself is the solution, although unlike the government I do believe agriculture is still relevant. Believe it or not the Minister of Public Safety said that agriculture was essentially a dead end and there was no purpose for teaching it to people. However, it misses the fundamental point. These men were going through the program. They were spending 10 hours a day working on a farm. Because it was a voluntary program, they had to wake up on their own will at five or six o'clock in the morning, go in and put in a full day's work, working with animals, understanding empathy, understanding the value of work. The dignity and structure of that work is fundamentally what has changed them.
When I talked to employers in the construction industry or elsewhere, I was told they were some of the best inmates they could hope to hire because they understood the value of work.
While it is true that not every one of them was hired in agriculture, in fact the vast majority were not, they were hired and they were engaged in meaningful ways. What correctional officer after correctional officer told me was there was not a single rate of recidivism.
This program is dead. Its cost was $4 million a year. Four million dollars is a lot of money. It is two fake lakes, but it is not a lot of money relative to the cost benefit that it provides. It is deeply shameful that at the same time we are ballooning prison populations, we are cutting some of the most effective programs at making people better. We are cutting prevention. We are cutting from victims. Now we are cutting from programs inside a prison. The argument is that this is going to make us safer.
When I dare to speak out against this agenda, what do I get day in and day out in question period? Members stand up and talk about how I am a criminal hugger, about how I do not care about public safety, about how somehow I care less about the safety of my children than they do theirs.
I believe Conservatives are misguided on these issues. I believe they are taking us down a wrong and perilous path, which has proven that in every jurisdiction it has been tried, it has failed. However, I would not subscribe to one of them, a motif that did not care about community safety, and they should not impart it upon any other member. It does a disservice to this chamber.
We also have to recognize the impact of mental health and the importance of dealing with mental health in our prisons, particularly in female institutions, where very serious mental health issues will often make up more than 25% of a prison's population. In the male population the number is lower but still startlingly high.
What I hear from police chiefs across the country is more often than not we are using our prisons as repositories for people with mental illness. We are taking those who are suffering from mental conditions, who have no support and no way of getting off the streets, and waiting for them to commit crimes so the police can do something with them. Then they are transferred into prisons, where prisons are woefully under-prepared to deal with their mental illness. As a result, they often put them into segregation. In these segregation cells their conditions further deteriorate.
We are all aware of the story of Ashley Smith. Ashley was a 17-year-old girl whose crime was to throw an apple at a postman and to steal a CD. Ashley had mental challenges. When she was put into prison, they got much worse. The prison system did not know how to deal with her and had her in a segregated cell for 11 solid months. As Ashley tried to kill herself and kill herself, there was no interjection until finally Ashley self-asphyxiated and died.
We need to do much better than that. We cannot allow the mentally ill to languish in prisons with no hope of getting better or for people, like when I was in Her Majesty's penitentiary in St. John's, to be locked into a facility where they have no hope of getting out and getting better.
There needs to be a road map but it is not this one. We can do a lot better.