Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-12, as members will be aware.
However, if I may take advantage of my great privilege to speak in this place, I will preface my comments with special wishes for my friend, Nancy Mutch. Nancy for many years volunteered in Jack Layton's constituency office, and since Jack's death, has volunteered in mine. She has a golden heart, but for a couple of weeks now has been in Toronto East General Hospital under great medical care but engaged in a difficult struggle. She has always paid special attention to what goes on in this place, so I am hoping Nancy will hear me say, when I say it here, to keep fighting, that we love her, and that we need her back on the phones.
Drug addiction in our prison system is a serious problem. We have well established that so far this afternoon. It is serious, because it is linked to inmate violence and gang activity in our prisons. It threatens the safety of our correctional officers, makes it difficult for offenders to effectively reintegrate into the community once they are released, and leaves them much more likely to reoffend.
However, serious problems need serious solutions. Not only does Bill C-12 not offer any serious solutions to the drug problems in our prisons, it in fact offers no solutions at all. It has been a long-standing practice at the Parole Board to use drug tests as a tool to evaluate an offender's eligibility for release. All this bill would do is validate this practice. It is, in effect, another lame effort by the Conservatives to appear tough on crime and tough on drugs without doing anything at all to help us solve the complex problems related to drug use in our prisons.
This bill has been called, so accurately and evocatively, bumper sticker policy by my colleague from Gatineau, the justice critic for our caucus.
The Conservatives' effort to eliminate drugs from our prisons has been a remarkable failure. Proving themselves once again to be the great mis-managers of the public purse, the Conservatives have now spent more than $120 million on this interdiction effort, and according to the correctional investigator, this spending has had no impact on the prevalence of drugs and drug use in our prisons.
To sincerely address the problem of drug use in prisons, the Correctional Service needs to develop a proper intake assessment for all new inmates that can evaluate their needs for addiction and mental health programming and rehabilitation. It is only by providing proper addiction and mental health treatment and education to offenders that we can actually have an impact on the prevalence of drugs, violence, and gangs in our prisons.
According to the correctional investigator, the Conservatives' current anti-drug strategy lacks three key elements. First is an integrated and cohesive link between interdiction and suppression activities and prevention, treatment, and harm-reduction measures. Second is a comprehensive public reporting mechanism. Third is a well-defined evaluation, review, and performance plan to measure the overall effectiveness of these investments.
The correctional investigator's report goes on to say
A “zero-tolerance” stance to drugs in prison, while perhaps serving as an effective deterrent posted at the entry point of a penitentiary, simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.
Not only have the Conservatives made no progress in improving the drug situation in our prisons, they have actually made the situation worse. While the Conservatives have been happy to waste millions of dollars of public money on “drug-free prisons”, despite a consensus among experts that these efforts are ineffective, they have made cutbacks in core correctional programming that includes support for treatment for addiction and mental illness. Today federal offenders with drug-addiction problems face long wait lists before they can get treatment. There are currently over 2,400 prisoners waiting for addiction treatment in our country in federal prisons, and this situation is absolutely unacceptable.
It is unacceptable, because too often this results in offenders being released from prison without ever having access to appropriate treatment for their addictions. This leaves them more likely to commit crime and end up in the correctional system once again.
While the Conservatives like to think that they are tough on crime and they like to put forward empty gestures such as the bill before us, their policies have actually increased the chances that offenders will be released from prison as addicted to drugs as they were on the day they were arrested. Our communities have become less safe, not more safe, because of these policies.
Last year, the number of people incarcerated in Canada reached an all-time high, with over 15,000 federal inmates, and that number is projected to rise to almost 19,000 by next year. Despite these trends, budgets for addiction treatment and counselling in our corrections system have been decreasing.
Our prisons are becoming more and more overcrowded, with the practice of double-bunking increasingly becoming the norm. This is a situation that fosters the proliferation of gangs and violence in our corrections system. This situation puts the safety and security of our federal corrections officers in jeopardy.
The federal government has a duty to ensure that work conditions are safe for every citizen under federal jurisdiction in this country, but it has a particularly sacred duty to ensure the security of those who put their lives on the line for the public, such as the federal police, our military and corrections employees.
Conservative cutbacks and jail overcrowding have made the job of our corrections officials more dangerous, according to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. A recent article in the Huffington Post quotes corrections officer Trevor Davis, who works at the William Head Institution on Vancouver Island, as saying, “[The Prime Minister] wants to be tough on crime...but he’s not giving us the resources to do it properly”. As Mr. Davis puts it, “[The Tories] are making our jails unsafe.”
We talked about this matter this morning at length in the context of Bill C-5, about the current, and frankly, previous governments' disregard for the issue of workplace health and safety. Let me come back to Bill C-12 and the bumper sticker approach to drug-free prisons. The bill would not render our prisons drug free. It would simply turn practice into law and leave a dire situation, the need for assessment and treatment for the incarcerated in the interest of public safety, untouched.
According to the report of the Correctional Investigator, close to two thirds of offenders were under the influence of intoxicants when they committed the offence leading to their incarceration. That is a statistic closely connected with the fact that 80% of offenders arrive at a federal penal institution with a past history of substance abuse. The bill would change none of that. It would send offenders back into the population without ever seriously addressing the circumstances that gave rise to their offences.
That is the stuff of this government and its bumper sticker politics. It is beneath this place and all of us, but it is to this kind of politics from the Conservative government that we have unfortunately become accustomed.
With that, I welcome any questions.