Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to have an opportunity to speak on Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. That is the official name of it. Of course, the Conservatives, in their usual way, have called it something else that does not relate to it at all. This act may be cited as the drug-free prisons act.
As I will explain shortly, there is nothing in the act that contributes to or is about drug-free prisons at all. However, that is the Conservatives' way of using legislation as some sort of public relations gesture. Some have suggested that it is fundraising. Someone else has called it, quite rightly, “bumper sticker” legislation. It really has nothing to do with the bill at all.
I was just listening to my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, and I want to say what a great job he is doing as the official opposition critic for public safety. He brings his intelligence and his good sense. I will not say common sense because it is not that common, certainly around here. He brings his good sense, experience and articulateness, as well as his great commitment to social justice to this file. This is something that requires all of those things, because it is easy to have slogans.
The Conservatives like slogans. They like using them for fundraising. They like keeping things very short, and in some cases, they think it is meaningful to their supporters or the people who they would like to be their supporters. However, when we look just slightly below the surface, and we do not have to look very far, we find out that these slogans and sloganeering are really just a sham.
This is true of Bill C-12 as well, when we start with the act being the drug-free prisons act and then find out what it is really about. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is about how we run our prisons, and in this particular case, how people are granted parole.
There are only two or three provisions in this act. In fact, there are five clauses, one of which is the one with the short title, which is clearly irrelevant to the rest of the act. Clause 2 would basically allow an offender to be granted parole. I am talking about someone who has been granted parole but has not yet been released. The clause would give the parole board the right to consider the results of a urine sample or the fact that someone has refused to grant a urine sample. It says that this could be taken into consideration. It would be reported to the parole board and it could be taken into consideration. If the drug urinalysis is positive, it would be reported to the board. That is number one. If a urine drug sample is positive, it would be reported to the board.
The second would allow the parole board, if it was going to grant parole, to either cancel it or impose conditions on it. That makes up the next two sections. The big “if” here is provided that the board is of the opinion that the parolee or prospective parolee no longer meets the conditions of the criteria set out for parole.
Those conditions are relatively straightforward. They would apply to all parolees or potential parolees. They are no different in this case. They would ask, based on the results of the urinalysis, if the opinion of the parole board is that the offender would not, by reoffending, present an undue risk to society before the expiration of the sentence that he or she is serving, and that the release of the offender would contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender as a law-abiding citizen.
These are the general principles of parole anyway. This is why parole is granted, and it is very important. Parole is granted, first of all, if there will not be an undue risk to society, and second, if the release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender into society.
These are basic principles of parole. We are not changing those. The Conservatives appear to support those and they are not changing the legislation. All they are saying is that if the results of the urinalysis cancel out those matters, then the person will not be granted parole.
I do not know what that has to do with the notion of drug-free prisons. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the notion of drug-free prisons. What we are doing here, as previous speakers have noted, is something the parole board already takes into consideration. It already takes into consideration the results of a urinalysis or the refusal. There is some question as to whether it is appropriate for them to do it, and this would clarify it. It is already being done and this would clarify this power.
We support it. We are here to support it, and I think every speaker from this side of the House, certainly in our party, has stated that we support the principle of the bill to clarify the right of corrections officers to do this and for a parole board to take it into consideration.
What we do not support is the notion that somehow or another this would deal with the problem of drugs in prison. What we do not support is the current government's general attitude toward corrections and what it is doing to our prison system and how, in fact, it is making things worse for prisoners, for the society and for victims or potential victims of crime. The Conservatives talk a lot about victims, that they are on the side of victims and the other side is not.
Victims of crime, yesterday, today and tomorrow, are falling victim to people who commit crimes for whatever reasons. If the criminals are caught and imprisoned and if they are subject to rehabilitation while in prison, they are less likely to commit crimes in the future. One of the biggest problems of criminal activity in this country has to do with drug addiction. The percentage of prisoners who are addicted to drugs is remarkably high. I think the number is 69% for women and 45% for men. Am I quoting those correctly? I read the numbers earlier today. Sixty-nine per cent of women in prisons are addicted to drugs, and 45% of men.
What do we do to make our streets safer? We try to ensure that when these people are federal prisoners, and are in jail for two years or more, they have some program available to them so that when they are released they have a chance of no longer being addicted or of being on the road to recovery. If I were running the prisons, my number one priority for the protection of society would be to ensure that as many people as possible who go out of prison after their sentences are drug free and on the road to recovery. If I could do that, I could say to people in society that they would be safer because these people would have access to a rehabilitation program in prison and a better chance of not being a harm to society.
We have been steadfast as a party in our support for measures to make prisons safer, yet we have the Conservatives ignoring all the recommendations. That in fact makes prisons less safe, not only for correctional staff but for prisoners and for those in society who are going to be subjected to these individuals when they get out, if they are not better off.
We have measures that have been proposed by the correctional investigator who is a watchdog on behalf of the public and by corrections staff who have encounters with the prisoners day in and day out. They have made recommendations that would decrease violence, gang activity and drug use in our prisons, yet we do not see the government acting on these recommendations. We do not even see the Conservatives acting on recommendations that they themselves have made.
The public safety committee did a study in 2010 and produced a report. Their report, and I say their report, because the majority were Conservatives on that committee, was titled “Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System”.
These are the two main problems among prisoners: drug addiction and mental health problems. There were 14 recommendations from that committee, from the majority, which sits on the other side, the Government of Canada.
The Conservatives have had three years to come up with legislation or to do things to implement those recommendations. Not one appears in the bill before us, and not one has been implemented by the Conservative government. How serious are they when it comes to being committed to solving the problems of mental health and drug and alcohol addictions in our correctional system? The answer: not at all.
Instead, the Conservatives are focused on some sort of public relations campaign. They are calling something that basically clarifies an existing practice something else and are carrying out a campaign that claims that they are solving problems by reducing the crime rate.
Well, as my colleague for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out, the crime rate has been going down for 40 years. Yet in 2012, the highest number of persons incarcerated in Canada was achieved. It was the highest number ever in Canada. The all-time high was in July 2012, with 15,000 inmates in federal prisons.
What is the government's response to the lowering crime rate and the highest level of incarceration? It has done two things. The Conservatives have brought in a whole bunch of legislation that would actually increase the number of prisoners. In fact, the Correctional Investigator says that by March 2014, there is going to be an increase of persons in our prisons to over 18,000. Between 2012 and 2014, there will be a 20% increase in the number of federal prisoners from the all-time high of 2012, as the crime rate is going down. What are we achieving here?
By the way, we are also taking $295 million out of the Correctional Service budget. We have less money, 20% less, on top of the highest rate of incarceration ever in our history and a crime rate that has been going down for 40 years. We have a situation where prisons are getting overcrowded, and there is no money left for programming.
The Correctional Service of Canada devotes approximately 2% to 2.7% of its total operating budget on core correctional programs. That includes substance abuse programs. That means that funding for addictions treatment in prison is even less as a result of this $295 million decrease in its budget over two years. No wonder they are being criticized by anyone who has knowledge of the circumstances and the situation, such as the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
Let us look at somebody who should be seen as objective, the Correctional Investigator, who has been working on this for many years and is an expert in the area. He has been in our prisons, has talked to people in the programs, and has talked to all the stakeholders. He has issued reports about what goes in our prisons and the problems that have occurred as a result of the policies of the Conservative government. Mr. Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator, has listed several Conservative initiatives that he says have undermined the idea that prisoners can be rehabilitated.
The rehabilitation of prisoners is done for two reasons. Obviously, it is the humanitarian thing to do. People can end up in prison for all kinds of reasons, and rehabilitation gives them an opportunity to come out the other end less likely to offend and hopefully, able to contribute to society and to have an opportunity to overcome some of their difficulties, such as addictions, psychological problems, or whatever issue they may have. Hopefully they may learn something that would help them make a living when they are outside so that they can become contributing members of society.
The other reason is that we do not want people getting out of prisons angry, frustrated, with chips on their shoulders, more determined than ever to see themselves as separated from and outside of society. Instead, we want them to be able to contribute to society. We do not want people going out with a propensity to commit crimes, because we will create more victims.
The people on the other side of the House who claim to be in favour of supporting victims should realize that one of the best ways to support victims is to make sure that people who come out of prison have actually rehabilitated so they will not inflict harm on other members of society.
What we have instead is tougher sentencing rules, an end to automatic early release for serious repeat criminals and tough-on-inmate policies, as he calls them. These include charging for telephone calls, increasing room and board charges, eliminating incentive pay for work in prison industries, reducing access to prison libraries. What is gained by that? Do we want to make people who go to prison into hardened criminals, living in unsafe conditions, double-bunking, overcrowding, subject to gang violence, unable to learn by not having access to a library, unable to use the telephone to talk to their relatives and keep in touch with their loved ones so that they have some connection to outside society?
...making prisons more austere, more crowded, more unsafe and ultimately less effective.... We seem to be abandoning...individualized responses in favour of retribution and reprisal.
That is what the correctional investigator says, and he is saying that because it is less effective as a prison in terms of rehabilitating people.
My colleague from Halifax mentioned the issue of the prison population. Mr. Sapers said that the entire increase in our prison population over the last little while has been made up of aboriginals and members of visible minorities. Aboriginals now make up 23% of federal prisoners, though they are just 4% of Canadians. They are overrepresented in prisons by five and a half times their population. Something is wrong with this picture. Where are the programs that are available for these individuals?
The problem is that only about 12% of prisoners have access to these broad rehabilitation programs. There are wait lists of 35% of prisoners, waiting to get into programs. Their sentence is over before they get a chance to get any access to rehabilitation, and we have this revolving door phenomenon. The other side would call them repeat offenders. Yes, they are repeat offenders, and why? Because they do not get rehabilitated and they do not get access to programs while they are there.
We have a situation that Howard Sapers sums up this way:
You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these. And most troubling, the growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime, driven. After all, crime rates are down while incarceration rates grow.
We have a serious problem in our prisons. We are making it tougher on inmates, and some people like that. They have committed crimes. They deserve to be treated harshly. There are a few out there who do. However, if we scratch the surface, we say that these are human beings who deserve to go to jail because they are sentenced for a crime, and the old saying is, “You do the crime, you've get to be prepared to do the time”, so they do the time, but what happens then? Do they go out better off and less likely to commit a crime, or do they come out a hardened criminal and more likely?
If we want to protect society, we have to ensure that criminals are rehabilitated. We have to ensure that people in prisons have access to programs, including drug rehabilitation programs. We do that by paying attention to these issues, by listening to people who know what is going on and having a better prison system, not by having phony bills that are called drug-free prisons when they are really just implementing something that is accomplished already in our Parole Board.