Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I find the short title of the bill slightly more interesting. The Conservative government chose to call it the drug-free prisons act.
Clearly, when we saw that title, we were very curious to find out what this promised drug-free prisons act was going to contain.
I was relatively surprised in one sense, but not in another, to see that the bill had nothing to do with drug-free prisons. Bill C-12 adds a provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that makes clear that, when deciding whether someone is eligible for parole, the Parole Board can take into account the fact that the offender tested positive for drugs in a urinalysis or refused to provide a urine sample for a drug test. That is already happening. The Parole Board has already been using this practice for quite some time.
We support this provision, but we realize that it has to do with the Parole Board. It has nothing to do with the inmates in our federal prisons right now.
Therefore, this title is unfortunately a bit flawed. It is sad that the government is trying to make Canadians believe that it wants to address the drug addiction problem in our federal prisons, when it is actually trying to use this bill to simply say that what the Parole Board is doing is fine and that it needs to keep doing it.
Bill C-12 therefore has a relatively misleading title. We tried to amend it at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The NDP introduced an amendment to change the short title to better describe Bill C-12. The title we proposed was the drug test failures and parole act, which I think better reflects the bill.
I point this out because many witnesses said that Bill C-12 was not really doing what the short title suggested. The bill is not bad. I would like to tell that to everyone in the House. In committee, we all agreed that this is not a bad bill as such. However, the title was really an irritant whenever we had to discuss this bill. The short title has nothing to do with the bill. The bill is not bad, but it will not lead to drug-free prisons.
I would like to quote the member for Yukon. Replacing the parliamentary secretary, he attended the meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-12. He himself admitted that the short title was probably going a bit too far. We were able to see that, even among the Conservatives, not everyone was really comfortable with the short title of this bill.
I hope that the Conservatives will do their homework next time and present us with a bill whose short title will actually reflect its content.
That being said, I will not dwell on the fact that the Conservatives often play politics with their short titles or bills. The titles do not always reflect the bills they go with, but they seem very nice when they are presented to the public and Canadians see them without reading the actual bills.
We in the NDP have very clear positions when it comes to the prison population, prisons and the eradication of drug addiction. We have always supported measures that seek to make our prisons safer. However, the Conservative government continues to ignore the recommendations of correctional staff and the Correctional Investigator, in particular, that would help reduce violence, street gang activities and drug use in our prisons. Virtually all stakeholders agree that this bill will have little impact on drug use in our prisons. Almost all of us agree that there will be no impact on drug use in our prisons.
Once again, the government is going to use this bill as an opportunity to cater to the wishes of its base, without actually proposing real solutions to the problems of drugs and gangs in prisons. I am enormously disappointed in this aspect of the Conservative government's strategy on such an important issue.
As I said, Bill C-12 is not necessarily a solution to a real problem and we are all—especially the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security—aware of that. Members of the House, who have examined a number of bills, are at least partly aware of the situation in our prisons. We know that there are mental health, addiction and gang-related problems. There are therefore a number of problems and things to fix in our correctional system. Again, this bill could have been a good example of the sort of work we can do together as parliamentarians, but unfortunately we were not able to do it.
I would like to talk about what the bill should perhaps have included and about the eradication of addiction in our prisons. In 2012, a Public Safety Canada study confirmed that it is not very realistic to think that drug-free prisons can be created. I know that may be a shocking thing to hear, but the problem of eliminating drugs in prisons is extremely complex, for a number of reasons. The government should take a leadership role in this matter but, as parliamentarians, our work is to ensure that drugs are reduced as much as possible and to take steps in that direction.
The government, however, is reacting to sensational headlines in the media and trying to say that such a thing is possible. Correctional Service Canada has invested a great deal of money. Since 2008 the Conservatives have spent, for example, $112 million on purchasing technology to stop the entry of drugs into prisons. Nevertheless, this has not reduced drug use in prison. Therefore, the Conservatives' approach is not working at all.
First, the government has a clearly unrealistic goal, but one we all strive toward—we can agree on that—and second, it is not using its money appropriately. It has invested in technology and not solved the problem at all. I have some details and figures to give you later, but I can say that the Conservative government has made deep cuts to the budgets of many departments. It has reduced Correctional Service Canada's budget by 10% and made cuts in many programs, although the prison population is currently growing. It has reduced the money set aside for programming, particularly addiction programs. The government's explanation is all doublespeak.
Correctional Service Canada's funding for basic correctional programs such as addiction treatment has been reduced. Moreover, the Conservative government has closed the treatment centres for inmates with serious mental health problems. We cannot ignore the fact that mental health issues are very common in our prisons. That is one of the main points to keep in mind. Many witnesses told us that people who have addiction problems often have mental health issues as well, and we must not forget that.
In order to really tackle the addiction problem in our prisons, we believe that Correctional Service Canada must create an initial assessment system that would make it possible to correctly measure an inmate's degree of addiction so that suitable programs could be offered to the offenders who need them. If the addiction is not treated, it is more difficult to educate and return the individual to society, which is what our society chooses to do with inmates. At Correctional Service Canada, the system works in levels. An offender comes into the system at the maximum or medium level and makes his way down through the levels as part of the prison population until, at the end of his sentence, he is in a minimum security institution. Still within the correctional system, he will have contact with the general public. The offender will begin working and visiting outside the prison, and will begin his return to society.
If we do not want prisons to have revolving doors, we must provide good programs for education and social rehabilitation. That is a societal choice we have made and we must take it seriously.
Taking this choice seriously will be much less costly to taxpayers in the end, in terms of public safety, hospitals and society in general.
Inmates who are neglected in terms of education and social reinsertion are liable to reoffend and fall back into a life of crime. Many studies have proven this. The correctional investigator has mentioned it often in his reports and appearances before the committee. The experts know what is happening on the ground. They include the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society of Canada. I should also mention the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers whose members see former inmates returning to prison. I talked with Mr. Grabowsky, the union's national president, last week. I will not mention his age, but he has over 35 years of experience at Correctional Service Canada. He told me that during his career he has seen many former inmates return, as if prisons had revolving doors, because there are no social reintegration programs or other suitable programs for inmates. That is a sad state of affairs.
As a society, seeking to make our communities extremely safe is a wise choice. When I am walking down the street, I want to be safe, I want my daughter to be safe, and I want my friends and colleagues to be safe. For that to happen, we have to make sure that these offenders do not fall back into the cycle of crime. We must try to eradicate as much crime as possible from our society. Both sides of the House would probably agree that that is a very difficult thing to do. However, we have radically differing visions of how to do it. I will have more to say about that later in my speech.
A number of stakeholders support our position. One of them is the Correctional Investigator, who stated in numerous reports that the corrections system could face unintended consequences when simplistic solutions are applied to complex problems, such as addiction, in our penitentiaries. He suggested measures such as assessment of prisoners at intake into correctional programs to identify their addiction problems. The NDP fully supports that. He also suggested giving prisoners better access to rehabilitation programs, which would help reduce drug use and gang activity in prison.
When I was asking my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands a question earlier, I said that I would come back to what the parliamentary secretary said. She quoted something that, if I am not mistaken, was said by Don Head, the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, and that is that 95% of offenders complete at least one program while they are in prison. It is true that 95% of offenders participate in a program at some point in their correctional plan. What the Conservatives failed to mention—and we have spoken about this at length during the debate on Bill C-12—is that this percentage pertains to all programs in general. It could be an anger management program, a program to deal with aggression, Alcoholics Anonymous or a drug treatment program. A variety of programs are offered to inmates. The government seems to be lumping all of these programs together and saying that 95% of inmates participate in a program, implying that these inmates are participating in a drug treatment program. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I want members of the House to be aware of this in the coming debates.
It would be a good idea to give all offenders who need it access to a drug treatment program while they are in prison. That is not currently the case. Four out of five offenders arrive at a federal institution with a past history of substance abuse. As of July 2011, there were 775 inmates enrolled in opiate substitute treatment, representing approximately 5.4% of the total inmate population. That means that only 5.4% of the total inmate population is receiving treatment, when four out of five inmates have a substance abuse problem when they enter the prison system. Unfortunately, a balance has not been reached. That is rather sad.
In the 2012 federal budget, the government made $295 million in cuts to Correctional Service Canada over two years, which represents about 10% of its budget.
Correctional Service Canada currently spends 2% to 2.7% of its operating budget on basic correctional programs. This includes substance abuse programs, but they do not receive all of that funding.
According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator—I always look forward to its annual reports—the CSC budget for substance abuse programming dropped from $11 million in 2008-09 to $9 million in 2010-11, even though the prisoner population continues to grow. Thus, funding for substance abuse programs and access to them is decreasing while the inmate population is increasing. That is sad.
That brings me to the position of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which works directly in our prisons to ensure our safety. It does fantastic work. I visited a number of prisons in several provinces and we were always well received. The correctional officers clearly explained the work that they do, and they work miracles with very few resources.
Their budgets are cut every year and because of Conservative bills that amended the Canada Labour Code, their safety has also been affected. Take for example the bill that amended the definition of danger, which directly affects correctional officers working on the ground. That is extremely serious for them.
The Conservatives do not have the same vision. I would not say that their policies are harmful, but they are not the right policies for our penitentiaries. For example, as a result of cuts, the Conservatives promised to increase the number of beds and inmates in our prisons. I think it was 2,700 new beds, which is a net addition of about 1,655 beds.
At the same time, the Conservatives closed two extremely important penitentiaries—one in Kingston, Ontario, and the other in Leclerc, Quebec. The latter is in my riding and is now a provincial penitentiary. As a result of these closures, a cell designed for a single person often holds two or three inmates.
According to their assessment on the ground, despite a decrease in double bunking, corrections officers are currently seeing the potential for an increase in double bunking, which creates a serious problem in terms of drug addiction and the safety of corrections officers. These officers never know what will happen when there are several inmates in a single cell. Furthermore, it can be dangerous for the prison population, not to mention the fact that problems with street gangs and drug addiction can get worse if strict corrections plans are not followed.
The Conservatives should have a look at the studies that show what happens when you put several people in a cell designed for a single person. We often hear that it helps save money, but it creates many more problems in the long term.
The NDP wants to ensure that prisons are safe working environments for our corrections officers. That is extremely important. We will not make these workplaces safer by merely giving fancy titles, like the title of Bill C-12, to relatively simple measures without directly addressing the problem of drug addiction. This will only guarantee that inmates will end up back in the prison system.
I hope that the Conservatives will take note of all of this and of what the witnesses told the committee, so that the next time they introduce a bill called the drug-free prisons act, it will actually address the problem it claims to fix.