Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and as others have pointed out, the short title is the drug-free prisons act.
Other New Democrats have indicated today that we are supporting this very narrow bill, and people might wonder why we are rising to speak to the bill if we are supporting it. Part of the reason we are rising to speak comes down to the short title, the drug-free prisons act. Nothing in the bill would contribute toward a goal of drug-free prisons.
One would think, given the Conservatives' approach to being tough on crime, that part of their interests would be that any legislation they bring forward would actually have a goal of keeping our communities safer. So part of that goal would be that, when people are incarcerated, when the justice system has found them guilty and they are incarcerated for whatever their misdeeds were—we would presume the Conservative goal would be to ensure that prisoners are rehabilitated so that they can be reintegrated back into the community in a safe way and thus keep our communities safer.
I think all of us in the House would argue that one of our roles is to ensure that federal employees have a safe workplace. We would assume that any legislation we bring forward would consider whether or not the workplace for correctional officers, men and women who serve in the federal penitentiary system, is safe. I would argue that nothing in the bill would achieve those ends.
I am turning to the legislative summary because it is important to highlight what exactly the bill would do and presumably why the bill came about. The legislative summary says:
The bill requires the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) (or a provincial parole board, if applicable) to cancel the parole of an offender who has not yet been released if the offender tests positive in a urinalysis or fails to provide a urine sample and the Board is of the opinion that the criteria for granting parole are no longer met.
The bill also clarifies the legislative intent underlying section 133(3) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act 1 (CCRA)—which authorizes a releasing authority to set conditions on an offender's parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence—to provide that conditions may be set regarding the offender's use of drugs or alcohol, including when that use has been identified as a risk factor in the offender's criminal behaviour.
There is a long history of drug use within the penitentiary system, and the legislative summary quotes some of that background. Under a section called “The Presence of Drugs in the Federal Penitentiary System”, it says:
Prevalence rates of substance abuse for persons involved in the criminal justice system are “much higher” than those in the general population. According to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), “in Canada, 80% of offenders entering the federal prison system are identified as having a substance abuse problem.”
I am going to repeat that number: 80% of people of entering the system have a substance abuse problem. That should be setting all kinds of warning bells off for everybody in the House who is considering legislation.
The summary goes on to say:
The presence of drugs within the federal penitentiary system is not a recent phenomenon. Problems associated with drugs in the penitentiary system were noted in 1990 by the Federal Court of Canada in Jackson v. Joyceville Penitentiary (T.D.), when the Court found that the evidence clearly indicated that:
unauthorized intoxicants in the prison setting create very serious problems including a greater risk and level of violence that affects the safety and security of prison institutions for both staff and inmates.
In 2000, the Sub-committee on the Corrections and Conditional Release Act of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled a report entitled A Work in Progress: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act, in which it noted:
One of the issues that arose in virtually every correctional facility visited by the Sub-committee was the entry, presence and use of drugs in an environment where they are not supposed to be found. The Sub-committee also learned that the brewing, distribution and consumption of alcohol are serious problems in many correctional institutions. The consequences of the presence of alcohol and drugs in correctional facilities can be devastating to both the correctional environment and to what corrections personnel are trying to achieve in working with offenders.
Probably people who have listened to this debate would presume that the collection of a urine analysis for drug testing is something new, when in fact, it has existed within the penitentiary system for a number of years.
I will not go over all the history, but the mandatory urine analysis within the penitentiary system began in the mid-1980s, and so it has been going on for decades. There have been some changes to it because of some court challenges and human rights issues, but essentially the collection of urine for analysis and drug testing has been within the penitentiary system for a number of years.
What currently exists? According to the legislative summary, under the heading “Authority to Collect Urine Samples” it says, “Today, the CCRA authorizes the collection of urine samples within the institutional setting in the following prescribed circumstances.”
I will read the prescribed conditions without the explanation, but a number of things have to be present: reasonable grounds; random selection; when required for program activity involving community contact or a treatment program; testing to monitor compliance with conditions to abstain from the consumption of drugs or alcohol; consequences of a positive result or a refusal to provide a sample; and consequences for offenders on conditional release. This is the current situation from before we had Bill C-12 before us.
Therefore, we already have this method. However, in terms of drug-free prisons, I will talk a little later about how effective the programs have been, or have not been, and how little the bill would contribute to it.
On the changes to the legislation, clause 2 of Bill C-12 would amend the CCRA by creating a new section, 123.1, which states that the CSC is required to inform the Parole Board when an offender has been granted day or full parole but has not yet been released, has failed or refused to provide a urine sample or has had a positive urine analysis test.
Clause 3 of the bill would add a new section that states that if the Parole Board has been informed of an offender's failure or refusal to provide a urine sample or positive urine analysis result, and the offender has not yet been released, it must cancel the offender's parole, but only if, in its opinion, the criteria for granting parole provided in section 102 of the CCRA are no longer met.
Clause 4 of the bill would modify section 133(3) of the CCRA to direct the consideration of a condition regarding the offender's use of drugs or alcohol following an offender's failure or refusal to provide a urine sample, and Bill C-12 would give the Parole Board clear legal authority for the imposition of a condition regarding the use of drugs or alcohol by adding that:
For greater certainty, the conditions may include any condition regarding the offender’s use of drugs or alcohol, including in cases when that use has been identified as a risk factor in the offender’s criminal behaviour.
Therefore, what we have currently is a situation where the Correctional Service of Canada already does the urine sampling and drug analysis, and now we have this communication link with the Parole Board so that it may be considered when granting parole. However, members will notice that nowhere in there does it talk about rehabilitation or treatment while offenders are within the correctional system. Therefore, how this would contribute to a drug-free prison escapes me. I cannot find anything in the legislation that would create an environment that would reduce the use of drugs in prisons, that would presumably lead to better reintegration into society and more safety for prison staff who have to deal with these inmates who may be intoxicated or under the influence of some sort of drug.
It is interesting that this issue has been raised in any number of venues, and I am going to quote from an April 2012 report called “Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Penitentiaries: An Alarming Problem”. This is a report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. In that report, there is a section entitled “The Impact of Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Correctional Facilities”. The report states that:
Upon admission, 80% of offenders have a serious substance abuse problem, and over half of them reported that alcohol and drug use was a factor in the commission of their offence.
Mental health problems are also highly prevalent among inmates in the correctional system. Experts note that drug addicts and inmates with mental health issues generally have complex problems to contend with, such as concurrent mental health issues, drug addiction and alcoholism.
Dr. Sandy Simpson, Clinical Director of the Law and Mental Health Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said that substance abuse “is a driver of mental ill health and it is also a barrier to recovery, wellness, and reducing recidivism.” This is all the more alarming since “anywhere up to 90% of a standing prison population will have a lifetime problem of substance misuse or dependence.” The Commissioner also raised this point with the Committee, noting that “[t]his dependency does not magically disappear when they arrive at our gates.”
Anybody who has studied the corrections system is well aware that these substances are illegally available within the correctional system. I think there is a theory out there that when people go to prison, they will go cold turkey and somehow magically be relieved of needing or wanting the substance, but of course, these substances are illegally available in the system, which does not help with reintegration into society.
With regard to that report, New Democrats actually filed a dissenting opinion because, despite all of the testimony that was heard, the report only came down on one part of a proposed solution. In the dissenting report, New Democrats said:
The report: Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Penitentiaries: an Alarming Problem, is fundamentally flawed and fails to adequately represent the testimony heard at committee in a fair manner. Critical information is missing and as a result many of the conclusions and recommendations are incomplete or insufficient, for this reason New Democrat members of the Public Safety Committee have submitted this dissenting opinion....
The most startling example of the information missing from this report is the failure to note evidence that clearly demonstrated $122 million dollars [sic] of Conservative spending on interdiction tools and technology since 2008 has not led to any reduction in drug use in prisons. The Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada...Mr. Don Head, admitted at meeting number 16 on December 1, 2011, that this spending has been largely ineffective according to the CSC's own report on drug-testing, but this information is not reflected anywhere in the committee's report.
Of significant concern is the appearance that the Committee's report reached a pre-determined conclusion that the solution to the problems of drugs and alcohol in prison is increasing interdiction measures. This conclusion does not reflect the testimony that the Committee heard describing the complexity of the problem of drug and alcohol in federal prisons. As many witnesses affirmed, a narrow focus on interdiction measures alone will not serve the purpose of reducing the use of drugs and alcohol....
New Democrats believe that the problems facing Canadian prisons, including mental illness, drug use and the spread of disease, including HIV and hepatitis, are complex and interrelated. Violence and increased population pressures, gangs and drug trafficking in prisons are as interrelated as well. In order to move towards real solutions targeting the issue of drugs and alcohol in prisons, a balanced approach that is based on a complete understanding of the problems that exist is required.
Unfortunately, that report was another example of where the Conservative majority on the committee used the majority to actually subvert the recommendations and witness testimony so that it came out with a very narrow conclusion that simply did not reflect the other work that was done.
I want to turn for a moment to the Correctional Investigator, who provides annual reports that talk about the state of prisons in Canada. In a report from 2012 on the previous fiscal years, he indicated a number of problems, and I would like to take a few moments to raise that. In his report, he stated:
More offenders are admitted to federal penitentiaries more addicted and mentally ill than ever before. 36% have been identified at admission as requiring some form of psychiatric or psychological follow-up. 63% of offenders report using either alcohol or drugs on the day of their current offence. With a changing and more complex offender profile come accumulating pressure points and needs—provide for safe and secure custody, meet growing mental health and physical health care demands, and respond to the special needs of aging, minority and Aboriginal offenders. This is a compromised population which presents some very complex mental health, physical health and criminogenic issues. As I report here, these needs often run ahead of the system's capacity to meet them.
He provided some numbers. People love to talk numbers in the House, as they should. He indicated that the annual cost of keeping a federal inmate behind bars has increased from $88,000 in 2005-06 to more than $113,000 in 2009-10. In contrast, the annual average cost to keep an offender in the community is about $29,500. At a time of widespread budgetary restraint, it seems prudent to use prison sparingly and as a last resort, as it was intended to be.
Later on in the report, the Correctional Investigator outlined some challenges with mental health because, as noted, mental health and substance abuse often go hand in hand.
Again, quoting some statistics, he said:
CSC data indicates that the proportion of offenders with mental health needs identified at intake has doubled in the period between 1997 and 2008. 13% of male inmates and 29% of women were identified at admission as presenting mental health problems. 30.1% of women offenders compared to 14.5% of male offenders had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons.
CSC's use of computerized mental health screening at admission indicates that 62% of offenders entering a federal penitentiary are “flagged” as requiring a follow-up mental health assessment or service.
Offenders diagnosed with a mental illness are typically afflicted by more than one disorder, often a substance abuse problem, which affects 4 out of 5 offenders in federal custody.
That is four out of five. That is 80% in custody.
50% of federally sentenced women self-report histories of self-harm, over half identify a current or previous addiction to drugs, 85% report a history of physical abuse and 68% experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
He reviewed the progress with regard to dealing with some of these matters, and the Correctional Investigator indicated the following:
In a series of reports and investigations over the last three years, the Office has identified gaps in CSC's mental health framework and has further recommended a series of measures where progress is necessary. The following are among the most urgent needs in the federal system that speak to capacity and resource issues and raise questions of purpose, priority and direction:
1. Create intermediate mental health care units.
2. Recruit and retain more mental health professionals.
3. Treat self-injurious behaviour as a mental health, not security, issue.
4. Increase capacity at the Regional Treatment Centres.
5. Prohibit the use of long-term segregation of offenders at risk of suicide or serious self-injury as well as offenders with acute mental health issues.
6. Expand the range of alternative mental health service delivery partnerships with the provinces and territories.
7. Provide for 24/7 health care coverage at all maximum, medium and multi-level institutions.
With regard to drugs in prison, he indicated that there is no question that the presence of illegal substances is a major safety and security challenge. He said:
The smuggling and trafficking of illicit substances and the diversion of legal drugs inside federal penitentiaries present inherent risks that ultimately jeopardize the safety and security of institutions and the people that live and work inside them. Almost two-thirds of federal offenders report being under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants when they committed the offence.... A very high percentage of the offender population that abuses drugs is also concurrently struggling with mental illness. The interplay between addiction, substance abuse and mental health functioning is complex and dynamic. Living with addiction or managing a substance abuse problem in a prison setting creates its own laws of supply and demand, which in turn is influenced by gang activity and other pressures.
We can see that there is a very serious problem within the prison system. We have had a number of experts who have testified to that in a variety of circumstances, yet the bill does nothing to deal with that problem.
He recommended the following:
a comprehensive and integrated drug strategy should include a balance of measures—prevention, treatment, harm reduction and interdiction. The Office's analysis suggests that CSC's current anti-drug strategy lacks three key elements:
1. An integrated and cohesive link between interdiction and suppression activities and prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures.
2. A comprehensive public reporting mechanism, and;
3. A well-defined evaluation, review and performance plan to measure the overall effectiveness of its investments.
With respect to performance indicators and public reporting, a more balanced score sheet might include consideration of these measures:
Decreased gang activity linked to the institutional drug trade.
Reduction in the number of major security incidents....
It goes on. I know I am running out of time, so I want to conclude by indicating that the Correctional Investigator said this:
On balance, the facts surrounding and impacts of substance abuse and addiction in federal prisons suggest a different approach. A "zerotolerance" 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.
Although we are supporting the bill, I would urge the Conservative government to take a more detailed and complex look at the problem of substance abuse within the prison system.