Mr. Speaker, Bill C-12 seeks to add a provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that makes it clear that the Parole Board of Canada may use positive results from urine tests or refusals to take urine tests for drugs in making its decisions on parole eligibility.
This gives clear legal authority to an existing practice of the Parole Board. I support that and so I support this bill, since it simply places something that already happens in practice into the act.
Since we are talking about a provision that is rather straightforward and relatively uncontroversial, I want to take the time to talk about related issues that I believe need to be addressed, so I will take the time that has been allotted me to do so.
The government is making our prisons less safe by cutting funding to correctional programming, such as substance abuse treatment, and increasing the use of double bunking, which leads to more violence. That is not only dangerous for inmates but also for those who work in correctional institutions. It also does not promote rehabilitation. This is an issue that we all need to be concerned about.
Our priority should be ensuring community safety by preparing former offenders to reintegrate back into society, and by helping them overcome their addictions and become less inclined to reoffend.
A report from Correctional Service Canada in 2011 states that there ought to be improved access to medical professionals and medical health services and a continued focus on the role of substance use and self-harming behaviours as coping mechanisms, and that there are several issues regarding the implementation of programming specifically related to the availability and accessibility of programs, the frequency with which programs are offered, and the wait lists of these programs.
The prison population is increasing at the same time as the Conservative government is closing institutions, and this has resulted in directive 55, which I am sure all of my colleagues are aware of, from Correctional Service Canada, which establishes a procedure to normalize double bunking. In my province of Quebec, that has led to double bunking at 10%. Staff and the Correctional Investigator have repeatedly stated that this leads to increased violence and gang activity.
Further, I want to underline that according to Kim Pate from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the rise in women serving federal sentences is directly related to cuts in social services, social programs, health care, education—all the programs that traditionally help level the playing field for those who are most impacted. By “those”, we often mean, of course, indigenous peoples, women, poor people, and those with mental health issues.
According to Correctional Service Canada data published in 2011, 27% of women incarcerated were convicted of a drug-related offence.
According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator's 2011-12 report, almost two-thirds of inmates were under the influence of an intoxicant when they committed the offence leading to their incarceration.
I want to raise the fact that we are looking at people being incarcerated who need to deal with this issue.
I also want to state that the majority of women incarcerated—86%, to be specific—report having been physically abused at some point in their lives, with two-thirds of the women, 68%, reporting that they had been sexually abused throughout their lives. When we talk about using drugs as a coping mechanism, especially when incarcerated, we need to keep this in mind.
A zero tolerance stance on drugs in prison is proving to be a completely ineffective policy. Meanwhile, harm-reduction measures within a public health system and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective, and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and re-victimization. That is from the report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator in 2011-12.
According to a report looking at policy for offenders with mental illness published in 2010, compared to the general population, the rate of mental illnesses among jail detainees is almost twice as high for women, and detainees with a serious mental illness have co-occurring substance abuse disorder.
That is why we are talking about both these things right now. We are talking about mental health and drug use as being correlated and as being major issues that need to be dealt with within the incarceration system, not only for the betterment of the detainees and their reintegration into society, but also to reduce violence in the future, to reduce violence within prisons, and also to make correction officers' workplaces safer ones.
Individuals with mental illnesses are not only disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, but they are also disproportionately likely to fail under correctional supervision. In 2011, 69% of female offenders received a mental health care intervention. When we are talking about their being more likely to fail, we are talking about 70% of the women who are currently incarcerated being those who are more likely to fail. Those are staggering numbers.
To really tackle this problem, we must also tackle the problem of substance abuse in prison. To that end, we must first implement an intake assessment process to accurately measure the level of drug use by inmates, and then provide adequate programs for offenders in need. We talked a lot about that today. We have to ensure that these women have access to these programs and services because, as I mentioned, a large percentage of incarcerated women suffer from mental health or substance abuse problems, as do these men. Without drug addiction treatment, education and proper reintegration upon release, offenders run the risk of returning to a life of crime and claiming new victims. We want to avoid that at all costs.
We should strive to have a correctional system that provides effective rehabilitation programs such as ongoing education, substance abuse treatment and support programs, in order to foster the social reintegration of offenders when they are released. That is the only way to reduce the rate of recidivism.
The last point I would like to make is the following: we want to ensure that prisons are a safe workplace for the people who work there. As I mentioned earlier, we can start by eliminating the practice of double-bunking and ensuring that resources are allocated to the treatment of inmates with substance abuse or mental health problems.