Preparing Male Offenders for Release—Correctional Service Canada; Preparing Indigenous Offenders for Release—Correctional Service Canada

Opening Statement to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights

Preparing Male Offenders for Release—Correctional Service Canada

(Chapter 6—2015 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

Preparing Indigenous Offenders for Release—Correctional Service Canada

(Chapter 3—2016 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

3 May 2017

Michael Ferguson, CPA, CA
FCA (New Brunswick)
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting us to discuss our audit reports to help inform your study on the human rights of prisoners in the correctional system. Joining me at the table is Carol McCalla, the Principal responsible for the audits of Correctional Service Canada.

I would first like to briefly talk about our past audits of federal programs for Indigenous peoples. Through these audits, we found that many government services provided in First Nations communities continued to be inferior in quality to those in nearby communities.

For example, our 2014 audit of Public Safety Canada’s First Nations Policing Program found that there was no clear requirement for First Nations policing services to comply with provincial policing standards. This different level of service potentially risked the health and safety of police officers, detainees, and the public.

More recently, we did two audits of Correctional Service Canada—or Corrections Canada—one in 2015 and one in 2016.

These audits focused on the timely access to programs that supported the rehabilitation of offenders with sentences of two years or more. Indigenous offenders now represent more than 25 percent of the 15,000 men and women in federal custody—a proportion that has grown significantly over the last decade. Although Corrections Canada cannot control the number of offenders receiving federal sentences, it can provide them with timely access to rehabilitation programs and culturally appropriate services to prepare them for early release on parole—which can influence how long and how many offenders remain in custody.

Our 2015 audit on male offenders in federal custody found that about 80 percent of offenders remained in custody past their first parole eligibility date, largely because of delayed access to rehabilitation programs. Moreover, most offenders were released directly into the community from medium- and maximum-security penitentiaries. As a result, these offenders had less time to benefit from a gradual and structured release into the community to support their successful reintegration.

Our 2016 audit examined access to correctional programs for Indigenous offenders. We found that as the population of Indigenous offenders grew, Corrections Canada could not provide them with the rehabilitation programs they needed when they needed them. We also found that access to culturally specific programs was uneven across institutions. For example, Healing Lodges did not exist in all regions. We found that offenders who participated in Healing Lodge programs had low rates of reoffending upon release, yet Corrections Canada had not examined ways to provide greater access to these lodges.

Most Indigenous offenders in federal custody were eligible for release on parole after serving the first year of their sentences. Parole supervision is an effective way to support the successful return of an offender to the community. However, we found that two thirds of released Indigenous offenders had never been on parole. Overall, Corrections Canada prepared Indigenous offenders for parole hearings less often than non-Indigenous offenders, and when they did it was later in their sentence.

Corrections Canada used the Custody Rating Scale to determine an offender’s security level and need for a rehabilitation program. We found that this tool did not consider the unique needs of Indigenous offenders, as required. More than three quarters of Indigenous offenders were sent to medium- or maximum-security institutions upon admission and were referred to a rehabilitation program. These were at significantly higher levels than non‑Indigenous offenders. Once at higher levels of security, few offenders were assessed for a possible move to a lower level before release, even after they completed their rehabilitation programs.

There are about 700 women in federal custody and a further 600 under supervision in the community, many of whom have been identified with mental health issues. We are currently conducting an audit that focuses on female offenders and their access to programs and services. We plan to report on the audit this fall.

The Office of the Auditor General is the auditor for the territorial governments, and we report directly to their legislative assemblies. In 2015, we conducted audits on correctional services in the three territories. We found case management deficiencies that limited efforts to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for release back into the community. For example, we found that access to rehabilitation programs and mental health services was inadequate, and that space shortages risked the safety of staff and inmates in many correctional facilities.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.