1980–1999: New perspectives, new demands

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A growing concern

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s health issues in the correctional system became a major area of focus and concern in Canada. The number of cases of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis-C virus (HCV) in federal and provincial prisons continued to increase throughout the 1990s. In federal prisons, reported cases of HIV/AIDS rose from 14 in January 1989 to 159 in March 1996—and to a startling 217 in December 2000. In 1998 one in every five offenders entering federal prisons was reported to be infected with Tuberculosis-a statistic that was considerably higher than the general population.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and Health Canada collaborated for many years to prevent and control tuberculosis (TB) within federal prisons across Canada. Their special TB surveillance system for offenders and staff was put in place in every federal penitentiary in 1998. This proactive tracking system helps detect and treat TB infection and disease early to prevent its spread to others within the prison setting.

Meeting Unique Needs: Women Offenders

The 1990 Task Force Report on Federally Sentenced Women, entitled Creating Choices, brought about a new correctional philosophy for women offenders—one focused on the principles of empowerment, meaningful and responsible choices, respect and dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. This philosophy has driven a number of advances, including the closure of the Prison for Women, development of women-centred programs, construction of five new regional facilities and an Aboriginal healing lodge, and establishment a community strategy to expand and strengthen residential and non-residential programs and services for women on release.

In 1995, the Honourable Louise Arbour of Toronto, Ontario - a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario - investigated and reported on the state and management of the Correctional Service of Canada. The investigation pertained to incidents that occurred at the Prison for Women in Kingston; the actions and decisions taken; mandates; role of staff; and the use of segregation of offenders. Her report on these issues became the Arbour Report, which eventually gave rise to CSC amending its Mission to include the Rule of the Law.

Aboriginal Offenders

Recognition of Aboriginal practices for dealing with crime and punishment, including reparation and healing gained heightened awareness during this time. As a result, two Healing Lodges were created to address the unique correctional needs of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples. The first facility, Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, opened its doors to federally sentenced Aboriginal women in 1995. In 1996-1997, Pê Sâkâstêw was built in Hobbema, Alberta to house Aboriginal men.

The beginnings of a perceptual change within the Ministry of the Solicitor General regarding Aboriginal peoples and corrections was apparent in the March 1987 Task Force on Aboriginal Peoples in Federal Corrections. The task force concluded that the achievement of equity for Aboriginals in the correctional system depended on enhanced Aboriginal participation and increased Aboriginal control over programs and services. Within the Correctional Service of Canada, change also occurred: an Aboriginal Initiatives Branch was established to create partnerships and strategies that would enhance the safe and timely reintegration of Aboriginal offenders into the community.

Youth Offenders

In response to rising youth crime rates in the 1970s, the government conducted an extensive review of the youth justice system, which resulted in the passage of the Young Offenders Act in 1984. Prior to the legislation, youths who broke the law were treated as "little adults" and received the same sentences as adults-including harsh sentences for relatively minor crimes. The legislation was amended three times in subsequent years in response to public criticism that sentences were too lenient for youth who committed serious crimes.

Redefining the mission

In 1989, the Correctional Service of Canada redefined its mission statement as follows:

The Correctional Service of Canada, as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to the protection of society by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.

An accompanying Mission document gave clear direction to those working in the service on how to carry out CSC responsibilities. Among other things, it defined the approach to management of offenders in its care.

Of rights and freedoms

Canada's government proudly unveiled a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the country on April 17, 1982. The product of much thinking and debate on issues of social importance, the Charter recognized and reinforced the rights of all citizens, including minority and disadvantaged groups. Among its many topics, the Charter clarified the state's powers with respect to offender rights.

Within and outside of the Charter, Canada began to pay greater attention in particular to the needs and entitlements of the country's Aboriginal peoples. For the first time, Aboriginal land claims resulted in significant settlements. A treaty gave the Nisga'a First Nation ownership of 2,000 square kilometres in northern British Columbia. The Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta received a settlement of 242,000 square kilometres of land in 1984.

Of challenge and change

The very same year that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced, the country's first case of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was reported. Little was known about AIDS at the time, other than it attacked the immune system and resulted in a chronic condition that left victims vulnerable to infections and cancer. Research proceeded around the world throughout the 1980s and 1990s to understand how the disease was transmitted and how to treat it.

Technology advanced by leaps and bounds throughout this period. VCRs and home computers found their way into homes across the country—giving way later on to DVD players and laptops. Mobile phones came into use in vast numbers.

And yet even as the Internet Age dawned, Mother Nature reminded people in Eastern Canada that her power had not been overcome: in 1998, a devastating ice storm paralyzed huge portions of Québec and Ontario. Some areas were without electricity for weeks. Hundreds of hydro workers from the United States joined the effort to repair damage from the most costly national disaster in North American History.

The very shape of the country changed at the end of this era. In 1999, a new territory called Nunavut ("our land") was carved from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories—changing Canada's boundaries for the first time since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.

Health and welfare

Throughout the 1990s, the number of reported cases of AIDS in Canada continued to rise—both among the broader public and among incarcerated offenders.

Studies of in-prison AIDS varied greatly. Some indicated that one in every 100 inmates was infected; others set the figure as high as one in nine. But the fact was clear that the incidence of AIDS in Canada's penitentiaries was anywhere from six to 70 times greater than it was generally.

In 1996, HIV/AIDS in Prisons: Final Report, was published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian AIDS Society. The goal was to assist the CSC and provincial/territorial prison systems in their efforts to reduce HIV transmission in prisons and to staff and the public.

AIDS, of course, was not the only health concern in Canada's penitentiaries. In 1998, CSC established a comprehensive Tuberculosis (TB) prevention and control program in all federal correctional facilities. A proactive TB surveillance system for both employees and offenders was put in place to detect and treat TB infection early—limiting its spread within the prison system. Participation in the tracking system was voluntary for staff and inmates.

Facilities and treatment during this time were not only limited to addressing physical afflictions. Studies and reports as early as the Archambault Commission in 1938 had urged the government to provide better services to mentally disordered offenders. In 1958, the Canadian Penitentiary Service appointed its first full-time psychiatrist, and programs for the treatment of mentally ill inmates grew. Three regional psychiatric centres—at Abbotsford, B.C., Saskatoon and Kingston—were opened in the early 1970s. The Regional Psychiatric Centre opened at the University of Saskatchewan in 1978 and led to groundbreaking changes in the area of mental healthcare for prisoners. The Centre has been accredited by the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation (CCHSA) since 1984.

Substance Abuse

There is a longstanding relationship between substance abuse and criminal behaviour. As many as 80 percent of men and women offenders are identified as having substance abuse addictions. Today, addictions are considered health problems; the accurate identification and treatment of offenders with alcohol and drug addictions is critically important to the successful reduction of future substance abuse and criminal behaviour. The Computerized Lifestyle Assessment Instrument (CLAI)/Computerized Assessment of Substance Abuse (CASA) is a standardized assessment tool that has been adapted and implemented by the Correctional Service of Canada to identify offenders with substance abuse problems. It is used to assess the nature and severity of their problems, and to assist in the development of suitable treatment programming.

The well-being of Aboriginal Peoples

In 1990, the report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women was accepted and approved by the federal government, resulting in a new approach to address the unique needs of Aboriginal women. The creation of the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in 1995 supported this approach by providing an environment in which Aboriginal women could begin their own individual healing process. The lodge afforded residents and staff a high level of safety, security and comfort through dynamic security, supportive staff and community intervention.

The 1991 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples highlighted the severity of the problems facing Canada's Aboriginal peoples—including their over-representation in the criminal justice system. Historical factors, as well as present socio-economic conditions, have contributed significantly to the disproportionate levels of Aboriginals in correctional facilities. Historically, assimilation altered the Aboriginal way of life economically, politically and socially. The resulting cultural crisis is linked to specific problems facing Aboriginal communities today.

In January 1998, Canada announced an Aboriginal Action Plan in response to the Royal Commission. The plan set out a broad framework to address the needs of Aboriginal communities. It called for a renewed partnership based on the principles of mutual respect and recognition, responsibility and sharing.

Victims' Rights

Victims of criminal behaviour have been recognized increasingly as comprising a group with particular human-rights needs. This recognition has led to the introduction of a Bill in Parliament to enhance victims' rights. Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act victims are entitled to be present - but not heard - at an offender's parole hearing, and to receive information about the status and whereabouts of an offender who is about to be released into the community. Changes to this legislation are currently being considered, for example, the right to make a statement at Parole Board Hearings or access audiotapes of those hearings.

In 1996, Correctional Service of Canada established a Restorative Justice and Dispute Resolution Branch to meet emerging needs for victim-offender mediation and to address conflict within the correctional setting. Restorative Justice is an approach to crime that puts the emphasis on the harm done to a person as well as on the harm done to the community. Programs involve the voluntary participation of the victim of the crime, the offender and ideally members of the community. The goal is to restore the relationship, repair the harm that has been done and prevent further crimes from occurring. Today there are various models of restorative justice being practiced and adapted throughout the country.