BRIEF TO THE
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
HOUSE OF COMMONS
41st Parliament, 2nd Session
Drug Free Prisons Act
Presented by the Canadian Criminal Justice Association
Background of Canadian Criminal Justice Association
The Canadian Criminal Justice Association (CCJA) welcomes the opportunity to present this brief to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-12, the Drug Free Prisons Act. The members of the Association disagree with the necessity of this bill, and have concerns regarding the consequences for prisoners of implementing the changes proposed in C-12.
The CCJA is one of the longest serving non-governmental organizations of professionals and individuals interested in criminal justice issues in Canada, having begun its work in 1919 and having testified before this committee on numerous occasions. Our association consists of nearly 700 members and publishes the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and the Justice Report. We also organize the “Canadian Congress on Criminal Justice” every two years.
History & Relevant Issues Pertaining to the Legislation
According to CSC’s data, 80% of offenders enter penitentiary with pre-existing substance abuse problems. Consequently, the attempts of inmates to obtain illicit drugs while in penitentiary and the prevalent use of drugs in prisons in Canada is not a new problem and has been around for decades. This inability to effectively ban drugs from prison affects the prison environment and creates security concerns for prisoners and staff. Despite CSC’s efforts to contain and eradicate the use of illicit substances and alcohol in prisons, these have failed.
Mandatory urinalysis was introduced in CSC in the mid-1980s and following the case of Jackson v Joyceville Penitentiary, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) in 1992 incorporated a “reasonable grounds” criteria that replaced the subjective determination of CSC staff. Between 1992 and 1995, random urinalysis was instituted as a pilot project in three institutions and despite a court challenge at Kent Institution in BC, random testing was considered the only viable means of addressing drug use behind bars.
Bill C-12 now purportedly gives new powers to the Parole Board of Canada to withdraw a newly-granted parole to someone who tests positive for drugs between the time the parole is granted and the time of release. It compels CSC to inform the Parole Board of Canada that an offender has failed a urinalysis test between the time he was granted parole and his release. This Act would compel the PBC to review the case for parole once again and also specifies that new conditions can be added to a parole. Lastly it provides for fines to be given to prisoners who are caught with drugs
Analysis & Comments
Although substance abuse may be highly prevalent among offenders, it should more appropriately be considered a health problem and treated as such rather than increasing the length of incarceration. Further, not every user of marihuana for example, poses a risk to society. In order to cancel or suspend parole a connection must be made between the use of an intoxicant and the risk that may be posed to society. While urine testing can establish that a person has used drugs, it does not say much about how well that person is doing. Everything that suggest that a person is ready to come out of prison, such as programs followed, institutional conduct and behaviour change should not be trumped by a momentary lapse leading to a positive urine test.
If anything, positive urine test results point to the need for more institutional and community programs associated with substance abuse.
The Parole Board of Canada has the power to grant parole and to revoke it. Nothing changes in this sense, except that this legislation compels the PBC to intervene in light of a positive urinalysis for controlled substances between the time the Parole Board has granted a release and the actual date of release. This proposed legislation accomplishes little more than ensuring that offenders will have to wait longer before release because it compels the Parole Board to review the case once again. In addition, it removes any discretion on the part of case workers who may be willing to overlook a positive urine sample in the case where other factors that play in favour of parole are present and no increased risk to public safety has been noted. Alternatively, where substance abuse is a major component of an offender’s crime cycle, there is no doubt that staff currently, without the proposal in C-12, already report any positive urinalysis test prior to release on parole. There is therefore no need for additional criminal justice legislation.
Discussion & Recommendations
CCJA believes that addiction is a public health issue. Drug users who are imprisoned do not suddenly overcome their addiction and this is why the sale and use of controlled substances in Canadian penitentiaries endures. Alternatives to punishment for those affected by addiction may stand a better chance of resolving drug use in prison than punishment. The ideal situation would be for a prisoner to be released on parole and be directed toward a drug rehabilitation program.
The prevalence of drugs in Canadian institutions is an issue which CSC has been unable to eradicate. Part of the reason for this is that, as CSC itself has noted, 80% of inmates come in with an addiction. Further punishment for being addicted to drugs goes against our principle that treatment is the optimal recourse for drug or alcohol addicted offenders. In this sense, the removal or delay of the possibility of parole for those testing positive for drug use further impedes the institution’s ability to ban drugs in prison, exacerbates the offender’s preparedness for re-integration, subjects her or him to intensified punishment, and does not ensure the safety of society.
 MacPherson, P. (2004). “Use of Random Urinalysis to Deter Druf Use in Prison: A Review of the Issues”, Research Report no. R-149; Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada, February 2004, p.3.