April 15, 2020
Correctional Service of Canada
340 Laurier Ave. West
Dear Commissioner Kelly,
On behalf of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association we would like to sincerely thank you for taking the time to brief all of our NAACJ partners on the efforts being undertaken by CSC to carry out your many responsibilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. As public health experts have clearly advised that this disease will not be quickly overcome, we hope that you will continue to communicate and exchange ideas with us on a regular basis.
We appreciate that the management of federal corrections is complex at the best of times. This epidemic may tax CSC far more than any previous challenge. While many questions and some ideas were submitted to you during the conference call, we would like to emphasize one path that can bring some needed relief to both the Service and its offenders in the short and longer term. The Correctional Investigator has often emphasized the large and growing cohort of aging offenders (i.e. prisoner over 50 years of age), which was estimated to represent 25% of the federal prison population in February of 2019. Focussing on possible early release of these individuals could certainly lighten CSC’s inmate population.
Section 121(1) (b) of the CCRA provides for Exceptional Release for those “whose physical or mental health is likely to suffer serious damage if the offender continues to be held in confinement”. One can of course make a case that this clause can be applied to any confined person today but, such would not be realistic given concerns for public safety. Those who are elderly however, who have served many years already and have significant underlying health conditions, can and should be reviewed for exceptional parole on an urgent basis. Failure to do so would not only imperil their health but, also that of the other inmates and staff. We ask whether it is really good public policy to house so many elderly offenders in penitentiaries up to and beyond their normal parole eligibility dates. Are there not less obtrusive, less costly and healthier solutions possible? We have only to look at the recent terrible news coming from seniors’ residences to understand how deleterious the effects of close living can be on the elderly.
In order to provide the Parole Board of Canada with compelling recommendations, efforts of course will need to be expended to assure safe release and housing in the community, particularly where family support no longer exists. We also suggest that an evaluation framework put in place now would provide a strategic opportunity to test risk management policies for elderly offenders once the pandemic has been resolved. We have the possibility to do some real-time testing today that will likely save lives and provide federal corrections with more effective and economic tools for the future.
While we emphasize the urgent need to deal with the sub-population of elderly offenders, we also need to underline the need to quickly review release possibilities for all those offenders within only months of Statutory Release. We appreciate that wardens can release offenders within 5 days of their SR date based on section 93(2) but, this cannot have a very large and significant impact. What if all potential statutory release cases were actively reviewed for release three to six months earlier, perhaps with the added safety of electronic monitoring? Given the number of SR releases each year, this must be a very large cohort. Their release can have a very quick impact on institutional populations.
As an association that has been active in criminal justice policy for the past 101 years, we distinguish ourselves not by being offender activists but rather, by emphasizing sound criminal justice policy based upon public safety. What we are suggesting should not weaken risk management measures but rather, consider new thinking that this epidemic has forced upon us. Specific focus, greater efficiency and less emphasis on traditional administrative procedures can lead to better results for CSC and Canadian communities.
Thank you for your consideration Commissioner. We look forward to a continuing dialogue and wish you all the best in these difficult times.
Canadian Criminal Justice Association