OTTAWA — Canada’s prisons are so jam-packed with inmates that many are forced to “double-bunk” in shared cells — even though corrections officials recognize this breeds violence and poses a risk to offenders and staff at the facilities.
Moreover, although recent construction will resolve the over-crowding in the “short-term,” Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has failed to develop expansion plans for its penitentiaries to properly take into account the growing number of inmates, according to a report released Tuesday by Auditor General Michael Ferguson.
Double-bunking is, according to government policy, supposed to be a temporary measure. But it has grown and appears to have become a permanent fixture of the system.
Ferguson reported that the CSC policy states double bunking should only occur in approved areas and not exceed 20% of a prison’s population.
“We found that 26% of offenders were being double bunked in the Ontario and Prairie regions in the 2012–13 fiscal year. That same year, we also found that double bunking was occurring in segregation cells and in cells smaller than 5 square meters, which is contrary to the intent of CSC policy. Even after the construction is completed, CSC officials expect double bunking to continue.”
This is occurring, Ferguson found, even though Correctional Services determined in 2009 that it wanted to “minimize” overcrowding in higher security jails.
“At that time, CSC identified serious implications with double bunking, including increased levels of tension, aggression, and violence. It also identified increased safety and security concerns for staff and offenders, especially at maximum and medium security penitentiaries.”
Ferguson’s audit also found that as CSC expanded prisons in recent years, it failed to properly add sufficient segregation cells to isolate some offenders, and add health-care facilities for inmates at the jails.
The prisons are particularly overcrowded in Ontario and the prairie provinces, while jails in British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces have available space.
In recent years, Correctional Services has been on a construction spree — adding more than 2,700 cells to 37 facilities. When completed in 2015, prison officials expect that “these cells will alleviate much of the overcrowding experienced at the time of our audit,” reported Ferguson.
“We concluded that CSC did not plan the expansions to its penitentiaries in a manner that took into account its accommodation needs in the long term.”