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Criminal justice wish list | Murray Fallis

Tuesday, November 09, 2021 @ 9:26 AM | By Murray Fallis

Murray Fallis %>
Murray Fallis
There’s a new Public Safety Minister in town — Marco Mendicino. He’s a lawyer. A former Crown. For those of us in the criminal justice community, we are overjoyed by his arrival.

Legislatively, he will know his stuff.

As the holidays are fast approaching, we thought we’d send him a criminal justice wish list.

It’s a mere four items long.

First, when a prisoner is released from incarceration at warrant expiry, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) refuses to inform charities of their release. Despite charities asking, begging, pleading to know, we are kept in the dark. CSC alleges that telling a charity of a prisoner’s release is a privacy breach. This is incredibly shortsighted. Those released on warrant expiry are the ones deemed the highest risk to reoffend. They do not have the benefit of parole nor other graduated and supervised release approaches. They need help. Often, many such prisoners have served decades inside. They began incarceration not in the era of the I-Pod shuffle, but of the Sony Walkman. The world has changed. So has navigating it.

On a public safety level, criminal justice charities should immediately be informed of a prisoner’s warrant expiry release so that we can provide necessary supports to prevent further crime. At minimum, if privacy is truly an issue, then CSC should be required to ask the prisoner if they would like a charity informed of their release — nearly all do. Presently, CSC is not required to ask. This leaves a prisoner to function on their own, while criminal justice charities which try to prevent crime, remain in the dark.

Second, presently, federal prisoners are released without provincial health cards. Accordingly, they cannot easily access prescription medication nor medical support. Prisoners are released with a mere two weeks of prescription medicines. This is woefully inadequate. Upon release, prisoners must attempt to find a doctor or psychiatrist to renew prescriptions which they have often relied upon for years. Untreated mental illness and lapsing substance abuse medications create unnecessary risk of further crime.

Accordingly, minister Mendicino should ensure federal prisoners have registered for provincial health cards upon release and have continuity of mental and physical care. This would allow them to get medical assistance for mental illnesses and addictions in an effort to prevent crime. Presently, because of a federal exclusion in the Canada Health Act, a federal prisoner leaves without a health card and therefore cannot efficiently access such care.

Third, volunteers who try to help in federal prisons face excessive backlogs in the processing of their security clearances. I recently spoke with a charity volunteer who waited a year for CSC to process their security clearance. After a year, they followed up. Their application had been lost. This is downright unacceptable.

It is incredibly challenging to find volunteers who are willing to work with federal prisoners. Yet, this messy work prevents crime. These volunteers are a core pillar in keeping our society safe. As CSC has proven incapable of processing volunteering applications in a timely manner, security clearances for charity volunteers should be processed directly by Public Safety Canada to ensure efficiency.

Fourth, minister Mendicino should ensure his structured intervention units, comply with international and domestic legal standards. I won’t rehash this issue. However, suffice to say, academics, practitioners and prisoners all allege prisoners are being tortured as per United Nations standards. Bill Blair accepted this. Yet, nothing changed. Minister Mendicino should fix it. His correctional service should comply with the law.

Minister Mendicino has the capacity to do so much good. He has the capacity to implement obvious, evidence-based, fiscal, fixes which have been ignored for the past five years. He has the opportunity to bring new hope to criminal justice stakeholders that evidence-based public safety policy will once again prevail. These four minor changes would be so impactful for criminal justice charities and for society more broadly. They would keep us all safe.

Sadly, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Murray Fallis is a lawyer with John Howard Canada.

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