NUPGE urges federal justice minister to use stimulus money to begin "massive investment" in new and upgraded correctional facilities across Canada.
Ottawa (26 March 2009) - Ending 'two-for-one' remand credits in prison sentencing will make conditions in correctional facilities worse rather than better if appalling underlying problems are not addressed, says the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
NUPGE president James Clancy, in a letter to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, says he does not defend the "two-for-one" principle but he argues that ending it will only worsen the "terrible conditions" that now exist in correctional facilities across Canada — if nothing else is done.
Because remand centres are badly overcrowded and offer virtually no rehabilitation programs, judges usually credit remand time — served while awaiting trial — at a rate of two days for every one spent in custody. In some cases, remand conditions are so bad that judges have extended the credit to three days for every one served prior to trial.
The Harper government plans to end the practice. Legislation is expected as early as this week.
NUPGE, through its component unions, represents thousands of workers who serve across the country as corrections officers, youth facility workers, probation officers and sheriffs. They also serve in a variety of other correctional capacities.
"A massive investment in this nation’s correctional system is urgently needed," Clancy writes. " More resources to repair or replace infrastructure; an investment in the recruitment, retention and training of staff; better measures to deal with the mentally ill in conflict with the law; restoring rehabilitative programming for inmates; and a wide range of other investments in the sector are needed."
Represents thousands of workers
"While the National Union agrees that the current practice is deeply problematic, we would also point out that the practice arose out of the serious problems existing within Canada’s justice system, namely the lack of staff for the quick administration of justice and the terrible conditions found in our nation’s correctional facilities and remand centres," Clancy notes.
"Those members of the National Union who work in the justice system inform us that the working and living conditions present in our nation’s provincial facilities have deteriorated significantly over the past decade. Overcrowding, decrepit and crumbling facilities, lack of rehabilitative programming, increasing numbers of inmates with mental illnesses and high inmate-guard ratios are some of the serious problems being reported."
The problems also include a lack of resources for those who work in provincial courts and probation offices, including understaffing and excessive workload, the letter says.
"It is due to these problems that judges have responded to by crediting convicted felons with 'two-for-one' for time served in these facilities. Simply doing away with the practice does not address the crisis that exists within the system," Clancy argues.
"Indeed, doing away with the 'two-for-one' credit will only serve to make a serious overcrowding issue worse. We are not writing to defend the 'two-for-one' practice but to point out that it is simply a symptom of a much wider problem that exists. Addressing the underlining problems will do far more to address the issue than simply passing legislation to end the practice."
Use stimulus money
Clancy urges the government to allocate some of the money allocated for economic stimulus measures to correctional improvement partnership projects with the provinces.
"It would go a long way towards addressing the problems I have outlined here and also provide needed economic stimulus to hundreds of communities across this country," he writes.
"Finally, the women and men who work in this sector have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer. Their daily experiences can be a invaluable resource when addressing these issues. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these matters."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE