The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights
Senate investigates human rights in Canadian prisons
February 9, 2017
Ottawa – Canada’s most vulnerable people are overrepresented in the country’s prison systems, where some inmates serve time in solitary confinement and others are released still unprepared for life on the outside.
The Senate Committee on Human Rights recently launched a comprehensive study into the human rights of prisoners in the federal correctional system. The committee will examine the situation of vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, including Indigenous people, visible minorities, women and those with mental health issues. Black and Indigenous people, for example, are overrepresented in the federal correctional system.
Senators will also study conditions of confinement, the effect of segregation on prisoners and access to mental health treatment.
Senators have already heard from a woman who spent four years in prison while in her early 20s. Alia Pierini, who is now a regional advocate for the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, told senators she could never have imagined the lingering psychological, economic and social impacts prison had on her life. Her last eight months in a federal penitentiary were spent segregated from others. Even now, nine years after her release, she said she struggles to simply pick up groceries.
Senators will meet with a diverse selection of witnesses, including correctional officers, former inmates, government officials, independent watchdogs and members of advocacy groups. The committee also plans to examine international law and standards for how prisoners should be treated.
- There were 23,062 adult offenders in the federal correctional system on an average day in 2014-15. Women accounted for 15% of all correctional admissions in the provincial and territorial services.
- Black offenders are overrepresented compared to their overall representation in the Canadian population.
- Indigenous offenders are also overrepresented. Indigenous people made up 25% of the inmate population in federal penitentiaries despite making up just 3% of the Canadian population.
“We are very concerned. We want to learn more about Canada’s correctional system and what steps can be taken to improve it. This landmark study is about the human rights of prisoners in Canada’s penitentiaries.”
- Senator Jim Munson, Chair of the committee
“There are many questions we, as a country, need to answer about how we treat some of society’s most vulnerable members when they are incarcerated. There’s growing evidence, for example, that solitary confinement of people with mental health issues can do irreparable, profound damage.”
- Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Deputy Chair of the committee
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