A Conservative MP says the government has no plans to make double-bunking of prison inmates a permanent practice despite provision for future double-bunking in expansion plans for a federal prison in Kingston, Ont.
Plans by architectural and engineering firm Norr for the Collins Bay federal prison show standard cells to be built with provision for a "future upper bed."
Double-bunking, or putting two inmates in one cell, does not meet the standard for inmates set by the United Nations, and Canada's prisons ombudsman warned in his annual report last year about the increasing practise of double-bunking in Canada's already crowded prisons.
But Candice Hoeppner, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said any plans for double-bunking are temporary and just good planning.
"We're not double-bunking on a permanent basis," she told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics.
"In fact, right now we don't even need to," Hoeppner said, adding that the estimated increase in the prison population will be less than originally expected.
But opposition MPs pointed to numbers from Correctional Services Canada that show 13 per cent of federal male inmates are already double-bunked in Canada, and the number is expected to rise to 30 per cent temporarily — even before the tougher sentencing provisions of the government's omnibus crime bill, C-10, kick in.
"This [the Collins Bay plan] is a template ... for all construction they are doing now, so they clearly have plans to do that," NDP Justice critic Jack Harris said.
Harris noted that prisoners ombudsman Howard Saper has condemned double-bunking for increasing violence between inmates, threatening the safety of guards and increasing the problem of infectious diseases.
Hoeppner says Collins Bay was built in the 1930s and is in need of upgrades, and the double-bunking provision is just more capacity in case it is needed.
"When you look at the drawings and we refer to it, it actually just said just put in the metal placings for it, so it actually is not going to be a [second] bunk that's built ... there's the metal [placings] in case a second bunk is required."
But Harris said building in double-bunking is not good planning.
"The prudent planning would be to avoid the kinds of prisons policies that they've got now, which is going to lead to more violence, people with less rehabilitation after being in prison and coming out being more dangerous offenders than when they went in," Harris said.
Correctional Services of Canada said last year in an internal document entitled "Infrastructure Renewal: Frequently Asked Questions," that it was "conducting on-site investigations to determine the requirements for double-bunking and other short-term measures" due to expected over-crowding caused by tougher crime laws, especially the so-called Truth in Sentencing Act.
A Correctional Services spokesperson said the initiatives would be to deal with the short-term influx of inmates.