Kitchener-Waterloo

Prisoner rights extend beyond prison walls, advocates say

Prison advocates are asking the Senate Committee on Human Rights to consider expanding its investigation into the living conditions of inmates to include the wellbeing of prisoners after they leave the system.

Chris Cowie wants Human Rights Committee to consider reintegration when they investigation prisoner’s rights

Prison advocates are asking the Senate Committee on Human Rights to expand its investigation into the living conditions of inmates to include reintegration programs. (CBC)

Prison advocates are asking the Senate Committee on Human Rights to consider expanding its investigation into the living conditions of inmates to include the wellbeing of prisoners after they leave the system.

"Correctional Services Canada, their policy is that they're responsible for people while they're in prison. As soon as they leave, they're not really responsible for anything, except for those people who are on parole," Chris Cowie, executive director of Community Justice Initiatives, told CBC News.

"Our contention is that we see people go into prison and we know that people return back [to community] in worse condition then when they went in."

Cowie, along with other advocates from southern Ontario, were asked to testify before the special Senate committee Thursday evening in Kitchener.

He said that although most people believe that prison rehabilitates offenders, it does the exact opposite.

"What we do in prison is actually destroy people's ability to function in proper relationships and to learn how to function responsibly within a community."

As a result, Cowie said reintegration programs – like the Stride program Community Justice Initiatives runs for women at Grand Valley Institution for Women – are invaluable. At Stride, women learn how to interact with one another in healthy relationships and those who leave the prison have a build-in circle of support.

But most reintegration programs are funded through short-term government and community grants – something Cowie said has to change.

"We really believe that reintegration programs – it should be the responsibility of the government to actually be funding those types of initiatives."

Reintegration could be in final report 

Cowie wasn't the only delegation to bring up the importance of reintegration programs.

Senator Wanda Bernard, who chairs the committee, told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris that reintegration was a popular topic, though it is not within the parameters of the investigation.

"For any study that you're doing, you have to put parameters around it. So, at this point, we're doing the rights of prisoners in the system," she said.

However, because reintegration has been mentioned so often, Bernard said it would likely be mentioned in the final report, possibly in one of the recommendations.

"One of those recommendations could very well be that we look at what happens post-release," she said.

The senators also heard about the need for more connections between the prison and the community, the need for more funding to support existing community connections, and the lack of rehabilitation services within the prison system.

After hosting a series of public meetings across Canada, the committee will produce a report with its recommendations. Bernard said she expected that report would lead to "other actions," but would not specify.

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