Nunavut has done little to fix jail issues, auditor general says

Six years after the federal auditor general released a scathing report into the state of Nunavut's jails, not much has improved, according to a followup tabled Thursday.

Several issues are still putting inmates and staff at risk, report finds

The new 112-bed Aaqqigiravik Correctional Healing Facility in Iqaluit. A grand opening was held Wednesday for the facility, which will replace the notorious Baffin Correctional Centre. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Six years after the federal auditor general released a scathing report into the state of Nunavut's jails, not much has improved, according to a followup tabled Thursday.

The followup audit again lambasted the territorial government for the state of its jails, concluding the justice department "did not make satisfactory progress" on the recommendations from 2015.

The audit acknowledged Nunavut has made strides addressing overcrowding among male inmates — though the women's jail is over capacity — but said issues including inconsistent mental health and rehabilitation services, staff shortages and inconsistent safety procedures are still putting inmates and staff at risk. 

Nunavut still struggles to deliver consistent mental health and rehabilitation services, and many inmates are not even being assessed on what services they need, the audit said. 

It also raises concerns about the consistency and documentation of cell searches and fire drills, saying the department is "not complying with its [own] directives."

Chronic staff vacancies also continue to plague the department — a hurdle many other Nunavut government departments face. And while the department took steps since 2015 to improve training capacity, a lack of tracking meant the auditors couldn't get an accurate picture on what training was delivered, or who received it.

Although the teritorial government accepted all the recommendations in the new audit, Justice Minister George Hickes suggested certain aspects of the report were out of date. 

Hickes also highlighted the opening of the new jail as a positive step forward. The Nunavut government opened its 112-bed Correctional Healing Facility, to replace the notorious Baffin Correctional Centre, on Wednesday. 

Nunavut now has six jails with a total of 293 beds, and two halfway houses with a combined 27 beds.

No plan for rehabilitation 

The auditor general says many inmates were not receiving services like case management plans, meant to help them rehabilitate in jail and reintegrate back into their communities.

Out of 17 male inmates in Iqaluit, only one had a case management plan — although four out of five female inmates in Iqaluit had one. 

"We continued to find that release planning was limited," the report said, noting there were no minimum requirements for what must go into release plans. 

"In most cases, this was limited to documenting where the inmates were expected to reside after their release." 

In the rare instances when case management is done, access to rehabilitation programs remains sporadic. 

In Rankin Inlet, the report noted, those programs were only offered twice a year, while facilities in Iqaluit didn't offer them for six months in 2018.

And despite Nunavut having the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, according to Statistics Canada, there remains no sex offender rehabilitation programs for adult male inmates.

The justice department also has not done the needs assessment for its inmates, which was recommended in 2015.

"The department still has no overall plan for delivering rehabilitation programs, nor did it have sufficient staff to plan and deliver these programs," the audit read.

New legislation in effect

The department also faced criticism for its lack of data tracking and oversight. A new form, introduced in 2019 to document why inmates are placed in solitary confinement, was used in only 13 of the 36 cases the auditors reviewed. Of those 13, only two had the required followups. 

In his response, the justice minister highlighted the work the government has done since the audit to rectify its shortcomings including the coming into force, in June 2019, of the new Corrections Act.

"The report does not take into account the positive impact this legislation will have on corrections," Hickes said as the Legislative Assembly began its fall sitting on Thursday. 

He also said a new data management system will provide "better documentation and tracking of inmate assessments, case management and population management such as cell searches, fire drill and contraband incidents."

The department is expecting the new system to be completed later this fall.


Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked three Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.