Short-term inmates have less access to treatment: auditor general

Inmates in N.W.T. serving shorter sentences aren't receiving treatment targeted at the offence they had committed, according to a report by Canada's auditor general.

Report on N.W.T. Corrections released today

Audit principal Glenn Wheeler looked into mental health services in rural areas in Yukon. While mental health hubs in four communities are making inroads, more work needs to be done, the report states. (CBC)

Inmates in N.W.T. serving shorter sentences aren't receiving treatment targeted at the offence they had committed, according to a report by Canada's auditor general.

The auditor general identified numerous major concerns about the N.W.T. corrections system in the report released Tuesday, touching on everything from the availability of rehabilitation programs to safety gaps at some facilities.

The report examined the files of 48 randomly-sampled male inmates housed at the North Slave Correctional Centre in Yellowknife and the male unit of the Fort Smith Correctional Complex between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2014. Almost all had previous convictions, and over half were serving sentences for violent offences and had a long criminal history. 

The report found inmates serving less than 120 days were not assessed for appropriate treatment, whether it be in general rehabilitation programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or offence-specific programs. 

"Without this information, the department cannot assess whether the programs it offers meet the needs of inmates, in order to ensure that it is fulfilling its obligation to assist in their rehabilitation​," says the report.

While general rehabilitation programs were open to all inmates, the report found only 36 per cent of short-sentence inmates accessed these programs, which could amount to as little as attending one class.

The group serving shorter sentences received no programming targeted at the offence they had committed.

A report by Canada's auditor general says the North Slave Correctional Facility in Yellowknife, along with the Fort Smith Correctional Complex's male unit, were not meeting the requirements for regular fire and health inspections and emergency evacuation drills. (Northwest Territories Department of Justice)

Among inmates serving sentences of more than 120 days, 87 per cent accessed general rehab programs, and 63 per cent took part in offence-specific programs.

The Department of Justice says a limited number of staff and the conflicting timing of inmates' sentences with program delivery windows affected how many inmates were able to access programs. At the North Slave facility, where 140 inmates were held, only one psychologist was available, often resulting in wait times of two to three months.

Safety an issue at women's facility

The report also said the safety of inmates was at stake at some facilities, with the female unit of the Fort Smith Correctional Complex a key area of concern. Surveillance camera blind spots, the lack of an area to medically examine incoming inmates for contagious diseases or mental health issues, and doors that do not lock from the inside were cited as examples.

While a replacement facility is slated to open in the 2017-18 fiscal year, the auditor general says existing problems need to be fixed now.

The report also found the North Slave Correctional Facility and the male unit in Fort Smith were not meeting the requirements for regular fire and health inspections and emergency evacuation drills.

"This is important, because given their limited freedom of movements, inmates are in a vulnerable position," Wheeler said during a news conference.

Guards at those facilities were also found to be putting inmates in segregation without the approval of wardens, and daily and weekly reviews to determine whether inmates should remain in segregation were not always conducted.

The audit is not legally binding, but the Department of Justice says it agrees with all the recommendations and will begin a review of its all Corrections Services directives by this fall.

An audits of corrections services in Yukon will be released on Thursday, followed by Nunavut's report next Tuesday.


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