The Sunday Magazine

Canada's prison ombudsman says "tough on crime" is just a meaningless slogan

As this country's Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers keeps a watchful eye on conditions inside Canadian prisons. He warns they are over-crowded, they provide little access to programs, and they rely too much on solitary confinement.


Federal tough on crime prison policies have exposed Canada to negative scrutiny. A 2015 UN Human Rights Committee report called for reduced prison crowding, limits to solitary confinement, and improvement in access to treatment for mentally ill prisoners. (photo courtesy of Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada)
Howard Sapers (Roy Grogan)
Canada's penal system is in crisis. The country's jails and penitentiaries are overcrowded and violent places. They're jammed with mentally ill men and women who should be in hospital for treatment, over-represented minorities and Aboriginal people. 

The former government's tough-on-crime legislation has had a profound and negative effect on prison populations. On April 24, Carol Finlay, the founder and director of the charitable organization "Book Clubs for Inmates" told Michael that Canada's prisons have become places of anger, hopelessness and despair for Aboriginal women. 

Howard Sapers, head of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, agrees with Reverend Finlay's assessment of conditions for the incarcerated. He has never been shy about criticizing government policies that adversely affect the prison population, but he was especially sharp in his criticisms of the policies of the recent Conservative government - so much so, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper planned to dump him. When the Liberals swept into power, Mr. Sapers was asked to continue in his role. He spoke to Michael in Toronto. 


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