Justice moves to the front-burner as GN, NSDC release reports

The Nunavut justice department’s corrections planning committee is recomending that the government commit itself to more training and support programs for corrections staff, more healing and counselling programs for convicted persons, and a new federal-territorial corrections facility by the year 2006.


IQALUIT — The Nunavut government now has a detailed set of blueprints for how to make its oft-criticized corrections system work better for Nunavut residents.

At the end of October, the Nunavut justice department’s Nunavut Corrections Planning Committee delivered a long-awaited report containing 28 recommendations on how to fix what ails the territorial corrections system.

Justice Minister Jack Anawak released that document to the public last week.

This Tuesday, the Nunavut Social Development Council released its own report, entitled “Towards Justice That Brings Peace,” at a press conference in Iqaluit’s elders centre. This document, which contains 23 recomendations, reports on the outcome of an NSDC-sponsored justice retreat and conference held in Rankin Inlet in September of 1998.

The NSDC’s report says that the current justice system has failed Inuit and that Inuit should look to themselves to and their traditions to create a justice system that keeps people in the communities.

They recommend that a new Inuktitut word for the English term “justice” be adopted: inuttiavannguqsainiq, which describes a process aimed at making people better.

The current term, iqqaqtuiniliriniq, simply refers to things that happen in court.

Designing a new system

The Nunavut government’s report also stresses the importance of respecting Inuit culture and language throughout the entire justice system.

“We have an opportunity to avoid mistakes of the past and design a justice system that reflects our realities, said Rebecca Williams, Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister of justice, through an interpreter.

Williams and Mary Wilman, the president of the Nunavut Social Development Council, sat by side-by-side at the Tuesday press conference held to release the NSDC’s report.

After Wilman’s presentation, Williams gave a summary of the corrections committee’s recommendations, saying her government’s corrections report is “aimed at new solutions and new directions… designing a new kind of justice system.”

The 40-page report found that Nunavut’s current corrections system does not serve inmates well, with problems ranging from severe overcrowding at the Baffin and Yellowknife Correctional Centres, inadequate sex offender treatment programs, inadequate drug and alcohol treatment programs, little or no training for correctional centre staff, inadequate support for community-based alternatives to jail, and inadequate recognition of Inuit culture and language.

The report recommends that the Nunavut government find the money to pay for the development and design of “relevant core programs” aimed at Inuit offenders, which would reflect Inuit culture and would be “delivered in languages that are clearly understood by those who are to receive them.”

“Hiring policies and practices need to be reviewed with this goal in mind and appropriate training must be developed to make it possible for Inuit to work effectively in corrections. It is the committee’s view that this is the most important of its recommendations,” the report says.

Programs for inmates

Those core programs include expanded on-the-land and healing camp programs, bolstered by trained staff and money to hire healers and properly trained correctional workers.

“The addition of healing and rehabilitative elements to the on-the-land program would greatly increase its value,” the report says.

The recommended programs also include components aimed at treating violent behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual offending.

“Given the high sexual assault rate and the number of offenders with a history of sexual assault, programs to counter sexual offending are essential,” the report says. “Sex offender programs are now provided in a limited way at BCC, but staff, budgets and space are all problems.”

The report says that many inmates also need programs focused on violence, especially family violence. Many male offenders “simply did not know how to relate to women and children” and many are themselves the victims of unhealthy communities and dysfunctional familes, the report says.

As for alcohol and drug treatment, the report says these programs should be integrated into inmate case management plans and, when appropriate, offered in conjunction with programs on sexual offending and violence.

“Police, judges, corrections personnel, inmates and people in the communities of Nunavut all say that over 85 per cent of violent crimes are committed while the offender is under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances,” the report says.

Approach job programs cautiously

The corrections committee recommends the use of employment programs to help offenders get jobs after they get out of jail — but only if the inmates also participate in programs to deal with violence, sexual offending and substance abuse.

“Indeed, by itself, improving employment prospects will do little and may make things even worse,” the report says. “To take the simplest example: employment provides money to buy alcohol and drugs.”

As for the practice of using inmates from BCC and the Iqaluit young offenders’ facility to do menial work around the community, the report says that although they have some use, “these activities provide only minimal training for employment.”

The report stresses that programs aimed at underlying issues such as violence and sexual offending must be primary.

“Teaching someone how to carve and support himself is not a success if he continues to abuse his wife or assault others,” the report says.

Training for Inuit and non-Inuit

Both Inuit and non-Inuit corrections staff in Nunavut need far more training than they are getting now, the report says.

“The basic training package for new recruits needs to be made specifically relevant to new Inuit staff. For non-Inuit staff, cross-cultural training should be provided.”

People who are contracted to provide specific programs also need to be trained, the report says, which includes people who operate on-the-land programs, open custody facilities, halfway houses, and families who look after young offenders. Community corrections officers — who would supervise probation orders in communities — will also require training.

As well the commitee recommends that responsibility for community corrections officers be transferred to the Department of Justice from the Department of Health and Social Services.

Alternatives to jail

Yet another urgent need, the report says, is to find alternatives to incarceration, especially at the overcrowded Baffin Correctional Centre.

The BCC was built as a minimum security institution for 42 inmates, but often it holds 60-70 inmates, including many remand prisoners who have been charged with serious, violent crimes and who are escape risks.

Another 70-80 Nunavut inmates are doing their time at correctional institutions in the NWT, such as the Yellowknife Correctional Centre.

“BCC cannot handle all the inmates it has, except under the current unacceptable conditions,” the report says.

Williams said that one way of reducing the pressure is to find alternatives to jail, such as half-way houses in smaller communities, or healing camps on the land. She also said using community corrections workers to supervise people on parole and probation can allow for more early releases.

But the committee recommends that in the long-term, Nunavut will need a correctional centre that can handle both territorial inmates — those serving terms of less than two years — and federal inmates — those serving sentences greater than two years.

Right now, about 80 Nunavummiut are serving time in federal penitentiaries. Most of those are being transferred to Fenbrook, a new federal prison in the central Ontario town of Gravenhurst.

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