Correction facilities should educate and heal, says report

Changes suggested in a new corrections report will, if adopted, fundamentally alter the Yukon, says Sharon Hickey.

Changes suggested in a new corrections report will, if adopted, fundamentally alter the Yukon, says Sharon Hickey.

“We should be able to see children staying in school and learning so they’re able to make their way in the world as adults who can earn a living,” said Hickey, who is co-chair of the corrections consultation process.

Children will grow up to become productive citizens and crime rates should drop, she added.

For those who will still commit crimes, jails will be like hospitals.

“When they do end up coming to the correctional system, it’s not unlike the cardiac care unit,” she said.

“You’re going to get the care you need, but there are some lifestyle changes that are going to be in order.”

The 230-page report, tabled in the legislature last week, outlines the major issues in corrections in the territory and lays out an action plan to better serve inmates, victims of crime, their families and those working in justice.

The No. 1 issue is addictions, Hickey told a media conference last week.

Creating programs to help offenders become contributing citizens is a government priority, said Justice minister John Edzerza.

“Yukoners told us that jail alone will not do that and we cannot continue to warehouse offenders,” he said.

“I think that’s quite a basic theme right across Canada, not just in the Yukon.”

After 160 meetings with more than 1,000 people in communities across the territory, the report says a new jail is the top priority.

“There has to be something differently done with offenders,” added Edzerza.

“One of the primary recommendations was the acknowledgement of a need for a new correctional facility and I believe a lot of what came out of this consultation will help design that very facility.”

The Yukon Party government has stated numerous times it will not build another “warehouse” to house those sentenced to time behind bars.

“We’re going to invest money in the appropriate facilities that deliver the appropriate programming so that rehabilitation becomes a reality not just a term and we reduce our recidivism rate,” Premier Dennis Fentie said in the house.

“That’s the long-term plan here, in reforming the corrections system.”

The $1.2-million corrections review, which began in November 2004, was co-chaired by the Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nations.

The derelict state of Whitehorse Correctional Centre is hard on the soul, said Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill.

“Not only is the building deteriorating, but so are the spirits of the people.”

He recently attended a solstice dinner at the jail.

“I could see that it was definitely in a state of disrepair,” added Carvill.

The $1 million pledged for corrections reform in the Yukon Party’s budget will go primarily towards planning the new facility, said Hickey.

Drafting a blueprint for the new jail will be part engineering and security, and part therapy and culture.

“(Inmates) wanted individual cells with their own bathrooms; they wanted to not be in dormitories; they wanted access to more programming space; they wanted access to more dedicated First Nations cultural and spiritual space,” she said.

Options are also being explored for dealing with inmates with different needs.

“(People with FASD) haven’t gotten there by the same route, much like women haven’t gotten there by the same route,” said Hickey.

“We need to have special programming for them.”

“I know there is an ongoing effort to upgrade the programming,” said Carvill.

“But when you spend some time and you sit down and you talk to the inmates who are incarcerated, they give you a pretty good understanding of what kind of programming there is, or lack thereof.”

The report will lay the foundations for reforming programs and the system as a whole, said Hickey.

“It feels like, instead of having a restorative justice program, we’re going to have a restorative justice system,” she said.

“That’s one that has an emphasis on prevention, on healing, on looking to First Nations for their leadership, guidance, and wisdom on how we can help people heal.”

It was not clear which areas the government will focus on first for reform.

“We know that not all the recommendations can be implemented immediately, but we must start now to take the steps that will move us forwards,” said Edzerza.