Corrections Act overhaul garners hearty response

Handcuffs and shackles aren’t proper funeral attire. When an inmate from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is let out to attend a funeral,…

Handcuffs and shackles aren’t proper funeral attire.

When an inmate from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is let out to attend a funeral, it’s not easy on friends and family.

The steel restraints make for uncomfortable mourning, according to the territory’s Corrections Act consultation progress report.

“Attendance at a funeral in shackles or handcuffs can be very stressful for the inmate and family,” says the 200-page report.

Funeral attendance for offenders was one particular concern in the consultation process.

Using ankle bracelets to track the inmate and appointing a sponsor from the community to shadow were suggested as alternatives.

This is one example pulled from many specific recommendations made by 220 people and organizations contributing to the act’s overhaul.

The territory released an update on the Corrections Act consultation on Tuesday.

It’s a summary of comments gathered this year from all Yukon communities by a working group formed by Council of Yukon First Nations and the Justice department.

Draft legislation for the revamped act is expected in September, with a comment period running into the new year.

It could be introduced in the legislature in spring 2009.

“I urge all Yukon First Nations to continue to work to find new ways of helping our people to stay out of the correctional system and to support them after they return to their community,” said CYFN grand chief Andy Carvill in a statement.

Carvill and his staff did not return calls for an interview by press time.

The report includes anonymous comments from elders, justice advocates and community leaders.

“Help as much as possible, but be tough on repeat offenders,” says one.

Another says, “Regard the sense of community as equal to the sense of law.”

An independent investigator or ombudsmen working at arm’s length from the corrections system was proposed.

Complaints from inmates must to be tracked more thoroughly to improve independent oversight.

Some suggested probation services could be improved by adding deputy probation officers in the communities, hiring First Nation officers and allowing First Nation delivery of programs.

But suggestions of third-party involvement were approached with trepidation.

Probation involves sensitive information and privacy issues, and the professional requirements would create more work for communities.

Resources for supervision are already limited in some communities and probation conditions are uniform.

Conditions should be tailored to individual needs, says the report.

And simply checking in with offenders by phone doesn’t properly allow officers to monitor drinking or other violations.

Aboriginals are disproportionately represented in the Yukon corrections system.

Of the 565 people jailed in the Yukon in 2004, 76 per cent were aboriginal, according to Statistics Canada.

The national average was 18 per cent.

Aboriginals make up 20 per cent of the territory’s population.

A suggestion that the territory enter into service- and program- delivery agreements with First Nations received clear support.

But some questioned how prepared First Nation governments are for the possibility, and if funding is broad-based or tailored to each community.

Perhaps recalling the controversial outcome of the new Children and Family Services Act, some expressed concern about how the new corrections act will be implemented.

The report suggests an explanation of why certain provisions are not included.

The questionnaire asked how the act could motivate and support an offender’s “healing journey.”

Many answered with versions of a First Nation approach to holistic wellness and elder involvement.

First Nations should play a larger role in “client-focused programming.”

Establishing land-based camps that combine traditional knowledge, sweats and elders was mentioned often in the report.

Integrating the remand population into the act is still an issue, specifically their inclusion in programming offered to the incarcerated.

Mandatory drug testing was suggested for corrections staff, as well as regulation of off-duty conduct, and improved cultural training.

CYFN Justice director Rose Rowlands and implementation officer Hazel Buffalo Robe declined to comment.

The Yukon Employees’ Union and Public Service Alliance of Canada executive, which represents correctional workers, weren’t available for comment.

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