Yukon government proposes jail watchdog

The whitehorse jail would receive more oversight to prevent the mistreatment of prisoners if a draft Corrections Act becomes law.

The whitehorse jail would receive more oversight to prevent the mistreatment of prisoners if a draft Corrections Act becomes law.

At present, Yukon prisoners are the “frequent flyers” of the ombudsman’s office, said Dan Cable, the Justice department’s director of policy and communications.

The draft law, released for public review earlier this month, would take pressure off the ombudsman by creating a similar position dedicated to reviewing inmate complaints: a director of investigations and standards.

The bulk of complaints received by the ombudsman currently come from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

In 2006, 24 of a total of 40 complaints came from the jail, according to the last published report by the office of the ombudsman.

The new director’s job would be to review disciplinary measures meted out by the prison.

Similar reviews are currently performed by the prison’s superintendent. The new position prevents any potential conflict of interest, said Cable.

The director would not report to the prison boss, but to senior staff in the Justice department.

He or she would have judge-like powers, including the ability to summon any prison employee or inmate to provide testimony under oath, and to order jail staff to produce any documents or other items.

Anyone found to obstruct an investigation by the director could face six months in prison.

The way discipline is doled out and reviewed within the prison has also been overhauled in the new act, which does away with long-outdated rules, such as old provisions for cutting an inmate’s hair as he awaits the now-abolished death penalty.

There would be more flexibility in handling discipline, including the option of alternate dispute resolution, said Cable.

Other provisions call for programming to help re-integrate an inmate back into the community, and for increased involvement of community advisory boards.

The act also includes provisions that allow for increased involvement of First Nations in offering programming to inmates.

Don Inverarity, the Liberal Party’s justice critic, said the creation of the proposed jail watchdog would be a good thing.

But he worries inmates may continue to be ill-informed of their rights unless more is done.

Even with the new changes, “the processes are heavily weighted on the side of the institution,” he said.

He wants assurance that advocates for prisoners, such as members of the John Howard Society, are able to help inmates navigate their way through the prison system.

“They need someone representing their interests that’s not from the institution,” he said.

The government is seeking feedback on the draft law, which is available on the Justice department’s website, until January 30, 2009.

A final version of the new act would likely be tabled in the house in the spring of 2009.

The early release of the draft law earned the government rare praise from Inverarity.

The government is often reluctant to release draft laws until they are before the legislature, he said.

“Involving the public and allowing us to be involved in this stage is a little novel,” he said.

“I appreciate it, actually. It’s a good step.”