Nunavut’s Corrections Act cannot be enacted into force without an independent correctional investigator, said the deputy minister of justice Stephen Mansell on April 26 during the Legislative Assembly’s follow-up review on the report of the auditor general of Canada on corrections in Nunavut.
The Act, which received assent in June 2019, focuses on a rehabilitative approach, taking into account a prisoners mental health and also creates an independent oversight position. A position still left unfilled.
“Another very important piece of modernizing Nunavut’s corrections regime is bringing in the new Corrections Act into force,” said Mansell.
The department ran a request for proposals for the independent correctional investigator without success in the fall of 2021, the position is required for several initiatives seen in the new Act.
Mansell added they don’t want to bring it into force without someone to enforce various sections of the Corrections Act. As it is an independent office, the employee will not be a part of the department of justice.
The challenges seen in case management also reflect a shortage of staff, one element of that according to the federal deputy auditor general Andrew Hayes, attending virtually, was the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. However he was optimistic Nunavut’s department of justice will be able to implement its advice from its 2015 audit and 2021 follow-up audit.
“We recognize that the department has had to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic along with staffing challenges. Nonetheless, the successful implementation of these recommendations will be important - to be able to achieve a correction system that promotes healing and the successful integration of inmates into society,” said Hayes.
Programming and case management challenges
Challenges are still also seen with regards to case management and programming, admitted acting director of corrections Mickey McLeod, one such issue causing this is staffing.
“There are a number of factors that play into the effect of documentation and case management for our clients,” he said. McLeod and Mansell added the construction of Iqaluit’s Aaqqigiarvik Correctional Healing Facility will help both in providing more programming space and to alleviate overcrowding, which was a problem in the old Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC).
Phase one of the new Iqaluit jail is currently completed, and phase two is underway. Phase two involves renovating BCC, expanding its kitchen and building programming space in place of the old jail.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were strict restrictions placed on correctional staff that impacted capacity issues.
The vast majority of Nunavut prisoners are Inuit, with non-Inuit being “probably in the single digits,” said the deputy minister.
The department is looking to build more Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), however it may take some time with most of the correctional staff being non-Inuit.
“We’ve been working on building cultural relevancy and IQ into all our directives. Our case managers aren’t all Inuit but we’re working hard on cultural competency training and we’re definitely taking into account the background of a client,” said Mansell.
According to Mansell, the overall staff at the corrections division is 156, with Inuit comprising 46 per cent of the workforce.
When it comes to rehabilitating sex offenders, there is work needed on this front with Mansell saying “the federal government is quite a bit ahead of us on programming specific for sex offenders. We’ve been working hard to learn from their example and to incorporate some of that programming.”
No sex offender programming is currently being offered at any of Nunavut’s correctional facilities.
While there is some mental health staff on-board on correctional staff for prisoners, such as a psychiatric nurse and a youth counselor, there is yet anyone to be hired for mental health support specific to addictions.
There were various other topics raised by the regular members of the legislature during this review, these ranged from specific community questions on Kugluktuk and Rankin, as well as the development of junior caseworkers, programming for parents, on-the-land trips for minimum security inmates and more during several hours of discussion.
There’s been a shift in approach during these past few years from the corrections side of things, taking into account the new Corrections Act and the federal audits, noted McLeod.
“There was a big shift in culture and in the facility and our relationship with our clients. In past years that relationship was very adversarial,” said McLeod.
“There was a lot of conflict and not a lot of willingness and participation. That culture is changing and we’re working very heavily to try and develop a more restorative and positive working relationship with our clients, and it’s one of trust. We’re trying to rebuild some of that trust we lost along the way.”