Policy Wanks: Bill C-83

New legislature aims to reform operations in Canada's prison system if passed

Bill C-83, entitled an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act brings forward a variety of new policies that would change operations in the prison system. If the bill was passed it would “eliminate the use of administrative segregation and disciplinary segregation” or in simpler terms abolish solitary confinement by replacing it with, “an area in a penitentiary [known as a structured intervention unit] for the confinement of inmates who cannot be maintained in the mainstream inmate population for security or other reasons,” as is written in the first two sections of the bill.

“It is clearly world-leading in terms of the standards within the correctional system,” Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said during a press conference regarding the bill, which he sponsored aiming to reform solitary confinement in Canada. “The passage of this legislation will put Canada in the forefront of effective, progressive corrective systems that achieve both safety and security.”

However, during a debate in the House of Commons, Quebec NDP Member of Parliament, Christine Moore slammed the legislation.

“All it does is call administrative segregation by a different name,” she said.

A structured intervention unit would operate in much the same way solitary confinement functioned wherein an inmate is separated from the general population and placed in isolation. If Bill C-83 were to pass, it would decrease the maximum time an inmate can spend in solitary by two hours, from 22 to 20 hours a day. Inmates will also be given two hours of what has been referred to as meaningful contact time. Meaningful contact and meaningful human interactions can be applied to visitation with staff, volunteers, chaplains, visitors or other like-minded inmates.

Additionally, inmates are granted more access to mental health specialists and rehabilitative programs while in a structured intervention unit. These programs are purported to address each inmate individually and be personalized to their needs.

Taking into consideration inmates’ specific personal history is also being applied broadly to Indigenous people who are incarcerated. According to the 2016-2017 annual report of the Office of Corrections, Indigenous people make up 26 per cent of the prison population while only accounting for four per cent of the national population.

Bill C-83 would require the process of analyzing systemic and background factors for Indigenous Canadians to be enshrined to law. While this has practically been involved in policy for years, it has never been made law.

There have been accusations of disparity between what is promised by the Liberals and what the bill will accomplish, particularly from the Conservatives.

Simultaneously while the Liberals are insisting that the bill will help offer more hands-on assistance for mental health problems, they are proposing to slash the correctional budget by nearly nine per cent. 

“Bill C-83 will require serious consultation and resources to make it work,” said Jason Godin, sitting president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Godin went on to further insist that the only way to establish the bill into practice would be an increase in staff.