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Canada corrections investigator reports prisons are overcrowded

[JURIST] Canadian federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers [official profile] said Tuesday that the country's prison system is at full capacity [transcript, DOC] and is unable to handle many new prisoners without expanding. Sapers was testifying [Toronto Star report] before the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security [official website]. According to Sapers, prison overcrowding is partly due to a lack of community support for the mentally ill following the closure of residential institutions. Sapers expressed concern that a "tough-on-crime" agenda [text] advocated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website] could result in an influx of prisoners, causing dangerous conditions for inmates and staff. The increased Canadian prison population has already impeded the completion of rehabilitation programs for many offenders due to delays and facility transfers. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan [official profile] agreed that the prison system will need to be expanded following heightened anti-crime measures but maintained that such policy changes are not the main cause of an increasing inmate population.

The report follows the recent consideration of legislation [C-15 text] introduced by the Conservative Party that aims at enacting mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Overcrowded prisons have become a problem in other countries as well. In the US, federal judges tentatively ruled [JURIST report] in Februay that California must reduce their prison population to relieve overcrowding that resulted in inadequate mental and physical health care for inmates. The judges found that a release order was the only appropriate remedy [18 USC § 3626] for the unconstitutional prison conditions. In October, an Arizona federal court ruled [JURIST report] that overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in Maricopa County correctional facilities violated the inmates' constitutional rights, ordering the country sheriff to take appropriate steps to resolve the conditions. In 2007, the UK Ministry of Justice gave authority [JURIST report] to prison governors to grant early release to inmates to relieve overcrowded prisons throughout England and Wales.

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