News / Vancouver

Province defends women’s prisons, justice systems after scathing report

NDP women’s critic slams province for ‘unfair’ policies on women

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris fields a question at the closing news conference of a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial justice and public safety ministers, in Halifax on Friday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris fields a question at the closing news conference of a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial justice and public safety ministers, in Halifax on Friday.

Two B.C. ministries are defending the province’s jails and courts after a scathing report issued them a failing grade on women in the justice system this week.

The report, released by the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) on Tuesday, measured a variety of issues affecting women against recommendations of the United Nations women’s rights committee.

The provincial correctional system, which holds inmates held for less than two years as well as those awaiting trial in remand, received an ‘F’ grade for what West Coast LEAF’s Kendra Milne told Metro was “total failure” and inaction to tackle overrepresentation of Indigenous women in jails, and a lack of independent health and safety inspections over 11 years.

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In response, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General told Metro that B.C. remains a “recognized leader in the field of corrections.”

“We continually look for ways to improve our policies and procedures,” the Ministry said in a statement, “with the goal of staff and inmate safety first and foremost.”

In her report, Milne referenced a BC Ombudsman’s report released in July calling on the province to improve inspections of prisons. The ministry stated it “accepts all (of) them contained in their report.”

“It is important to note that BC Corrections has moved toward a more structured and scheduled inspection process over the past four years,” the ministry added. “That said, we are committed to enhancing this inspection process and appreciate the Ombudsperson’s guidance on how the process can be improved …

“BC Corrections has an action plan to implement the recommendations within the timelines outlined. We are confident that this plan will ensure the inspection of B.C.’s correctional centres is robust and meets our goals that our facilities are being operated safely, effectively and in keeping with legislation and policy.”

But the New Democrats’ critic for women blasted the government for the state of provincial prisons, particularly for women.

“The ‘F’ for failing grade they received indicates what we’ve seen consistently with this government: they haven’t taken the steps necessary to change outcomes for women who have any kind of contact with the justice system,” said Maurine Karagianis, in a phone interview. “We have far too high representation of First Nations women in prison … and the existing policies around how women enter the justice system are often unfair and make it very difficult for women to seek other options.

“There have to be significant changes. The government hasn’t indicated it will make those changes.”

The public safety ministry countered that it’s “continually looking at ways to reduce the factors that contribute to the continued over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system,” including funding for Native court workers and counsellors, and an Aboriginal Justice Strategy in place in 34 communities.

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton cited more than $30 million a year in initiatives “that offer women and families solutions to their legal issues without necessarily engaging court processes,” including Family Justice Centres, Justice Access Centres and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.

“Access to justice for all individuals, including women, is a priority,” she said in a statement issued by her ministry.

But Karagianis countered that piecemeal programs aren’t enough to change the dynamic linking women’s poverty, marginalization and inequality to how they are able to navigate the courts and prisons.

“The government has demonstrated again and again that this is a sector they’re willing to ignore,” she told Metro. “It seems completely disconnected from their responsibility.

“We’re a year less from an election, you’d think the government would do better. It’s 2016, yet we seem to making no progress at all.”

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