NOTE: The following is an op-ed from Justice Minister Mark Furey.
Over the last few weeks, attention has been focused on Nova Scotia’s largest correctional facility, the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside.
How we treat Nova Scotians who are incarcerated in our jails deserves discussion and debate. It is also important that the work being done and investments being made to enhance and improve our correctional facilities is highlighted to inform that discussion.
In 2018 this has included:
— introduction of direct supervision – already having a positive impact within the facility. Direct supervision allows for early intervention as our staff are there to assess and respond to incidents before they escalate. It provides a safer environment for both our staff and inmates
— first inmate services fair, which gave more than 20 community agencies and government departments an opportunity to connect with inmates on a wide range of rehabilitation and community supports
— installation of body scanners which will significantly reduce incidents of contraband entering each of our four adult facilities
— improved training and the recruiting of more Indigenous and African Nova Scotians correctional officers to be more reflective of our communities
We know that if we do not help address the root causes of criminal behaviour such as substance abuse, lack of education, mental health and anger, the cycle of violence and conflict with the law will continue. Our correctional staff work hard every day to ensure we keep our inmates safe and support them to make positive changes in their lives. They have a tough job and play a critical role in our operations.
Many offenders come from vulnerable environments and we need to be responsive to their lived experiences. Many are on remand waiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime. And some pose the highest risk, have the highest needs and are among the most dangerous in the province.
I think everyone can appreciate that our correctional facilities can be challenging places to live and work. Every inmate deserves respect and their human rights protected. And we are doing that. They are in custody because they have been charged criminally and the community does not accept the behaviour.
Looking forward, we remain focused on inmate programming and training. Program Officer positions have been created and recruited to ensure the continuous facilitation of inmate programming. This fall, these officers will deliver evidence-based programs in areas of addictions, emotional management and trauma consistent with case management practices. Additionally, we are developing incentive-based programs for inmates as well as having conversations regarding the formation of an inmate committee at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
We continue to work closely with the NSGEU to support our staff and we have excellent relationships with community partners, like Elizabeth Fry, to support people in our custody and for those who are returning to the community. We want to help inmates get back on track so that they transition from custody safely back into the community.
With respect to correctional services in the province, my job as minister is clear: keep inmates safe and healthy and provide them with the tools to be successful when they return to our communities, many times under the supervision of our community offices; keep our correctional officers and other jail staff safe and well equipped to do their jobs, and above all, keep the public safe.