location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 6 / The Grievance System -- Through the Eyes of a Prison Ombudsman

By 1989-90, the Correctional Investigator was able to refer to "a tradition in each annual report" that the 1984 recommendation to end double-bunking in segregation was restated. With more than a little sarcasm, he remarked, "It has as well become a tradition to record each year the CSC's latest response to this issue: 'Efforts are currently underway to reduce the number of double-bunked protective custody inmates at Kent Institution'" ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1989-90 (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1990] at 26).

A year later, the CI was pleased to break with this tradition by reporting "the resolution of a long-standing problem which began in 1986, that being the double-bunking situation within the segregation/protective custody area at Kent Institution. I have been advised by the Commissioner that the vacant unit at Kent Institution will be finally opened and the double-bunking of administrative segregation cases at that institution will cease as of June, 1991" ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1990-91 [Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1991] at 30). How well placed the Correctional Investigator's confidence in this assurance was can be assessed by looking at the reality: when I began my study at Kent in January 1994, K-unit, the protective custody segregation unit, was almost completely double-bunked.

In 1989-90, the CI had these highly critical comments to make about the grievance process, sixteen years after its inception:

The effectiveness and credibility of any levelled redress mechanism is dependant upon a combined front-end process which is capable, in a participative fashion, of thoroughly and objectively reviewing the issue at question. It also requires a final level within the process which has the courage to take definitive and timely decisions on those issues which are referred to its attention for resolution. At the present time, the Service has a grievance process which at the front-end does very little to encourage offender participation. This in turn seriously compromises the objectivity and the thoroughness of its review. In addition, the final level of the process sometimes has shown itself to be unable to make timely and definitive decisions.

I feel the difficulties with the current grievance process are not directly related to its structure or its existing procedures but rather to the lack of commitment and acceptance of responsibility on the part of the CSC's senior management for its operation. An improvement in the effectiveness and credibility of the process will only happen when those responsible for its operation decide to make it work. ( Annual Report 1989-90 at 29)

In 1990-91, the Correctional Investigator assessed the impact of the CSC's Mission Statement:

The Service's Mission Statement has projected a positive public image and established a sound framework of core values, guiding principles and strategic objectives for the management of its operation. But a Mission document, regardless of its detail and eloquence, cannot be seen or accepted as a replacement for sound policy and clear direction. Nor can it be seen as reflective of an organization's operational reality. The operational reality from my perspective is that the number of complaints have increased significantly, and that some areas of complaint, again from my perspective, are slow to be resolved. We continue to stress at the national level the significance these issues hold for the offender population and the impact that non-action has on decisions taken at the operational level . . . It is important that the Correctional Service continue to strive to improve its responsiveness to inmate concerns. Delays, defensiveness and non-commitment are inconsistent with the Service's stated Mission and the basic concept of administrative fairness and I sincerely hope that our comments are taken in the constructive way they are offered. ( Annual Report 1990-91 at 43)

The CI's annual report for 1992-93 marked the first full reporting year under the provisions of the CCRA. The report characterized the changes introduced by the Act in this way:

The Act has not significantly added to the powers which the Correctional Investigator previously possessed. Rather, the legislation has clearly established the "function" of the Correctional Investigator as that of an Ombudsman and clarified the authority and responsibilities of the Office within a procedural framework which both focuses and paces our activities. In essence, Parliament has provided the Correctional Investigator, not with new powers, but with specific direction and momentum. ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1992-93 [Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1993] at 1)

The report, while noting that responses from the Service "continue to be excessively delayed, defensive and non-committal," expressed hope that "as the appreciation and understanding of the new legislation increases all parties involved in the correction process would accept their responsibility in ensuring that offender concerns are addressed in a thorough, timely and objective fashion" ( Annual Report, 1992-93 at). Sadly but predictably, the 1993-94 report opens with these sobering comments:

The majority of the issues detailed in last year's report have not been resolved, and given the time elapsed since initially recommending action on these issues and the reality of staff and funding reductions, I see little evidence that these areas of legitimate inmate concern will be given the priority which they require. ( Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 1993-94 [Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1994] at 1)

Page 2 of 3