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Canadian's Doubling Up Prison Cells

10th November 2010

Canada is in the process of increasing their prison expenditure 2.1 billion dollars by 2014 a large amount of which has been allocated to prison expansion to deal with what is becoming a serious problem of overcrowding within the state. A repercussion of this growing prison population and overcrowding is the use of double bunking within the institution.

Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, has recently come out attacking the increasing levels of doubling up of cells within Canadian prisons (up 50% in the last five years), a practice that Don Head, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, has stated will continue to grow in the near future. Approximately 10% of inmates currently share cells, despite a directive from the Correctional Service declaring it inappropriate and that single occupancy accommodation is the most desirable method of housing offenders.

Such practice could pose a serious danger to staff and inmates, and lead to increased incidents of institutional violence according to Sapers. He stated that “you end up with institutions that look less like correctional centres and more like warehouses".

It is with great disappointment that one now views the state and trajectory of the Canadian prison system under the conservative Harper administration. A progressive system, which in the early 1990s seemed committed to reducing the number of citizens residing in custody, has now been overhauled and hijacked by a conservative prerogative.

However, the statistics in regards the doubling up of cells seem particularly concerning when compared to the present situation in our own country. The Canadian press and Correctional Investigator are anxious about ten percent of their custodial population that is exempt from single occupancy cells. And yet, at present almost 40% of Irish prisoners must share their cells. In Cork five times the number of prisoners live in multiple occupancy cells than don’t. In Limerick, Castlerea and Wheatfield the proportion doubling up is greater than the number in their own individual cell. This indicates how far behind Ireland is in relation to cell conditions when compared to previously progressive countries.

It is a manifestation of the depth of the "true" problem of over overcrowding is within Ireland. Not only must the draconian and de-humanising exercise of slopping out be made a thing of the past and the lack of permanent beds within prisons be rectified. We must then explore the issue of the optimum environment to facilitate the rehabilitation offender. Canadian media and investigators realise such cant be found in double cells which add to levels of violence. How much longer into the future will it be until Irish policy makers believe likewise?   

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