Mr. Speaker, providing our residents with opportunities to make healthy choices is a priority that has strong support from this Assembly and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
This support extends to all citizens, including those serving sentences in a correctional facility. Progress made by the Department of Justice over the past six months will mean inmates looking to make better choices and return to their communities as healthy contributing members will be better supported.
In March of this year, we received a report and recommendations from the Office of the Auditor General on the Corrections Service. This report was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Government Operations, and later today, at the appropriate time, I will be tabling the Government of the Northwest Territories’ response to the Standing Committee’s report including an updated progress report on action taken.
Progress on improvements resulting from the Office of the Auditor General’s recommendations has been substantial. Of the original 106 individual action items the Corrections Service outlined in their Action Plan released in May, over 75 percent are now complete, and we expect that most items will be completed by the spring of 2016. Today I would like to share some of the highlights of that progress with you.
All 194 Corrections Directives, setting out how the Service operates, have been reviewed, and necessary amendments made in each priority area. These changes have been communicated to staff and they are making improvements in their day-to-day operations as a result.
Every inmate is now receiving appropriate case management, including individualized release plans. This includes those on remand and those serving sentences that are less than 120 days.
Changes have also been made which allow Corrections Officers to focus their efforts on true contraband items such as drugs and items that present safety risks. Staff recognized the definitions being used to describe contraband were not focused on those items that could cause harm or disrupt the safe and orderly operations of facilities. In fact, 85 percent of the items were actually nuisance items such as cups or pillows. We will be examining types of contraband closely to be able to react to changing trends as they arise.
I am also pleased to report that progress has been made on training. Through established mandated training, standards have been set and tracking processes are in place to provide a safe and secure working environment for staff and inmates. As crime evolves, so must our officers’ training in order to have the best skills and current intelligence to understand today’s inmates.
Steps have been taken to improve correctional programming. Seven years have now passed since the last program review was completed, and we need to stay current with offender needs and profiles. A survey of staff and inmates along with research on correctional programming has been completed. Analysis on the information learned will allow the NWT Corrections Service to create strong programming that meets the rehabilitative needs of inmates. We plan to complete this work by March 2017. Until then, we will continue to provide a range of programs including those that incorporate traditional healing and enlist Aboriginal Elders to share aspects of their culture and traditions. This focus on traditional healing will continue to be a key element of programming at the facilities.
These are just a few of the actions that have been taken by the Department of Justice in the last several months. I want to assure Members that the staff at our Correctional facilities are professional and are committed to excellence. We are grateful to the Auditor General’s Office and the Standing Committee for their advice that has helped us refine and focus our efforts.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.