On the surface, amendments now on the table at the House of Assembly for the Correctional Services Act look like housekeeping.
There are plenty of spot changes in the legal language. The name of the department is being corrected to the Department of Justice and Public Safety, for example. The term “aboriginal” is being replaced by “Indigenous.” A reference to cannabis as an illicit drug is being removed.
The changes made their way through second reading in the House on Thursday, and Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons said the hope is to get it all approved in the coming days.
But understanding the true significance means following the bouncing ball.
The changes are to a piece of legislation that received royal assent in 2011 but was never, thereafter, proclaimed and brought into force.
The Progressive Conservative government of the day didn’t settle the regulations required behind the act to make the new rules work (a task for the cabinet) and didn’t budget to make it reality. The same, too, when the Liberals took over after the 2015 election.
The Correctional Services Act was meant to replace the Prisons Act and Adult Corrections Act. When the Liberals came into power, Parsons said, the new act was already due for five-year review, so it was decided the review would be completed and any amendments made as needed before it was brought into force.
“If we are lucky enough to be back in this position, then our goal is to proclaim this act in 2019,”
Since 2011, there have been changes in corrections, including updates to internal policies and procedures. Parsons said finally proclaiming the Correctional Services Act means codifying the changes in the system.
That’s important, because — as Supt. (Ret.) Marlene Jesso indicated in her Deaths in Custody Review report, looking at correctional services in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary St. John’s and the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville — standing policies are not always followed.
Once the amendments to the act are through the House, assuming royal assent, Parsons has committed to finishing regulations and bringing it all into force.
“If we are lucky enough to be back in this position, then our goal is to proclaim this act in 2019." — Andrew Parsons
“There’s still some regulations we’re working through, but other than that the hard work’s been done by staff.”
The written law is public, and easily accessible. Among other things, the Correctional Services Act sets out a new process for handling inmate complaints of mistreatment in provincial correctional institutions.
In speaking about the amendments now before the legislature, NDP MHA Lorraine Michael referred to her own notes from 2011. She repeated comments made at the time on the “outdated” existing legislation.
“The list goes on as to why this bill was so needed eight years ago. And (it) was never proclaimed. Eight years ago,” Michael emphasized.
The real significance will be when the new amendments are settled and the Correctional Services Act is finally brought into force — assuming, as Michael described it, it’s not “left on the shelf.”
Both Michael and Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said their parties were also ready to see new laws covering correctional institutions and adult probation brought into effect.
Crosbie asked about cost. So did reporters. Parsons could not provide an estimate at this point on what the provisions of the act might cost. He said some details, including an internal tribunal process and certain administrative requirements, were still being settled.
But he said there will be money budgeted and available during 2019.