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Canada court orders judicial review of prison grievance system

A Canadian federal court judge on Tuesday ordered a judicial review of the nation's prison grievance system. Justice Anne Mactavish for the Federal Court of Canada [official website] held [CBC report] that the backlog in the grievance system is contributing to the increased violence and tension in the nation's prisons. The case arose when Michael Spidal, an inmate in British Columbia who filed several complaints in the past two years, alleged that prison officials repeatedly failed to address inmate complaints in a "fair and expeditious" manner, violating the Corrections and Conditional Release Act [text, PDF]. Howard Sapers [official profile] for the Office of the Correctional Investigator [official website] commented that the recent decision is merely echoing what his office has urged for years and stated that the dysfunctional grievance system is only getting worse in light of the overcrowding in Canadian prisons. Prison officials cited growing backlogs of complaints as the cause for such failure and further alleged that most of the complaints are made in bad faith. Sapers responded that there are other measures to deal with such complaints and argued that only a fraction of all complaints are made in bad faith. Canada had spent $105 million on prison expansions in 2010 anticipating drastic increase in prisoners, a year after Sapers reported that the nation's prisons are operating at their full capacity [JURIST reports].

Overcrowding of prisons has been a problem around the world. Earlier this month the Colombia Ministry of Justice [official website] announced [JURIST report] a new measure to address the problem of overcrowding in the nation's prisons involving a transfer of 800 inmates from "La Modelo" prisons in Bogota and Cali to less crowded detention centers elsewhere in the country. In June UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang [official profile] urged [JURIST report] the government of Malawi to improve its human rights conditions and promote accountability by addressing the problem of overcrowding of prisons and the slow process of justice in the country. During the same month Burundi announced [JURIST report] that the government will release prisoners in order to address the overcrowding in national prisons. In April South Africa announced [JURIST report] that it would issue pardons to 35,000 offenders in order to ease prison overcrowding. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] in February urged Latin American countries to improve their prison conditions and called [JURIST report] for a reduction of prison population after a fire killed more than 300 inmates of a prison in Honduras. Last August Venezuela announced [JURIST report] its plan to reduce its prison population by 40 percent. The prisons in the US are facing the same problem. In May 2011 the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to address the problem of prison overcrowding.

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