Maintaining Connections

Shortly after OmbudsPEI began operations in February 2022, we began receiving complaints from inmates at the Provincial Correctional Centre (PCC) about who they were permitted to contact by telephone. We learned that PCC required inmates to submit telephone numbers for approval in advance and it could take more than a week for numbers to be added to the inmate’s “call list.” PCC limited the number of approved contacts on an inmate’s list and typically restricted approval to close family members only. They would consider adding additional family members and close friends on a case-by-case basis. The only numbers that inmates did not need to request to have added were lawyers and offices like OmbudsPEI.  PCC explained that the policy had been established to protect victims of crime and to prevent breaches of court-ordered ‘no contact’ conditions that had been imposed on inmates. PCC explained that this was implemented as a result of numerous cases where inmates had breached court orders and/or contacted victims or witnesses to threaten or coerce them. All numbers were assessed for potential contact concerns through consultation with Probation Services and Victim Services

The inmates complained that limiting telephone contact made it difficult to arrange pre-trial release plans.  It also prevented inmates from maintaining personal and professional relationships which would help them successfully reintegrate into society and establish support systems prior to their release. The policy was seen by inmates as overly punitive.  OmbudsPEI questioned whether it imposed punishment beyond what was required by law.

During the resolution process, we learned that PEI was the only province in Canada to limit inmate telephone contact in this way. Every other province permitted inmates to call anyone they wished – except for numbers blocked by the centre for safety and security reasons or when there was a legal requirement to block contact. While the federal correctional system relies on approved contact lists like PEI, contacts are not limited to close family and the number of contacts permitted per inmate is considerably higher.

While OmbudsPEI was able to resolve some telephone-related complaints with PCC on a case by case basis, we remained concerned that PEI was taking an overly restrictive approach. As a result of lengthy consultations with PCC and PEI’s Community and Correctional Services, inmates are now permitted to call any number.  The only exceptions are if the inmate has a court-ordered condition to refrain from contacting a victim, co-accused, or other party identified by the court, if PCC is required to block a telephone number at the request of any person not wanting to have contact with the inmate, or there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that contact would jeopardize the safety of any person or threaten the security of the PCC. Otherwise, all recipients of calls have the option to accept, decline or blocks calls coming from the inmate phone system at the correctional centre.

We thank the PCC for their cooperation on this matter and we applaud the steps they have taken to improve the rights of inmates, their participation within the justice system and their reintegration into society.