5 Things to know about access to legal services in prison
- Kate Mitchell
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Federal inmates have the right to certain legal services, which are set out in section 97 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations. This includes:
- The right to retain and instruct counsel. This applies when an inmate is arrested, placed in administrative segregation, recommended for an involuntary transfer, or transferred on an emergency basis. Typically, inmates in these circumstances will be allowed to speak to a lawyer over the phone.
- Reasonable access to counsel. This includes confidential visits and written and telephone communications with counsel, as well as the courts and their agents. Inmates charged with serious disciplinary charges will have the opportunity to consult and retain counsel, who can participate in the hearing. For minor disciplinary charges, inmates do not have an automatic right to counsel (but can request counsel). Inmates can retain counsel for parole hearings.
- Reasonable access to legal reading materials. According to Commissioner’s Directive 720, this includes (at minimum) access to the Charter, various statutes (the Criminal Code, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, etc.), the Security Reclassification Scale (scoring matrix), Parole Board of Canada Policy Manual, CSC publications, and reports by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. The legal materials available may differ from one institution to the next. Inmates seeking access to certain textbooks, secondary sources, and other documents may need to put in a request.
- Reasonable access to non-legal materials. This includes the Commissioner’s Directives, regional instructions, and institutional standing orders.
- A commissioner for taking oaths and affidavits. Per Commissioner’s Directive 084, inmates are supposed to be given the names of the staff members who are Commissioners for Oaths or able to take affidavits. If a commissioner is requested, the Warden is supposed to provide access within two working days.
“Reasonable access” is vague, and what constitutes “reasonable access” will differ from institution to institution. Inmates who aren’t satisfied with their access to legal services can go through the grievance process.