She is also working to improve Manitoba's implementation of the Gladue decision on Aboriginal sentencing, meant to address the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.
Parkes is the principal investigator on a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on investigating prison complaint and inspection systems.
Prisons, like other closed institutions, pose accountability challenges for democratic societies. The existing Canadian research into effective accountability and oversight of prisons has considered the situation of federally sentenced prisoners (i.e., those serving sentences of two years or more). That research has been sharply critical of the inability of prisoners to access justice in the sense of having adequate and accessible means to ensure that their treatment and conditions of confinement comply with the law. Relatively little is known about the state of accountability, complaint, and other legal review processes at the provincial level, where jail terms are shorter and prisoners’ rights litigation is rare. The fact that on any given day the vast majority of Canada’s prisoners are incarcerated in provincial jails means that this is a serious gap in our knowledge.
This research project aims to begin filling that gap by examining the existing practice of internal complaints and review of segregation (solitary confinement) in one provincial jurisdiction, Manitoba, while also studying the work of the only accessible avenue for external accountability for provincial corrections, complaints to the provincial Ombudsman [sic]. It builds on Professor Parkes’ recent study of prisoners’ rights litigation over the first quarter century of the “Charter era” which found that despite a few significant victories for prisoners, access to the courts to enforce their rights remains largely illusory, particularly for those detained for short terms in provincial jails. Professor Parkes has argued that improved access to the courts by prisoners is necessary to provide a meaningful sanction and remedy for serious rights abuses, but also that independent complaint and inspections procedures are important components of a broader accountability framework for correctional systems. A review of provincial and territorial corrections legislation conducted as part of this project indicates that these regimes have been more strongly influenced by penal populist discourses than by the liberal, rights-based discourses found in federal corrections legislation (at least until recently), although the practical impact, if any, of those differences for prisoners remains unknown and therefore requires further investigation.
Provincial jail systems present some challenges to oversight and accountability in addition to those found in the federal system. These include short jail terms and consequent prisoner turnover, generally more limited infrastructure and research capacity at the provincial level, and a lack of specialized mandate and expertise in provincial Ombudsman offices. Even the smallest provinces and territories operate their own correctional systems and there tends to be little popular or political pressure to enforce prisoners’ rights in that context. This research program aims to bring a comparative perspective to bear on these local issues by studying the model of the United Kingdom’s independent prison inspectorate, which may provide better (or complementary) accountability mechanisms to the existing provincial complaint-based systems.