Lights, lights, lights!

Who can see in the dark?

Correctional Service of Canada is charged with safely returning offenders to the street as responsible, law-abiding citizens. Observation says it can do better. Over the last few years, and most notably, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the John Howard Society, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Elizabeth Fry Society, as well as print/broadcast media, and along with provincial and federal courts have worked to redirect CSC policy and practice, in particular referencing solitary confinement.

Our federal prison system has an extensive and experienced bureaucracy capable of trending towards the most progressive principles, formulas and programs to meet its mandate. It should lead the way, rather than reacting to outside opinions that appear better informed. Why do our courts have to order CSC to overcome its reluctance to change? Why does CSC then twist itself into knots trying to comply with court decisions on the one hand while angling to end up in the same place its always been on the other?

We have a government that continues to kowtow to CSC ‘traditionalists’ and intervene on behalf of the Agency to stifle proposed changes to policies governing solitary confinement for example and restrict or eliminate independent and non-governmental monitoring of policy practice. And then there’s the release this month of the West Coast Prison Justice Society’s report, “Damage Control: Use of Force and the Cycle of Violence and Trauma in BC’s Federal and Provincial Prisons.” It underscores how use of force in our prisons more often exacerbates “an adversarial environment that compromises safety and wellbeing for both prisoners and staff.” Yet, Correctional Service of Canada isn’t prepared to fully embrace progressive and tested alternatives.

Attempts to encourage accountability and transparency beyond the walls and razor wire is a difficult and frustrating exercise. For the sake of the community at large, it’s a trial the’ villages’ from which our prisoners sprang need to play as much a role as the activists and advocates who point the way.

More to come…..

NOTE: APOLOGIES. IT’S BEEN THREE WEEKS SINCE THE LAST POSTING. UNNECESSARY DISTRACTIONS INTERFERED WITH PRODUCTION.

 

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INMATES are CLIENTS…….

…….not fodder for the maw of our prisons.

Okay, a qualifier first. Perfection is a goal, not an expectation, and what we call our correctional services can’t bear sole responsibility for reshaping society. It takes a village to raise a child? Villages criminalize children too, indoctrinated more by neglect and abuse than intent. And when those children later end up in our justice and carceral systems, villages consign them to prisons with “fix ‘em”…..or, “keep ‘em ‘til they’re fixed.” Or maybe, just “keep ‘em.” Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way.

There are some bad people in our prisons, people who should never see the inside of a Tim Hortons again, or shop for groceries or buy a case of beer. And, even if the mess inside their heads is unscrambled and they are choking on a glut of remorse, some crimes are so heinous only God can forgive. All the same, these few are protected by the same laws and policies as other prisoners and must have opportunities to build a life inside the walls, to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, to be treated humanely and held safely, and in the end, to die with dignity. Otherwise, we make ourselves less than human.

Prison practice must match policy. Prison practice must follow the law. That this is often not in evidence is as much the responsibility of the villages that send men and women to prison as it is the obligation of the keepers of these men and women. The very few who will live their entire lives in custody are as entitled to fair practice as the great majority who will one day return to the community. In particular, since almost all our prison population will one day be released, the only question of note is, “Who do you want your new neighbours to be?”

Offenders are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment, to parrot Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger. Lee Chapelle of Canadian Prison Consulting begins presentations on the realities of a prison sentence by reminding his audience that people do not comprehend how traumatic the loss of freedom can be. Living in a cell the size of an average bathroom, in an environment charged with risk, and under the thumb of public servants whose priorities are not always rehabilitative is a challenge difficult to master.

So, how do we make a prison industry into a correctional service, and why is community involvement important to good governance?

More next time……

 

“I HATE INMATES!…….

…..WHO DO I OWE A BEATING TO TODAY?”

This rant by a guard walking onto a range a few years ago at the defunct Toronto West Detention Centre is one variation of a mantra endemic in Canada’s prison industry. Only inmates, the source of this guard’s livelihood, and other staff members were within earshot, and this guard was intentionally threatening and intimidating, daring a challenge, and looking for any excuse to assault an inmate.

“Hate” and “beating” were words expected to incite contempt by inmates for a system that is mandated to positively redirect future decisions but instead is primarily correctional in name only. In the end, recidivism is a key component in maintaining a stable work environment for everyone employed in the business. Most job actions directed at sustainability in provincial and federal institutions are less obvious than that guard in Toronto West years ago, they’re frequently passive, and may even appear benign, but are equally effective, nonetheless.

Provincial jails house men and women convicted of an offence and sentenced for relatively short periods, but often a majority of inmates are held on remand, awaiting the disposition of charges. For these, the vegetative wait for technically innocent people can stretch into years, two, three or even four. An inadequate bail program, insufficient public resources, underfunded legal aid support, backlogged court dockets, and a lack of political will keeps many in custody who otherwise could benefit from opportunities in the community.

There is little work, few programs, a phone system allowing only collect calls, and no direct contact with family/community support. Worse, there’s a move away from visits where barriers separate inmates and people from the outside to ‘video visits’, where both parties see only the head and shoulders of one another on a monitor and communicate over a phone. To boot, there’s no dedicated resource for inmates to air concerns, and what little is available is of no consequence to provincial jail staff or management. How bad can it get?

“Toronto South…..again!”, posted April 21st examples how a lack of accountability enables contempt of both prisoners and their keepers for ministry policies, and even the law. Jails are laboratories developing the building blocks of an industry’s foundation. We followed up our March 15th letter to the Ontario minister with a May 6th request for comment. Bets?

More looks under the rock coming……

CANADA’S PRISON INDUSTRY……

……is not a CORRECTIONAL SERVICE!

For prison guards, job security means having prisoners to guard. No prisoners, no guards. Reduce the number of prisoners, reduce the number of guards. Job security is a concern everywhere, and so it is with employees in federal and provincial institutions and the agencies that oversee them.

The federal Corrections and Conditional Release Act stipulates in Section 3.1 that, “The protection of society is the paramount consideration for the Service in the corrections process.” With the mandate and mission federal/provincial/territorial agencies have to return offenders safely to the community as contributing law-abiding citizens, Correctional Service of Canada and its provincial and territorial counterparts’ first responsibility is to make prisons redundant…..and every employee’s primary directive is to put themselves out of a job.

So why aren’t prison populations dropping in Canada? We’ve written earlier that the Dutch had closed prisons. The Washington Post reported in the summer of 2016 that the Netherlands shut 19 prisons in 2013 alone, with five more likely to close. The paper also referenced Sweden’s falling prison population, some prisons were shuttered, and an “expert who spoke to the Guardian in 2013 suggested that the humane and comfortable nature of Swedish prisons had led to a better chance of rehabilitation for prisoners.”

Again, why are there not fewer prisoners here? Federal and provincial institutions must accept who the courts send them. As a start, it is the courts and the judiciary who can best inform and educate the provincial and federal attorneys general to the benefits of alternatives to incarceration. In the meantime, our politicians seem content to allow interests with regressive agendas to lead them by the nose. No matter, the agencies that operate our prisons have both an obligation to reduce inmate numbers and the resources and authority to make that happen.

What our institutions do with men and women in their custody defines the difference between a prison industry and a correctional service. Progressive programming prioritizing the best of medical and social sciences supports positive outcomes. But, when a ‘prison population maintenance initiative’ becomes the go-to plan to satisfy employee interests for the future of their jobs, correctional services are sacrificed to corporate sustainability and stability.

A closer peek under this rock coming up next………

“Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, it is an injustice system.” Barack Obama

Carding……STILL?

What do we have to do to end this?

Toronto’s Globe and Mail published “Boxer takes another shot at banning street checks” in its April 13 edition. Kirk Johnson, a 1990s Olympic boxer, was pulled over in 1998 by a white Halifax police officer and his Ford Mustang was impounded as a result.

Why? He was black, and Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Commission later agreed. Mr. Johnson had filed a human rights complaint, and after five years, the decision exposed racial bias in the Halifax-area police and mandated change.

“The rights commission’s order that police collect street check data and analyze it for racial bias fell by the wayside for more than a dozen years. Although police collected the data, no analysis was done until media inquired about it in 2016,” the Globe reported.

An independent academic report released last month looked at police data for a 12-year span from 2006 to 2017 showing the equivalent of two street checks for every black person living in the Halifax area compared to only one street check for every three white people. The report found that blacks in Halifax are still stopped five to six times more than whites.

Kirk Johnson reluctantly jumped back into the controversy, feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “To realize you do this work to help the situation and the situation isn’t getting better…..the bottom line is racism is a bad disease. It’s destroying a lot or people, white and black. In order for us to live in harmony, that type of stuff has got to go.”

We reminded the Halifax police chief in an April 16 note that street checks……’carding’……is code for police state.

A few days after the press ran the results of the analysis of police data, Nova Scotia’s justice minister ordered a ‘moratorium’ on street checks of pedestrians.

Over and over and over we are challenged and dared. People….each of us, all of us….must stand up, speak up, and act up…. or the bullies will have their way.

“Moving forward. Always moving forward.”

…….from “Taking the field”, December 3, 2018

Brennan Guigue’s lawsuit against the government was scheduled for March 12 to set a date to begin hearing evidence. But, “moving forward” in court includes accommodating unforeseen delays, setbacks from either side. The latest postponement is on Guigue and his lawyers.

The forensic toxicology report from our U.S. pepper spray expert is dated January 25 but it wasn’t until the end of the first week of March that the Montreal lawyer representing Brennan Guigue’s attorneys, Kalman Samuels, was able to pass it on to him for review.

Given the expected questions Brennan and his lawyers would have for the expert about the case review, Montreal also filed an Application with the court to extend the delay for setting down for trial and judgement, requesting an additional 3 months to ready the file.

Brennan had two questions for the consultant in New York, his lawyers had two as well, and these were emailed to the States on March 22. A discussion between lawyer and expert followed within five days, the questions were answered, and the report was filed in the court record by the end of the month.

This report will not be reproduced here, in whole or in part. Let’s only note that the expense was worthwhile and the results are useful.

The court granted the requested extension. The new inscription date is June 12.

Worth repeating: –
Brennan Guigue is far from the first inmate in our federal prisons to experience a pepper spray attack. He survived. Others haven’t. Government lawyers and taxpayer money ensures silence. And in Brennan’s case, all the guards involved are still employed by CSC….except the videographer who voluntarily left the Service.

Toronto South…..again!

About 200 Toronto South Detention Centre guards refused non-essential work at the jail on Monday, March 4, after an alleged assault by inmates injured eight staff members on the previous weekend.

OPSEU represents the jail employees and argues a staff shortage is a major cause of increased violence at the facility. The walkout lasted only one day but the issue the union raised has been ongoing since TSDC opened.

At the same time, a senior Toronto judge says it is “absolutely unacceptable” and “unfair” that inmates are frequently in full lockdown at the South, and he and other judges often award enhanced credits for time-served in pre-trial custody. One defence lawyer called the recurring lockdowns “horrific, it’s a human rights violation.” Daniel Brown, a Toronto lawyer and vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, references “deplorable conditions” at this jail and others around the province.

There’s more to this long-running standoff than simply a lack of guards, and we said so in a letter to Ontario’s current Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services:-

March 15, 2019

The Honourable Sylvia Jones,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,

Toronto South Detention Centre has been a challenge since the institution opened, and the recent “labour dispute” indicates operational issues persist.

Of course, no staff member should be targeted for assault. OPSEU members blame understaffing as the main culprit.

The “why” question also needs to be asked of criminal lawyers, social workers, and inmates most importantly. For example, no inmate who is not deranged awakes of a morning and decides to assault a guard that day. Are you aware of the consequences? Ask an inmate, or preferably, a former inmate. Apparently too, guards have a weaker constitution and are given respite after violent incidents.

Disrespect for inmates and their property, lock-downs, humiliation, intimidation, guard assaults on inmates, human rights’ abuses, Charter violations, and widespread indifference to MCCS policies factor into the stress and unrest so prevalent at TSDC.

Exacerbating this mess, management from the institutional level up through the ranks even to your office appear unconcerned, even in the face of adverse publicity.

Charles H. Klassen

Copied on this was Sam Erry, Ms Jones’ deputy minister, Warren Thomas, head of OSEU, Chris Jackel, head of OPSEU’s correctional division, and MPP Kevin Yarde, the NDP justice critic.

MCCS headquarters at 25 Grosvenor Street seems oblivious, and conditions can only get worse under the current Conservative government in Ontario.