Prison light switch #3……

…..now to continue.

SECURITY: ……in the dictionary as protection and safeguards, as well as care, custody and sanctuary, and then further as assurance, certainty and reliance, we live increasingly in a risk-averse environment, a symptom of our changing world.

The conspicuous presence of security measures conditions us to see potential threats as ever-present, a boon to a growing industry. But, the best training programs encompass a range of assessment techniques in applying appropriate responses to whatever situations arise. A street is not shut down because a shoplifter was at work in the corner store.

Prison security touches all areas of institutional operations and exercises a top to bottom priority over every detail of procedure and practice. This degree of authority and autonomy is condoned and expected under the circumstances, and the perception that control is absolute is as important as is the fact of it.

In a democracy, great power comes with great responsibility. We assume without a second thought that the men and women responsible for security in our institutions execute their obligations keeping the base purpose of a correctional system in mind. It’s one thing to take necessary measures to manage pressing concerns but disrupting programs and routines beyond the resolution is counterproductive. Tempering safeguards with an eye to the certainty of long-term expectations is a protocol worth pursuing.

GUARDS: Police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers have a commonality. All who work in these jobs do so by choice, knowing assignments can be volatile, dangerous, and potentially lethal. Depending on postings, there is also considerable down time where staff are still expected to be vigilant, watchful, and ever ready on stand-by, and this despite a lack of stimulation. The differences between prison guards and police/firefighters will be addressed elsewhere and later.

Guards have a list of duties, and through either a dynamic or static security process they also present an opportunity to be a positive part of the correctional program, a resource that seems to be overlooked. The uniform guards wear identifies them as officers with Correctional Service of Canada, an agency of the federal government, whose purpose is to serve the people. Because prison inmates have more contacts with guards than other CSC employees, they are front-line representatives of the society to which almost all inmates will one day return.

Understandably, guards do not bring their mobile technology into the workplace. They are a potential risk, and a distraction too which is why televisions are also prohibited in the towers and bubbles. Despite that long duty list, there are periods where overseeing their charges can tax alertness and is it here that part of the job description, “supervise and interact with offenders,” takes on a greater significance. It is here that guards can play a positive role in helping inmates complete their correctional plans.

Something to be considered.

…….still more soon.

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Toronto South Detention Centre……

……to be fair, we got an answer.

“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.”

So began the April 21st posting reprinting our letter to the provincial minister, critical of the bias with the department’s reporting of operational issues at this Toronto jail. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, government, guards and their union cite inmate hostility as a central cause of the problems at the institution….along with ongoing complaints by guards of staffing shortages.

As the media reported later, that weekend attack on guards was precipitated by an earlier assault by guards on an inmate. Unjustified use of force by either side isn’t sanctioned in principle, but it’s notable that officially, guards don’t attack inmates.

The March 15 letter to Minister Sylvia Jones pointed out that “no inmate who is not deranged awakes of a morning and decides to assault a guard….. Are you aware of the consequences?” A second letter followed on May 6 asking for a comment when there was no response. “I Hate Inmates!” posted on May 19 implied an answer was doubtful.

Unexpectedly, a lengthy June 19 letter over the minister’s signature addressed the issues raised, and with an unusually candid and liberal bent for a Conservative cabinet minister. “We are creating better housing options, redefining segregation…..better mental health screening and assessment tools.” “We have implemented measure to provide better oversight and support…..” “At Toronto South Detention Centre, steps are being taken to improve staff and inmate safety…..” At TSDC, “a new initiative…..will address key challenges…for improvement through a formal culture audit.” “Overcrowding is a key issue….hiring remains a top priority….to meet existing shortages, reduce lockdowns, ease workloads…..”

There was more in the same vein, not anticipated from a minister of a political party more attuned to a let-them-rot-in-hell scenario for imprisoned offenders. But, Minister Jones’ letter ended with, “Your feedback is important and will help our government inform its policies.”

“Policies.” Therein lies the hidden juggernaut waiting in the shadows. No minister of any party, no head office bureaucracy, no amount of input from outside the system has ever been able to successfully address the difference between policy, and practice in the trenches.

MORE LIGHT SWITCHES IN OUR FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRY WILL CONTINUE NEXT WEEK………

A light switch #2……

…..okay, what’s next!

Management: Oversight is a challenge. Long distant oversight can be a quagmire.

Imagine sitting at the head of a nation-wide service corporation with exclusive contractual responsibility to improve community safety and security by providing relevant programming and treatment for adults vulnerable to influences counterproductive to good governance. For effective delivery of the process, this corporation is granted considerable authority to restrict its clients’ freedoms and choices during the remedial period.

A national headquarters supported by regional offices feeds operational protocols and directives to about three dozen facilities spread across the country. A level of institutional autonomy allows a degree of flexibility in responding to local variances. All the same, layers of oversight are intended to homogenize the corporation’s core policies and practices for viable, uniform and positive outcomes.

What could go wrong?

How is compliance assessed? What is the measure of efficacy? When are reviews triggered? As the head of this enterprise, experience says even the best-intentioned can slip off the rails, let alone what impact rogue elements with counter-agendas will have. When an institution relies predominantly on self-appraisals and subjective evaluations from within, opportunities for a deviant culture ferment. Hands-on high-level objectivity at regular and unannounced irregular intervals constructively powers the policy design.

One more thing. Success is weighed in client outcomes, and the corporation’s clients are as much a part of critiquing the standard with potentially unique and relevant perspectives as are the opinions of the operators and facilitators. If something isn’t working for inclined clients, if they’re not achieving a maximum benefit, rethinking is warranted.

Visits and visitors: No dispute…..short and sweet. This major resource in meeting a correctional system’s mandate is a no-brainer. Despite the few incidents that jeopardize security concerns, visits are the one opportunity for offenders to come face to face with family, friends and the community. Visits are an opportunity for the ‘village’ to make amends for the role it played in directing an offender’s life choices. ‘Visit’ is a synonym for ‘hope.’ (How ‘bout a visiting reconciliation program?)

Institutional policy should reflect priorities where institutional workers actively encourage inmates, friends, and family to come together, and as often as possible. In practice, staff will reach out to the community to build a circle of care. This won’t always meet mission statement goals, but its purpose is unmistakably positive.

……more on the way.

A light switch #1…….

…..it’s a start!

A Culture: There are two criteria which must be met for actions to be considered part of the culture of an organization. The actions must be widespread in the organization, and they must be persistent.

‘Widespread’ assumes that the actions often occur in the organization – not all the time, but with considerable frequency so that when they do take place no one thinks twice about them, they just say, yes, that’s the way things work here. Not everyone has to take these actions, but those who don’t, realize there’s not much they can do about them. The actions are frequent enough that there’s no thought of penalizing or criticizing the actors, and there’s no allegations that the actors are ‘bad apples.’

‘Persistent’ means the actions continue over a relatively long period of time, usually measured in terms of years.

If deviant actions are widespread and persistent, it is fair to conclude that those deviant actions are part of the culture of the organization. They define the way the organization functions.

….from Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 114, June 25, 2019
info@tpac.ca

A Reality: Referencing Lee Chapelle of Canadian Prison Consulting once more, about 20% of inmates in federal institutions are incorrigible according to his estimate. These men and women can’t be reached, and aren’t motivated to be more than they are. All the same, these few are protected by the same laws and policies as other prisoners, (“Inmates are Clients”….June 2), and pathways to a future must be among their available options.

The majority of inmates present viable opportunities for CSC to exercise its correctional mandate. This is not a homogeneous one-size-fits-all group though, and tailored programming targeting specific needs are more likely than not to be better received and potentially offer the most positive outcomes.

continued…..

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.

 

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……