It’s a wonderful life……..

…..when you can pass the buck.

Poor Howard Sapers. Canada’s beleaguered Correctional Investigator has spent 12 years trying to bring our federal prison system out of the middle ages (well, at least out of the 19th century), and has been rebuffed, patronized, and parceled out time after time. Well, he’s leaving the position at the end of the year, BUT has accepted an appointment as an independent advisor on corrections reform for up to three years with Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services. Now, that’ll be a challenge. We’ll deal with that in another posting…….but, for now……

Here’s a self-explanatory letter to Ontario’s Minister of Health:-

October 28, 2016

Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health & Long Term Care,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Re: Hygiene standards

Dear Minister Hoskins:

I took a call recently from an inmate at the Toronto South Detention Centre who had been sent to segregation.

He was told he couldn’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste. He couldn’t have soap. A towel and face cloth represented a suicide risk and he couldn’t have a towel or face cloth. Worse, nothing would be available to clean his cell, his sink and toilet after the cell’s previous occupant vacated.

The matter of the risk a towel and face cloth poses is curious. These cells have no projections for suspension. And, a suicidal inmate could choke himself as easily with the waistband of his underwear.

Surely, this policy must contravene basic regulated hygiene standards, and, if this is the rule at TSDC, it must be the same at all provincial institutions.

I bring this to your attention rather than to MCSCS; after all, it is Minister Orazietti’s subordinates who formulated the present practice. Without the intervention by a senior government minister, these unhealthy conditions are likely to continue.
Yours truly,

Charles Klassen

An email came back from “correspondence services” of the ministry on November 14. The body of this read, “Thank you for your email dated October 28, 2016, to the Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, regarding hygiene standards at a correctional institution. While the ministry appreciates your bringing this issue to our attention, I have copied the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on this response as that ministry would be best to address you concerns.” In other words, this ain’t my job, man.

Are you kidding?

We wrote back:-

November 15, 2016

J. King, Correspondence Service,
Ministry of Health & Long Term Care,
10th Floor, Hepburn Block,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Dear J. King:

No, no, no!

I sent my letter regarding the sub-standard hygiene policies at Toronto South Detention Centre (copy attached) to Minister Hoskins specifically for his attention. As the Minister of Health for Ontario, surely he is the point person for best practices in health care and hygiene.

Sending this on to Community Safety & Correctional Services because “they would be best to address my concerns” is not only a waste, but a cop-out. CSCS, after all, initiated what must be unacceptable in 21st century Canada.

That is, unless your purpose was to pass a buck, which will get passed, and passed, and passed ‘til it’s forever at the bottom of a forgotten pile, and everyone can go to lunch. That is so typical of government bureaucracies undeserving of public support.

We must have people in office who are not afraid to make some noise!

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Dr. Eric Hoskins

You know this will go nowhere, don’t you. We’d have to get lawyers and the press involved to make any impression, and then only briefly. Nonetheless, we can’t let our public servants think no one is paying attention, and if just one person suffers indigestion from these comments, the effort is worthwhile.

To move on, here’s a letter to the head of Institutional Services for Ontario’s jails:-

November 1, 2016

Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
Institutional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, 17th Floor,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Policy & Procedures Manual – A deficiency

Dear Deputy Superintendent Danylchenko:

There are about 50 references in the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions (September 2015) advising inmates to speak to staff for help or assistance.

This puts a burden on C.O.’s to retain considerable procedural knowledge and information sources. Institutions are 24/7 operations, and the guide assumes that the delivery of assisted services are consistent over multiple shifts throughout the work week, involving numerous personnel. In practice, this is unfortunately not the reality. While interaction between staff and inmates is encouraged, verbal conflict is commonplace, like it or not. What happens when an inmate is stumped on how to proceed?

What happens when an inmate needs to identify a member of the staff? According to the Institutional Services Division, the only policy relating to staff identification requirements is covered in Regular Duty and Dress Uniform Standards, 6.1.3, Identification Tags. As a routine, staff members wear i.d. tags with their title and the institution’s name showing, while their photo and i.d. number is hidden. What’s more, I would prefer you ask inmates what responses they get from staff when asking for identifications, rather than repeating examples here.

It seems CSCS policy intentionally prevents an inmate from knowing with whom he/she is communicating. I don’t believe that’s the intention, but a lack of will to change the standards for the better results in an unavoidable conclusion.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Now, granted there are any number of uniformed jail staffers who do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and to the standards their oaths, CSCS policies and procedures require. But there are others, plenty of others whose behavior goes beyond abusive. These misfits have been a part of jail landscapes for decades and once they’re on the public payroll, it’s next to impossible to budge them. It’s a different kind of ‘blue wall.’

Management, even at the highest levels, is fully aware of the concerns put forward by lawyers, judges, activists/advocates, and social workers. The response, if a complainant cannot be ignored summarily, is usually to take all matters under advisement, pass the files from desk to desk, and if pressed, eventually to admit things can be done better.

And that is where it ends……or that is where it has ended for at least the last 25 years we’ve observed jail conditions.

It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.


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