“Cells……♫ cells for ♪ sale, or rent ♫

….♫ rooms to ♪ let, 50 cents ♫.”

The New York Times ran a story in late February under Dan Bilefsky’s byline which began, “The Netherlands has a problem many countries can only dream of: A shortage of prison inmates.”

About a third of Dutch prison cells are empty, attributed to a ‘spectacular’ drop in crime over the last twenty years, and a national preference for rehabilitation over incarceration. There was a upswing in prison populations there in the 90s, but the Netherlands now imprisons only about 61 of every 100,000 citizens, similar to Scandinavia. The United States, on the other hand, puts about 666 of every 100,000 citizens in prison, the highest in the world.

Norway negotiated an agreement with the Dutch two years ago for a three-year lease of a high-security facility and sent 242 prisoners there. They’re paying $35 million per year for the use of this prison, and Belgium is also making use of Dutch jails, sending about 500 inmates across the border.

Even more cells will become surplus over the next few years. As one criminologist explained, the Dutch have a deeply ingrained pragmatism when it comes to regulating law and order. “Prisons are very expensive,” this professor at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam rationalized. There is a relatively liberal approach to soft drugs and prostitution, and the Netherlands is more focused on what works and what is effective, while people in the United States, for instance, make moral arguments for imprisonment.

The Dutch have also become creative with the vacancy rates by transforming jails into housing for asylum seekers, converting cells into apartments for families, and where the interior exercise yards, gymnasiums, kitchens and outdoor gardens have a practical benefit. High exterior walls and barbed wire are removed, but care is taken not to house former political prisoners in cells, unless they feel at ease.

Not everyone is happy. About 2,600 prison guards could lose their jobs in the next four years as more prisons close. The government doesn’t want to give up too many jobs, as this political football can play out to the disadvantage of the present centre-right party in control. As a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Security and Justice put it, the surplus of empty jail cells is “good and bad news at the same time.”

This isn’t an environment that’s generated in a vacuum, with no explanation, or can be simply written off to happenstance. This comes with a concerted effort to question the status quo, think outside the lock-em-up box, and take bold steps to take a different road. Separating some people from the community in a custodial setting will continue to be a reality for now, but there is an illogic to a prison-based system of justice. One perspective is in the form of a poem reprinted in Baz Dreisinger’s book, “Incarceration Nation”:-

We want them to be responsible,
So we take away all responsibilities.
We want them to be positive and constructive,
So we degrade them and make them useless.
We want them to be nonviolent,
So we put them where there is violence all around them.
We want them to quit being the tough guy,
So we put them where the tough guy’s respected.

Now, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it!

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No comment, Minister?

Matthew Hines died in the Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. For 13 months, his family in Cape Breton believed what they were told by Correctional Service of Canada, which said that Hines, who had a history of seizures, died from a drug-induced seizure.

So began “What say you, Minister?,” a post from September 25 last year. There was much more to the death of Matthew Hines than Correctional Service of Canada first let on. Just so, there is much more to Brennan Guigue’s experience in July of 2014 at the Regional Reception Centre in Montreal than the agency has so far admitted. Brennan Guigue survived his ordeal at the hands of CSC employees and is participating with his attorneys to uncover what information and evidence CSC has been reluctant to share.

Our September 19 letter last year to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has gone unanswered (it was reprinted in that September 25 posting). Not that a response is anticipated or always welcome, but it is typical for politicians to avoid writing when they cannot see a way to score points, valid or otherwise. More so, it is annoying for public servants to pretend a thorny issue can be sidestepped by simply dismissing its existence.

turnoverarocktoday is annoyed.

Our second letter went out to Mr. Goodale not long ago. We would be surprised to hear from the minister, but if our attempt to pry one from his office puts him off his lunch, we’ve been successful. In the meantime, Brennan Guigue and his team are moving forward.

February 24, 2017

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Matthew Hines/Brennan Guigue
My September 19, 2016 letter

Dear Minister Goodale:

Again, I quote from the statement released by your office Wednesday evening, August 24, of last year regarding the May 27, 2015 death of inmate Matthew Hines at Dorchester Penitentiary.

“But let me be clear that there can be no tolerance for inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct.”

You were commenting on the actions of men and women in your employ and acting under your authority. My September 19, 2016 letter went on to reference another questionable incident from July of 2014 at the Regional Reception Centre in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines north of Montreal.

What say you, Minister, I asked back in September.

Certainly, one would have expected you and your immediate subordinates to have issued directives to Correctional Service of Canada by now aimed at minimizing the likelihood of any repetition of “inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct.”

My readers and I would welcome an update.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc Honourable Bill Morneau/Stephen Fineberg/Brennan Guigue/turnoverarocktoday.com

Cat got your tongue, sir?

Segregation – a federal snapshot II

……continued from March 5

Last December, Correctional Service of Canada reiterated that it doesn’t use solitary confinement because, for instance, inmates in “administrative segregation” have daily visits from wardens, health-care personnel and other staff. The Globe and Mail reported that prisoner-rights advocates found the argument preposterous. Wardens or their agents are required to visit segregation units daily, but what turnoverarocktoday knows is those ‘visits’ often amount to a simple step into the range, the exchange of a few words with guards, and the signing of the log. Regardless, all communication between inmates and staff members is through a small hatch in the cell door, hardly a ‘visit’ or meaningful human contact.

This particular reference by CSC to its isolation practices is in reaction to a suit filed last October by three inmates at Edmonton Institution, claiming damages totaling $5.6-million. The men contend long periods of segregation without social interaction led to health effects including major depression, paranoia, rage, self-harm and disrupted sleep patterns. The lawsuit uses a variety of international academic and anecdotal sources that support the Mandela Rules, maximizing the use of solitary confinement to 60 days in a calendar year, and which was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The John Howard Society’s executive director Catherine Latimer says CSC will face an uphill battle trying to prove the defense it filed claiming Canadian segregated inmates do not suffer, and their well-being is monitored to ensure no adverse effects.

Now, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell certified a class-action against Correctional Service of Canada on Monday, December 12 of last year, the first lawsuit in Canada on behalf of federal inmates alleging the use of solitary confinement and inadequate access to medication has violated the rights of tens of thousands of mentally ill inmates. In certifying the claim, the judge said the case hinges on whether CSC violated Charter sections 7 (life, liberty, security of the person), 9 (against unfair detainment), and 12 (freedom from cruel and unusual punishment) in its operation of federal prisons and whether the potential violations warrant damages. Both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail reported on this lawsuit during that middle week of December.

Then in mid-February, another judge declared a rare postconviction mistrial in the case of a 33 year-old Yukon inmate, housed in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, who has spent more time in custody awaiting trial and sentencing, including more than three years in solitary confinement, than his original crime would have warranted. His mental health deteriorated to a point where he was ruled unfit to participate in any proceedings against him. The court has just ordered a second trial but the outcome is in question, given the man’s mental health status.

To cap off a call for reform, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, representing around 35,000 family doctors, issued a statement on February 27 calling for an all-out ban on solitary confinement in Canada’s provincial jails and federal prisons. “Ethical, moral and professional obligations” of family doctors compelled the organization to take a strong position on the practice. “The use of solitary confinement can have a negative impact on a person’s health and can worsen pre-existing conditions, and it can be especially detrimental for youth and prisoners who suffer from mental illness,” said Ruth Martin, chair of the college’s Prison Health Program Committee.

Remember, these men and women who have experienced the negative impact of isolation, and prolonged isolation in many cases, will one day be returned to the community. They will be our neighbours, the person driving the car behind us, or sitting next to us on the bus. There is only a hair’s breadth between a constructive, contributing member of society, and a liability on our shared resources.

Whither goest thou?

Segregation – a federal snapshot

“Please note that the term ‘solitary confinement’ is not applicable within the Canadian penitentiary system,” says Correctional Service of Canada.

This is a lie! This is a lie perpetuated over a long period by civil servants living off the public purse, whose self-serving agenda facilitates a medievalist mind-set intended to thwart reforms to bring our penal systems into line with 20th and 21st century revisionists.

Call it what you will, any time a person is placed in a barren cell with limited access to resources usually available to prison inmates, and held in such limbo for 23 or more hours per day, that is solitary confinement.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society were scheduled to be in court on January 3rd of this year to begin the first ever comprehensive challenge of solitary confinement practices in federal prisons. As their literature put it, “International bodies and experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, have been unwilling to mince words. Solitary by any other name is still torture.”

In the middle of December last year, a judge postponed the start of the case until July 4 due to a “reasonable expectation” that federal legislation will be enacted. BCCLA and John Howard will continue to prepare their case to ensure proposed reforms meet the expected standards.

The West Coast Prison Justice Society, another British Columbia group representing federal prisoners in that province issued a 112-page report last November calling for the total abolishment of solitary confinement across Canada. They argue the point at which the use of segregation is considered to cross the line of torture or cruel treatment is a subjective assessment that cannot be left in the domain of regressive agendas.

Jason Godin, who is the national president of the 7,400-member Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, called that proposal “absurd”, but then, these are the same men and women who have supported a discredited practice. More, the union has never called for a review of segregation its members know has had considerable negative outcomes for hundreds of inmates every year. To boot, it has criticized the reduction in the use of solitary confinement by Correctional Service of Canada, and has called Justin Trudeau’s intended prison reforms unreasonable. In the meantime, CSC’s own data does not reflect a rise in prison violence.

Yes, Correctional Service of Canada has been ‘drawing down’ the use to solitary confinement. Our perspective can be found in the February 19 posting, “Segregation….another stench from under ‘a rock’.” And, as Jason Godin and his union were making their objections last October to possible changes, both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail published editorials calling for action to end the government’s abuse of human rights

……more to come March 12