‘Prison industry’ talking points

….a few words for CORRECTIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA

“If you believe that all persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights, then that belief must also apply to those who are less fortunate, less privileged and even so to those deprived of their liberty.”

That is Ivan Zinger speaking to the Toronto Star’s Donovan Vincent for his feature article in the paper’s Sunday, February 4th edition, profiling Canada’s new Correctional Investigator.

Zinger has targeted Canada’s federal prison industry for the “self-serving and unreflective” way it scrutinizes inmate deaths, to the “unnecessarily stark and foreboding environment for human habitation” in most segregation and isolation units in federal penitentiaries, to a call for an external assessment of CSC food services. Food is “foundational to health and safety in a prison setting,” he says, as inmate grievances mount after the previous federal government cut $6.4 million in food costs. CSC has said it will do an internal audit. Zinger wants the tattoo program brought back, prison farms reopened, and argues that visitors to penitentiaries “aren’t always treated with courtesy and respect,” amid delays in having visits approved.

Baz Dreisinger, an American who runs programs in U.S. prisons, travelled the world visiting penal institutions in a number of selected countries. Her 2016 book, “Incarceration Nation” is the result of her work and research.

An Australian inmate’s comments stand out. “….intellectually knowing the circumstances of your oppression and being powerless to do anything about it – that’s torture.” Or, “education makes one unfit to be a slave.”

One of the highlights the author underscored in concluding her experiences is: –
“The United States spends $54 billion a year on the prison industry. The burden of proof to support the status quo falls on those who are in favour of it. Because if any other system had a 60 percent failure rate – that’s the U.S. recidivism rate, and in much of the world the numbers don’t look much better – we’d dismantle that system right away and go right back to the drawing board.”

Robert Clark began working with Correctional Service of Canada in 1980, first as a volunteer while a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, and then progressed through the ranks to hold several management positions in the agency. He retired when the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda conflicted with what his experience taught him were prison best practices.

He’s written “Down Inside – thirty years in Canada’s prison service”, published last year. One paragraph from the last chapter, “Conclusion: A Culture of Collective Indifference” is relevant to the plight of our penal institutions.

“I have no idea what lies in store for Correctional Service of Canada. Although I would like to believe that significant positive changes are possible. I have my doubts. The culture of this organization is so deeply entrenched and so pervasive that I remain skeptical of its capacity for genuine introspection. The people I know who still work in the system tell me it’s worse now than it was when I was around. The increasing reliance on closed-circuit security cameras and electronically operated doors has further eroded the human contact that is essential to humane treatment and ultimately the chances of rehabilitation.”

And finally, turnoverarocktoday has a message for Correctional Service of Canada, and each, every, and all its employees…..from Commissioner Don Head down the line to the newest entry-level recruit.

Ladies and gentlemen, your one overriding and singular priority is to put yourself out of a job! Yes, this is a fantasy beyond the realm of possibility, an unattainable state of perfection in this world, and within the social order we know. Nonetheless, perfection is that goal on the horizon to which you set your course, as it is for us all. Otherwise, you’re just surrendering to the status quo…..and how’s that working for you?

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Soleiman Faqiri – another comeback

On December 4, the day after we posted “A comeback – No-Fault Murder?”, a letter arrived over MCSCS Minister Marie-France Lalonde’s signature responding to ours of November 6, published here on November 12 in “No-Fault Murder?”

“…..regarding the death of Mr. Soleiman Faqiri,,,, ,” she began, “….as you know, the police investigation has concluded. Questions about this decision and the police investigation should be directed to the Kawartha Lakes Police Service. Although the police investigation has concluded, the ministry’s internal investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Faqiri’s death remains active. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific details of the internal investigation, including staff discipline, while it is underway.

On November 3, 2017, Dr. Paul Dungey, Regional Supervising Coroner for East Region, Kingston Office, announced that an inquest will be held in the death of Mr. Faqiri. The inquest will examine the events surrounding his death. In addition, the jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths. Details regarding the date and location will be provided at a later date when the information becomes available.”

Minister Lalonde ended by asking for our patience “while the ministry’s investigation and the inquest into the death of Mr. Faqiri continue.”

Do you know how often a provincial or federal minister overseeing a part of Canada’s prison industry has said much the same as Ms Lalonde? Do you know how many millions of dollars have been spent to come up with “recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths?” Do you know how little has ever been done to implement inquest recommendations?

That’s worth repeating to the minister:

February 2, 2018

The Honourable Marie-France Lalonde,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,

Re: Soleiman Faqiri

Dear Minister Lalonde:

Your December 4, 2017 letter in response to mine of November 6th is appreciated, and I accept that its composition was the only pathway you had. However, you underpin the status quo.

You suggested I question the Kawartha Lakes Police Service about its investigation into Mr. Faqiri’s death. A police spokesperson contacted me after receiving a copy of my letter, referring me to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director to pursue a complaint. That is a waste of good paper.

As for an inquest, do you know how often provincial and federal ministers overseeing Canada’s prison industry have claimed these will make a difference? Do you know how many millions have been spent to come up with “recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths?” Do you know how little is done to implement inquest recommendations?

Minister, when did you last execute an unannounced and unheralded inspection of a penal institution, be it at 2pm on a Monday, 8pm on a Friday, or 3am on a Sunday? When did any of your senior staff, or any minister in your position or senior staff in this country do likewise? We need that, and we need progressive unambiguous legislation, coupled with at-arms-length authorities to prioritize compliance.

Without that, we are simply peeing into the wind.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

We copied Kathleen Wynne, Nasir Naqvi, and Renue Mandhane.

Meanwhile, Fatima Syed, a Toronto Star staff reporter, published “Family of man who died in jail looking for answers a year later”, on December 15 of last year. “Why is the government so afraid to tell us the truth?” asks Soleiman’s father, Ghulam.

The family is pro-actively insisting on accountability and transparency, asking the same questions over the last year. “Why was Soleiman killed while in government care? Why was he found with 50 injuries on his body? Why haven’t any of the guards been held accountable for the three-hour confrontation that was caught on a video they still haven’t seen?”

The government denied the family and their lawyers’ request for information about Soleiman’s final moments before he died. A month before, the Kawartha Lakes Police Service advised them by email that no criminal charges would be laid. “It is very difficult to not feel like the family is being stonewalled,” said one of their legal team.

The “Justice for Soli” campaign, a group of Ontario university students, along with the family, held a vigil on that day at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto to mark the anniversary of Soleiman’s death. 50 people laid 50 white roses on his photo for the 50 bruises on his body. Earlier in the day, the family gathered at Soleiman’s grave in Ajax in remembrance. He would have turned 31 at the end of December.

And then, along came another Star Fatima Syed entry on Wednesday, February 7th, with a front-page headline, “Jail guard tag team involved in subduing mentally ill inmate,” and a deck, “Reports obtained by the Star detail what happened in the hours leading to Soleiman Faqiri’s death after a fight with correctional officers in 2016.”

The long and detailed account is based on documents the paper received through a freedom of information request, and is material from the police investigation of Soleiman’s death, and the files of the ministry, jail, and members of its staff.

Lawyers for the Faqiri family call what they’ve read ‘very troubling,’ but what is most telling for seasoned observers of the country’s penal systems is this extract from Ms Syed article: “Interviews (by the Kawartha Lakes police) of other inmates didn’t provide much information, said the report, as jail guards had closed the hatches to the doors of each inmate’s cell, thus preventing them from looking out into the common hallway or getting involved.”

We’ve passed a comment on to the Star’s reporter.

The Ontario government’s priority is to get past this, pursue a quiet and expedient resolution, and move on……’til next time.

The dark side…a glimpse

Now that Brennan Guigue is no longer under the Ontario provincial jail system’s control, we can open a Pandora’s box on life ‘down inside’ the Toronto South Detention Centre.

TSDC is one of two newer provincial institutions (the other is in Windsor) allowing only video link visits. It’s expected to be a template for the future. An approved visitor arrives at a pre-booked time, is screened, and then waits at an assigned video booth, one of about 70. The screen comes on at the appointed time, and hopefully the inmate is sitting at the video booth on his range, because a timer is counting down the 20 allotted minutes. Communication is by hand-held telephone receiver, and both parties have a colour head and shoulder view of one another.

This is a novelty at first, and technical problems are common, but reception staff does its best to accommodate visitor and inmate. In the end, there is no comparison between a Skype-type visit and an in-person face to face conversation through plexi-glass and metal bars, as is the case at other Ontario jails. Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services has in fact abandoned the concept of the beneficial ties to the community for inmates, even if it continues to pay lip service to the premise.

Brennan Guigue was held at Toronto South from late November of 2015 to the third week of January of 2017, when he was transferred to Toronto East Detention Centre. That is a story for another time. There is a world of difference though between the TSDC operation and Toronto East, a point we’ll repeat more than once. For now though, this documents a visit to Toronto South on Saturday, September 3rd in 2016, and the follow-up over the ensuing months…..and, we’ll switch to the first person.

The appointment was for 10am that day, Brennan appeared on screen promptly and my notes say he’d spent the first part of the morning reading, was awakened from a nap for the visit, and was a little groggy. I asked early on if he needed money in his canteen account. He didn’t know and excused himself to check his balance at the control post.

Each range has a ‘bubble’ where the guards oversee their charges; a computer terminal there has the information Brennan needed. He went to the window and asked his question. One of the four guards in the post, one with red hair and a prosthetic leg, told him to “get away from the window, you f——g piece of shit.” Brennan objected to the language, he didn’t deserve the response, and he said so.

He was quiet and a little perturbed when he returned to the video booth. I had to prod him into telling me what had happened.

As it turned out, after the visit that same guard came on to the range to put him back in his cell. He was itching to coerce Brennan into some retaliatory action, a not uncommon practice with some guards in our ‘prison industry’, but Brennan wouldn’t take the bait. The next day, a sergeant showed up at his cell, charging him with a misconduct for threatening. Brennan filed a grievance. On one of my later visits, on September 30, Brennan said that same guard was on duty but was very, very quiet. He assumed the guard had been given a copy of his complaint.

Why would a guard do this? Draw your own conclusions. How do they get await with it? One, who’s going to complain, and two, management turns a blind eye.

Not to let this go, I filed a freedom of information request with the ministry’s North Bay address, an office dedicated to this purpose. I asked for the names and i.d. tag numbers of the guards on duty on that range when the September 3rd incident occurred.

After a time, North Bay came back with two names:

William Thompson, #11557
Ronald Shapiro, #009922

But, there were four guards in the control post. Perhaps there should have been only two, but there were four at that time, on that date. I filed an appeal with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner. North Bay went back to Toronto South for a clarification and eventually reported back to the IPC that the TSDC Deputy Superintendent in charge of security had reviewed the tape of the control post and saw only two guards.

Brennan contends that is a lie.

I then asked North Bay for a copy of that tape. My request could not be granted because the jail retains their tapes for only 30 days.

I went on to ask for the identity of the guard with red hair and a prosthetic. I was denied that information as too sensitive and personal, and that “disclosure would reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an unlawful act or hamper the control of crime.”

We can assume that William Thompson and Ronald Shapiro were assigned for duty on that range on September 3rd, and that one of them is red-headed, and has a prosthetic leg.

Let’s leave that behind. We’ll move on to something else soon.

Played for pawns……

…..but sit back and enjoy the game. You’re paying for it.

There’s an internecine conflict going on in the Toronto Police Service, and it’s likely playing out in other law enforcement agencies in North America.

Toronto is spending just over a billion dollars a year for policing, and there are parties working to trend this upwards.

That’s a lot of money for a city with a prolonged revenue problem, and both Ontario and its municipalities are initiating programs to revision the financing and operation of police services.

The province’s Safer Ontario Act replaces the Police Services Act, and while police oversight is its primary focus, and not operations, officers and the police associations that speak for them are touchy about any attempts to impose outside influences on the force.

So now, along comes the Toronto police “transformational taskforce” plan, a modernization process, on top of the new legislation. It’s expected to save $100 million over three years, a part of that directed to a hiring freeze. Those are not words officers want to hear. But, why should a skilled, uniformed and highly paid civil servant guard a broken water main, for example, when civilian workers can free up police resources for duties better suited to their training?

Yes, there have been challenges with staffing levels, and the difficulties and stresses that change brings. This is, however, a work in progress, and police management is pressured to stay the course on the one hand, while dealing with internal discontent from front-line officers on the other.

This is a battle some police employees have taken to the media, warning of low morale and threats to public safety. The chief though denies the city is not getting the service it needs, while acknowledging the turmoil of reorganization. This is a contest with an implied competition for community support.

turnoverarocktoday is not considered police-friendly, although it’s police culture that’s more often the target. Law enforcement bodies are a regrettable social necessity, but if we need them, at least let’s ensure they are under the people’s thumb at all times.