‘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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