Underground economy……

…..big business in the big house.

The notice reprinted in part here appeared last week on Correctional Service of Canada’s web site:-

On December 29, 2018, at about 12:15 p.m., as a result of the vigilance of staff members, a package containing contraband was seized in the medium security unit at Collins Bay Institution.

The contraband and unauthorized items seized included 2520 grams of tobacco, 244 grams of marijuana, 55.6 grams of crack-cocaine, mini cell phone and charger as well as drug and tobacco paraphernalia. The total estimated institutional value of this seizure is $85,000.

The medium security unit of Collins Bay Institution was placed on lockdown to allow staff to conduct a general search. The search was ordered to ensure the safety and security of the institution, its staff and inmates.

Visits to the medium security unit have been suspended until the search is completed.

The police have been notified and the institution is investigating.

Similar notices show up regularly.


For as long as men and women have been confined against their will, there have been other men and women moved by profit or loyalty to cater their needs. This commerce was tolerated for centuries in most cultures, and even encouraged as a benefit to keepers and their masters.

Today, in Europe, North America, and a few countries elsewhere, ‘contraband’ is condemned, judged contrary to good order, the law, and equitable opportunity for all in prison. But over the years, as practice and technology developed to stem illicit trade, and improvements and advancements countered the ingenuity of smugglers, one constant has remained. Getting goods past the barriers outweigh the risks.

The Collins Bay seizure in December was a major ‘bust’ but suggests too that traffickers must be successful some of the time if they’re willing to give up what was lost last month. That over five pounds of tobacco topped the list of what was confiscated points down a path where Correctional Service of Canada is at least partially responsible for the demand that drives the contest to supply an ‘underground economy’.

The community consents to limitations and restrictions on access to drugs and weapons, and damns criminal behaviour. Inmates in our prisons are understandably subject to the same prohibitions, and CSC’s interdictions should be expected. But, there are several examples that exacerbate prison living conditions where the agency could divert some attention away from contraband.

Two have previously been posted. “Please sir, I want some more.” on December 2, and “Now, how ‘bout money!” from December 15 infer that a satisfactory diet with sufficient food and a proper pay scale permitting offenders to meet their obligations won’t eliminate the black market but it’ll relieve some stress. So would a flood of relevant programming, additional yard and gym periods, and increased extra-cell time, as a start.

The tobacco ban now in place for ten years never made sense. A package of cigarettes selling for $10 in a corner store is worth $500 in prison, and that demand calls for an examination of the present policy. Taking tobacco away from a smoker does not make a non-smoker; it leaves a smoker without tobacco. We may accept a bar on smoking in enclosed spaces as a reasonable restriction, but there are open-area alternatives, and a range of cessation supports to boot. Without the same options in our prisons, the ban is counter-productive.

Perhaps Correctional Service of Canada simply enjoys the extra work. The underground economy will never go away, but it doesn’t have to be the battle it is.


“Offenders are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.”
Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada
2017-2018 Annual Report, page 4.


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