INMATES are CLIENTS…….

…….not fodder for the maw of our prisons.

Okay, a qualifier first. Perfection is a goal, not an expectation, and what we call our correctional services can’t bear sole responsibility for reshaping society. It takes a village to raise a child? Villages criminalize children too, indoctrinated more by neglect and abuse than intent. And when those children later end up in our justice and carceral systems, villages consign them to prisons with “fix ‘em”…..or, “keep ‘em ‘til they’re fixed.” Or maybe, just “keep ‘em.” Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way.

There are some bad people in our prisons, people who should never see the inside of a Tim Hortons again, or shop for groceries or buy a case of beer. And, even if the mess inside their heads is unscrambled and they are choking on a glut of remorse, some crimes are so heinous only God can forgive. All the same, these few are protected by the same laws and policies as other prisoners and must have opportunities to build a life inside the walls, to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, to be treated humanely and held safely, and in the end, to die with dignity. Otherwise, we make ourselves less than human.

Prison practice must match policy. Prison practice must follow the law. That this is often not in evidence is as much the responsibility of the villages that send men and women to prison as it is the obligation of the keepers of these men and women. The very few who will live their entire lives in custody are as entitled to fair practice as the great majority who will one day return to the community. In particular, since almost all our prison population will one day be released, the only question of note is, “Who do you want your new neighbours to be?”

Offenders are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment, to parrot Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger. Lee Chapelle of Canadian Prison Consulting begins presentations on the realities of a prison sentence by reminding his audience that people do not comprehend how traumatic the loss of freedom can be. Living in a cell the size of an average bathroom, in an environment charged with risk, and under the thumb of public servants whose priorities are not always rehabilitative is a challenge difficult to master.

So, how do we make a prison industry into a correctional service, and why is community involvement important to good governance?

More next time……

 

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