Toronto South Detention Centre……

……to be fair, we got an answer.

“About 200 Toronto South Detention Centre guards refused non-essential work at the jail on Monday, March 4, after an alleged assault by inmates injured eight staff members on the previous weekend.”

So began the April 21st posting reprinting our letter to the provincial minister, critical of the bias with the department’s reporting of operational issues at this Toronto jail. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, government, guards and their union cite inmate hostility as a central cause of the problems at the institution….along with ongoing complaints by guards of staffing shortages.

As the media reported later, that weekend attack on guards was precipitated by an earlier assault by guards on an inmate. Unjustified use of force by either side isn’t sanctioned in principle, but it’s notable that officially, guards don’t attack inmates.

The March 15 letter to Minister Sylvia Jones pointed out that “no inmate who is not deranged awakes of a morning and decides to assault a guard….. Are you aware of the consequences?” A second letter followed on May 6 asking for a comment when there was no response. “I Hate Inmates!” posted on May 19 implied an answer was doubtful.

Unexpectedly, a lengthy June 19 letter over the minister’s signature addressed the issues raised, and with an unusually candid and liberal bent for a Conservative cabinet minister. “We are creating better housing options, redefining segregation…..better mental health screening and assessment tools.” “We have implemented measure to provide better oversight and support…..” “At Toronto South Detention Centre, steps are being taken to improve staff and inmate safety…..” At TSDC, “a new initiative…..will address key challenges…for improvement through a formal culture audit.” “Overcrowding is a key issue….hiring remains a top priority….to meet existing shortages, reduce lockdowns, ease workloads…..”

There was more in the same vein, not anticipated from a minister of a political party more attuned to a let-them-rot-in-hell scenario for imprisoned offenders. But, Minister Jones’ letter ended with, “Your feedback is important and will help our government inform its policies.”

“Policies.” Therein lies the hidden juggernaut waiting in the shadows. No minister of any party, no head office bureaucracy, no amount of input from outside the system has ever been able to successfully address the difference between policy, and practice in the trenches.

MORE LIGHT SWITCHES IN OUR FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRY WILL CONTINUE NEXT WEEK………

A light switch #2……

…..okay, what’s next!

Management: Oversight is a challenge. Long distant oversight can be a quagmire.

Imagine sitting at the head of a nation-wide service corporation with exclusive contractual responsibility to improve community safety and security by providing relevant programming and treatment for adults vulnerable to influences counterproductive to good governance. For effective delivery of the process, this corporation is granted considerable authority to restrict its clients’ freedoms and choices during the remedial period.

A national headquarters supported by regional offices feeds operational protocols and directives to about three dozen facilities spread across the country. A level of institutional autonomy allows a degree of flexibility in responding to local variances. All the same, layers of oversight are intended to homogenize the corporation’s core policies and practices for viable, uniform and positive outcomes.

What could go wrong?

How is compliance assessed? What is the measure of efficacy? When are reviews triggered? As the head of this enterprise, experience says even the best-intentioned can slip off the rails, let alone what impact rogue elements with counter-agendas will have. When an institution relies predominantly on self-appraisals and subjective evaluations from within, opportunities for a deviant culture ferment. Hands-on high-level objectivity at regular and unannounced irregular intervals constructively powers the policy design.

One more thing. Success is weighed in client outcomes, and the corporation’s clients are as much a part of critiquing the standard with potentially unique and relevant perspectives as are the opinions of the operators and facilitators. If something isn’t working for inclined clients, if they’re not achieving a maximum benefit, rethinking is warranted.

Visits and visitors: No dispute…..short and sweet. This major resource in meeting a correctional system’s mandate is a no-brainer. Despite the few incidents that jeopardize security concerns, visits are the one opportunity for offenders to come face to face with family, friends and the community. Visits are an opportunity for the ‘village’ to make amends for the role it played in directing an offender’s life choices. ‘Visit’ is a synonym for ‘hope.’ (How ‘bout a visiting reconciliation program?)

Institutional policy should reflect priorities where institutional workers actively encourage inmates, friends, and family to come together, and as often as possible. In practice, staff will reach out to the community to build a circle of care. This won’t always meet mission statement goals, but its purpose is unmistakably positive.

……more on the way.