Prison light switch #4……

……taking it easy on the system – for a change.

The prison environment is punitive by necessity. That’s why Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger says offenders are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment. Even in those European models where dynamic security measures in some institutions means inmates are not locked in their cells, and where programs permit some to spend weekends with their families in the community, a prison is still a prison.

Almost all offenders in Canadian federal institutions will return to the community, and Correctional Service of Canada has a mandate to assist with that often difficult transition by maximizing opportunities for success. Putting health care aside for a later date, there are aspects of prison life today that support an affinity with life in the community, there are elements that can be massaged to do the same, and there are progressive proposals to be considered.

In June of last year, it was announced two prison farms in Ontario would reopen this summer. The program officially relaunched two days ago at Collins Bay and the farms there and at Joyceville are now ramping up operations. The Pen Farm Herd Co-op was among a diverse group of farmers and social justice advocates working to re-establish these training opportunities since the previous federal government closed the last farm in 2010. Great move!

Book Clubs for Inmates is a registered charity that organizes volunteer-led reading groups to improve inmate literacy. Since retired Anglican priest Carol Finlay initiated the program in Collins Bay in 2008, clubs are now operating in 36 institutions across the country.

James Fox, a California-based instructor founded the Prison Yoga Project in 2010 which has spread to 300 U.S. prisons in 28 States. He began a training course in Vancouver in June of this year to prepare teachers for Canadian prisons and is in the process now of dealing with the delays and difficulties navigating through our government bureaucracy.

A prison needle exchange program is rolling out across Canada. There are pluses and minuses. It’s controversial. Guards here demonstrate in opposition to what they see as a threat. Various models in countries which have prison needle exchanges include two where needles are stored in plastic safety cases. One commonality throughout however is that inmates in every country have complaints about how these programs are structured.

Death, dying and MAID in prison is a challenge looking for a speedy resolution. CSC has been developing a protocol around medical assistance in dying but the bottom line in every instance is the same. No terminally ill man or women should die in prison when a preferable alternative is readily available, either for palliative care or an assisted death. The present cumbersome compassionate release process begs for prompt action to expedite quick transfers when time is short.

Stepping onto rocky, difficult terrain, consider appropriate and case-specific programming at all security levels for inmates who spend as much time out of their cells as is possible to schedule. Then, to push the envelope further, reimagine the previously tested safe tattooing program by auditing earlier outcomes to determine the benefits of a revised blueprint. And to put a period on this segment, a revision of the tobacco ban along with ongoing anti-smoking initiates would impact the pervasive prison black market for a saner environment.

One thing that won’t change. Prison is still prison.

……another switch? ……on the way.

Prison light switch #3……

…..now to continue.

SECURITY: ……in the dictionary as protection and safeguards, as well as care, custody and sanctuary, and then further as assurance, certainty and reliance, we live increasingly in a risk-averse environment, a symptom of our changing world.

The conspicuous presence of security measures conditions us to see potential threats as ever-present, a boon to a growing industry. But, the best training programs encompass a range of assessment techniques in applying appropriate responses to whatever situations arise. A street is not shut down because a shoplifter was at work in the corner store.

Prison security touches all areas of institutional operations and exercises a top to bottom priority over every detail of procedure and practice. This degree of authority and autonomy is condoned and expected under the circumstances, and the perception that control is absolute is as important as is the fact of it.

In a democracy, great power comes with great responsibility. We assume without a second thought that the men and women responsible for security in our institutions execute their obligations keeping the base purpose of a correctional system in mind. It’s one thing to take necessary measures to manage pressing concerns but disrupting programs and routines beyond the resolution is counterproductive. Tempering safeguards with an eye to the certainty of long-term expectations is a protocol worth pursuing.

GUARDS: Police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers have a commonality. All who work in these jobs do so by choice, knowing assignments can be volatile, dangerous, and potentially lethal. Depending on postings, there is also considerable down time where staff are still expected to be vigilant, watchful, and ever ready on stand-by, and this despite a lack of stimulation. The differences between prison guards and police/firefighters will be addressed elsewhere and later.

Guards have a list of duties, and through either a dynamic or static security process they also present an opportunity to be a positive part of the correctional program, a resource that seems to be overlooked. The uniform guards wear identifies them as officers with Correctional Service of Canada, an agency of the federal government, whose purpose is to serve the people. Because prison inmates have more contacts with guards than other CSC employees, they are front-line representatives of the society to which almost all inmates will one day return.

Understandably, guards do not bring their mobile technology into the workplace. They are a potential risk, and a distraction too which is why televisions are also prohibited in the towers and bubbles. Despite that long duty list, there are periods where overseeing their charges can tax alertness and is it here that part of the job description, “supervise and interact with offenders,” takes on a greater significance. It is here that guards can play a positive role in helping inmates complete their correctional plans.

Something to be considered.

…….still more soon.