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.

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