Beware the Voice in the Wilderness……

……WE’RE SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT BEHIND THE WALLS.

Always worth repeating:

“The security features inherent in federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out. As a result, the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny. Invisible to the general population, federally-sentenced persons are often forgotten.”
The Senate of Canada, Human Rights Committee, Interim Report, February 2019

In this second installment of Brennan Guigue’s testimony from Millhaven Institution, he lays some groundwork for this debate assessing the efficacy of prison practices: –

“To continue, this is about food quality, inmate pay scales, inflation as it relates to the rise in canteen prices and inmate buying power, and how all of these things can tie into the mental and moral state of inmates in general. How things which can affect all of us as human beings don’t just stop because some of us are locked up. Fundamentally on a certain level we are all affected by the same things, and to deny this is simply pure-purposeful ignorance.

In 2016-2017 the Correctional Investigator produced his annual report. Now, we all know that the position carries no real weight to effect change within the system, but this report is the only thing out there which actually corroborates the hypocrisy my father speaks about in many of his writings on the subject. Just to note. Very little if anything has changed within the Correctional Service of Canada to date. In fact, conditions affecting the mental wellness of inmates continues to deteriorate.

As anyone who bothered to read the report knows, some of the key issues targeted for improvement were healthcare services, food and diet, inmate pay/employment (the gap between pay and inflation). In fact, we like to call the Healthcare Department the health ‘don’t care’ department.

Here’s the thing; the report stated that ‘although inmates have not had a pay scale increase in 30 years, CSC’s own numbers indicate costs have risen about 700% in the same period.’ If you don’t believe that, just ask the guard’s union. It’s one of their major pay arguments presented during contract negotiations.

The Harper government decided that if would be a good idea politically to target crime and criminals, that to be ‘tough on crime’ would certainly win many votes. In doing so, this country’s prisons became more concerned with crime and punishment, and less worried about reform and rehabilitation. There is now a system in place where not only have we not had a pay raise, but takes 30% of what little we earn for ‘room and board’. It breaks down to 22% for food and accommodation, and 8% for the inmate telephone service maintenance.

Sure, from a taxpayer’s point of view, that sounds like a great idea; why not have those damn criminals pay for their own incarceration. That is not where the problems arise. Add that 30% to 10% saving account, and 1-2% inmate welfare fund. Savings and IWF come off before anything else, then the other 30% comes off the rest, for a total almost 50% of an inmate’s full pay. An inmate’s full pay on average is about $5.85 daily at Level C. An inmate can increase his pay level every 16 weeks with good behaviour, good attendance, good performance, and so on. One needs ‘excellent’ ratings for these categories in order to get an upgrade to Level B or Level A, but he cannot receive more than $62.90 for 10 days work, and that’s only provided he actually gets a full 10 days in.

He may miss days for any number of reasons which may be caused by an institutional lock-down. Regardless of whether of not he is at fault, an inmate’s pay will still be cut in half for that day. Except for a couple of specific institutional jobs, a pay increase is almost impossible to achieve as it is very unlikely an inmate will every gain such a high ‘excellent’ rating on all seven or eight categories reviewed. It’s nothing personal; it is just a matter of principal to always have ‘the offender’ reaching for that carrot, so to speak.

In the past a Level C paying job used to earn an inmate about $47-$49 a week – gross. Now that same job earns the inmate, on average, about $28-$30 a week, provided he gets in all his 10 days. Factor into that institutional lockdowns, staff shortages, inmate escorts, etc. and the result in inmate earnings will be cut considerably.

This may seem tedious and boring, and I apologize for that; however, I ask that you bear with me as you will need this background information to understand my point. All of the things I speak of, and will speak of, have a cumulative effect on the attitudes, emotions and overall outlook of inmates living in, and getting out of these institutions.”

……continued.

Bill Blair in charge……

……OR IS HE?

The Honourable William Sterling “Bill” Blair spent almost forty years with Toronto’s police service, the last ten as Chief. After retiring, he was elected to Parliament in 2015, appointed as a parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, and then the head of a task force to develop a plan for the legalization of cannabis. Last year, he was named Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, and in November of this year, Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness. He’s now in charge of our federal prisons.

Bill Blair will need help, and a December 5th letter offered some advice.

Dear Minister Blair:

A few years ago, as Toronto’s Chief of Police, you made one of many visits to the CBC Radio Metro Morning studio. I was on my first cup of tea that particular morning, going through a newspaper, and with half an ear tuned to your conversation with program host Matt Galloway.

The subject was police response to city crime, its causes and potential fixes. At one point you said, and I think I’ve nailed this with reasonable accuracy, “We need to do more with these people when we have them in custody to help them turn their lives around.” That made me sit up and take notice…not something I expected to hear from law enforcement.

Lee Chapelle of Canadian Prison Consulting estimates that 80% of prison inmates in our federal system are salvageable. I’ve been an activist around prison issues since the 1960s, but it’s been a principal interest for the last 30 years. I know that hundreds of federal inmates, maybe more, want help. They want programming help, they want help with their emotional well-being and mental health, they want help reintegrating.

They’re not getting it.

You oversee the ‘big house’ now. You can “help them turn their lives around.” Don’t let Correctional Service of Canada snow you with reams of budget statistics, policy directives and institutional reports. It’s just paper. Don’t let anyone at CSC tell you all’s well. It’s not.

Yours truly…..

Yes, Minister, you have work to do…..