Defunding prisons……

……IS ABOUT TAKING AWAY THE NEED FOR PRISON FUNDING, NOT TAKING AWAY MONEY THE PRISON INDUSTRY BUDGETS TO KEEP ITSELF AFLOAT.

As it is now for example, Correctional Service of Canada which operates our federal prisons can’t meet its mandate for “actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens,” without more resources.  Efficacious audits underscore the failures of the system to meet the objectives of its Mission Statement.  Or, as has been argued here and elsewhere, is the health of the industry a greater priority for CSC than the success of its commission? 

Isn’t the primary assignment of everyone employed by Canada’s “correctional services” to put themselves out of a job?  Now, that’s an unrealistic ideal but it can’t be dismissed as a target.    No matter, the response from prison ranges is, “They don’t care!”  Meanwhile, Canada’s federal and provincial prison industry does not like media attention focused on inmates and what they have to say.  That detracts from their messaging.  We reviewed that issue here on November 4, in 2018 with “The Firewall…..”

A recent John Howard Society report based on prisoner accounts of life behind the walls had many common themes, many mirroring earlier narratives.  Quoting from John Howard….

  • Poor conditions that got worse in recent years, such as poor food, expensive phone calls, poor ‘pay’ for prisoners (about $3 per day after compulsory deductions).
  • Lack of opportunity to do positive things, such as improve one’s education or learn real job skills.  It’s hard to use one’s time productively in prison, which works against rehabilitation.
  • Lack of access to effective programs to address the problems such as addictions that brought people into prison.  Many prisoners feel that they are released in worse shape than when they were first imprisoned.
  • Poor health care; lack of access to doctors and medication; absence of dental care.
  • Many staff who have no interest in being positive or helpful.
  • Challenges in visiting and communication, making it hard to maintain contact with family and friends.

According to the Society there are other issues that surface like a lack of privacy, endless petty requirements, and threats of abusive treatment if staff don’t approve of behaviour.

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Food is not simply a life necessity but more importantly is life affirming.  Note the 19th century axiom that an army marches on its stomach.  Likewise, if our penal systems were correctional, then a proper provisioning for inmates is basic to the process.  It comes first.  Yet, the Canadian Senate’s 2018 interim report on its study of human rights in federal prisons notes one inmate issue is that the “quality and quantity of food is severely substandard.”  Even a 2019 federal audit of institutions found major problems with prison food services and raised concerns about quality, safety, a warning of food waste, unsatisfactory meal portions, and a “food-related health event” behind the walls. 

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, used this audit and his office’s own findings to flesh out a case study of Correctional Service of Canada’s prison food in his 2018-2019 Annual Report.  From his report, “CSC’s food services program nominally operates on a national average per diem ration rate of $6.12 per inmate per day………” 
That provides for a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50!  Inmates argue that unless they have funds to supplement the diet with canteen food, they would ‘starve.’

More from Dr. Zinger’s report:  “Because food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being, and has other impacts on the order and security of the institution, I am publicly reporting on concerns shared with the Commissioner (Anne Kelly) regarding the findings and, in my view, omissions of this particular audit………I am particularly concerned by some very disturbing developments and adaptations that have accompanied the implementation of CSC’s food services modernization project:

  1. The significant, predictable (and undocumented) amount of ‘cook-chill’ meals that are spoiled, wasted or considered inedible on the regular menu cycle.
  2. An inadequately low (and unreliable) per diem food metric that may unnecessarily put inmate health and safety at risk in an institutional setting.
  3. The rise of food as a commodity in the parallel (or underground) inmate economy.
  4. Inmate canteens that supplement or substitute for meals or portion sizes that are unappetizing, inadequate, poor of inconsistent quality.
  5. Loss of local autonomy to address deficiencies in meal quality and quantity (e.g., running out of certain food items or meals on the service line), which increases the risk of inmate frustration, tension, protest and/or violence.”

Dr. Zinger went on to make two food recommendations to CSC, both graciously received with florid comment but ultimately bound for a file drawer.

In a comment to us, one inmate sourly noted that at Millhaven Institution, considered the worst prison in Canada, a salad with the evening meal consisted of a handful of lettuce with a packet of salad dressing.  But, when he was transferred to Collins Bay Institution a few miles away for a multi-day program, salad included radish, onion, celery, etc. along with lettuce.  But, both prisons are on the same national menu, stressing inconsistencies with the food program.

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Yes, “food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being”, and just so, it is the same for everyone and anyone on Earth.  There’s no intention here to ignore world hunger by spotlighting Canadian prisoners, or federal prisoners in particular.  

There may be less hunger in the world now than a few decades ago, but we still have no excuse for allowing people anywhere to be food poor.  We produce more than we can consume but getting it to where it’s needed is a challenge, and not just that, but putting it into the hands of the people in want and getting it past the impediments that are often thrown up by unscrupulous intermediaries and corrupt governments is a cause looking for help.  A cause looking for your lhelp.

Even here in Canada, the National Zero Waste Council says we waste almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food each year, costing us more than $17 billion.  58 percent of all food produced in Canada – 35.5 million tonnes – is lost or wasted according to new information, and about a third of that could be rescued for communities in need.  So, why are children going to bed hungry within a few blocks of where you live?  Can you spare some time?

More to come next time……..

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