Who’s afraid of the big, bad prison guards?

WELL, IT APPEARS EVERY SERVANT OF THE CROWN in Canada from the executive through to the legislative branches of federal and provincial governments, and the judiciary to some extent, are paralyzed by the sight of the uniform worn by “correctional officers.”  Thus it has been for decades.

Let’s cite a relevant posting by CBC News on October 28 of this year:-

“CBC News cross-referenced a decade of Toronto police disciplinary decisions with all of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigations in which the police watchdog laid charges against Toronto police officers, and against available data on public complaints.

The review revealed that only 12 per cent of investigations where the SIU laid charges against Toronto cops have led to a disciplinary hearing decision against the officer involved in the last 10 years.

For public complaints, the numbers are even lower.  Just one per cent of complaints made to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) about Toronto police officers in the last five years has led to a disciplinary hearing.”

The CBC release did not analyze how police were disciplined at these hearings, if at all.

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No, this isn’t a misplaced “Policing” posting.  That will come, but for the moment, let’s also look at an excerpt from The Senate of Canada, Human Rights Committee, Interim Report, February 2019 we’ve printed before:-

“The security features inherent to 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 gist of where this is going?  Despite some indicators to the contrary, police practices are more open to public audit than the environments in which prison/jail guards work.  If the results of complaints against Toronto police are as CBC research concluded, then where would one suppose grievances against guards end up?

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Correctional Service of Canada and its provincial equivalents are bureaucracies, systems characterized by a division of labour, a clearly defined hierarchy, detailed rules and regulations, and impersonal relationships.  Not exactly an arrangement conducive to the rehabilitation of offenders.

Guards have been featured frequently here (e.g. the numerous Soleiman Faqiri entries, “Prison light switch #3” August 4, 2019, “Toronto South…..again” April 28, 2019, “Bob’s ‘Blue Wall’” November 18, 2018) and as with all else with Correctional Service of Canada and the provincial counterparts, guards will continue to attract our attention.

First, let’s define who a guard is, and how the role of a correctional officer (CO) figures into penal system operations.  The CSC site’s details could apply for all custodial agencies:-

  • guards supervise and interact with offenders
  • regularly watch for signs that the safety of others or security of the institution might be at risk
  • take appropriate security measures when necessary

Brief and broadly subjective, the functions are further defined and limited by a plethora of laws, policies, and directives.  This surfeit of regulations burdens all civil servants, and some empathy is deserved.  Regardless, right and wrong doesn’t need a handbook.

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As bleak and tense as the relationship between inmates and guards is much of the time, there are occasional exceptions to the norms.  One example:-

A few inmates are out of their cells on an evening in a maximum security institution.  They’re told to lock up by guards earlier than expected.  They comply.  But, one inmate’s clothes are still in the washer.  He calls to a nearby guard, asking politely if his clothes could be moved from the washer to the dryer.  The guard puts the inmate’s laundry in the dryer.
On his way off the range, that guard stops at the cell of a seasoned long-time inmate who has motioned him over to quietly thank him for helping an inmate in need.  That older inmate knows this young and inexperienced new guard has done a good deed but will pay for it when other guards razz and dig at him for what he did.

The who’s, where’s, and when’s can’t always be put in print.  There are risks.

…..next installment….more guards.

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