Prison security. How much? Too much?

“Security is a top priority for CSC. It involves a constant focus on the safety of the public.  It also means making sure that staff and inmates have a safe and secure place to work and live.”  Correctional Service of Canada web site.

Every Correctional Service of Canada employee is part of the agency’s security substructure. Security means insurance, it means preservation, it’s surveillance, a guarantee, and a shield.  As CSC claims, keeping inmates, staff, and visitors safe is key.  Impenetrable institutional perimeters are a fundamental necessity.  Institutions also have staff dedicated to overseeing security, following prescribed policies which we assume match practice.  And, by design or practice, security has an overriding authority in institutional operations.  But, there are at least two problematic issues that can be counterproductive and in conflict with CSC’s Mission Statement.

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Contraband includes everything that is unauthorized by CSC policy or is illegal.  Considerable resources are available to prevent what is prohibited from getting into prisons, but the process is constantly challenged by opportunistic smuggling innovations.  Drone drops onto prison properties are a novel example. 

Anything that is illegal plus material that promotes or encourages criminality, or advocates gang activities, or endorses hate, and all drugs of course are confiscated.  Same for cell phones, and a range of items that could facilitate the introduction of what is restricted.  This we should expect.  But barred also are newspaper clippings, photocopies, internet sourced information, books, non-subscription magazines, “any material with a purchase value,” tobacco and marijuana, plus there’s an accommodation for institutional management to include anything it may judge as concerning.

The tobacco ban is unwarranted and unreasonable.  Most inmates are smokers, and taking tobacco away from a smoker does not make for a non-smoker.  It makes for a smoker without tobacco.  Granted, a solution that allows smoking on prison property while accommodating the concerns of non-smokers is illusive, but the policy as it is helps drive a parasitic underground economy in need of innovative solutions. This along with other prohibitions that are seen as arbitrary and punitive portray keepers as oppressors and does a disservice to rehabilitation objectives.

Drugs are clearly a serious problem.  There’s a higher percentage of incarcerated men and women with substance abuse and addition issues than in the community.  Some inmates may become initiates into the prison drug culture simply out of boredom and escapism.  Drug prices are exorbitant, profits attract outside criminal interests, violence is endemic, and drug rehabilitative remedies and programming is underfunded.  Security in prisons, just like police in the community, know the perils of the drug trade, and is in a position to consult with corporate management on best practices to reduce demand and make recommendations for progressive harm reduction strategies.  However, security is unlikely to see that as part of the job description.

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Inmate movement includes the numerous reasons prisoners have to leave their ranges.  There are jobs and visits and programs (presently suspended due to COVID), recreational and exercise periods, medical appointments, meal calls, and meetings with staff.  The sway of security personnel in institutions permits the cancellation or temporary suspension of any or all movement.  Imagine the inmate who has a toothache, has suffered for weeks waiting for the dentist (more the rule than the exception) and has his appointment cancelled for a security priority somewhere in the institution, and may have to wait for days or weeks to be rescheduled.  Security seems to operate under the presumption that there are no inmate priorities.  Not conducive to encouraging rehabilitative “correctional plan” goals, is it.

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Security in a prison environment is of paramount importance, yes, but it can also whip up a disrespect for the society to which we expect offenders to return as law-abiding and contributing citizens.

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Postscript:  From May 9, CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly’s reminder about the revision to the Media Relations Directive was mailed to her office on May 6: –

Anne Kelly, Commissioner,
Correctional Service of Canada,
Ottawa, Ontario

Re:       Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Commissioner Kelly:

Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger makes several recommendations in his Annual Reports each year to which Correctional Service of Canada responds.

On page 18 of his 2019-2020 Annual Report, Dr. Zinger cites an investigation into Commissioner’s Directive 022-Media Relations.  This might have led to another recommendation save that, “the Service agreed to review CD-022 and address the concerns noted above.”

Further, “the Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”

It has been at least a year since you undertook this review.  While there is much demanding your attention, this project is relatively minor on the one hand, but the changes will also eliminate any suspicion that the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media on the other.

I look forward to reading the new directive in the near future.

Should guards know what is in inmate health records?  That and more next time……

“Inmates have no rights!”

Again, the Senate of Canada’s appraisal of our federal prison industry:-

“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.”

While the focus remains almost entirely on Correctional Service of Canada, provincial institutions present the same challenges.  From sea to sea to sea, there isn’t much to choose from among the provincial and territorial jails.  Correctional Service of Canada, as head honcho of the collegiate collection of carceral coolers, has a national profile, and is the repository of men and women incarcerated for longer sentences, giving us a model vantage point to scrutinize how we treat the people who violate our laws.

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“Inmates have no rights!”  So says a seasoned, long serving federally-sentenced man who is one of many low-profile prison activists throughout the industry.  No matter what the law decrees, or what decisions come down from the Courts, no matter the policies Correctional Service of Canada lays out for its employees, or the pronouncements of its management and spin doctors on the efficacy of its operations, in the trenches inmates know that none of it carries any weight against the immunity every CSC staffer claims for whatever actions or behaviours arise from the performance of their duties.

Correctional Service of Canada makes every effort to throw a blanket over day-to-day life within its institutions.  This is the entry point for reformation.  Accountability and transparency have no meaning when self-administered by bodies that do not, for one, even know what its guards are doing.  The deaths of Soleiman Faqiri in an Ontario jail and Matthew Hines in a Nova Scotia federal prison example the extremes of the lack of responsibility to which the perpetrators of crimes in custody are held when wearing a uniform, and the absence of transparency in the overseers of penal institutions.  Notice too, in an industry where protecting one’s butt is an occupational priority, how CSC and the provincial agencies protest what critics have to say.

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One first step to letting in the light on the CSC prison environment as inmates and guards and other staff members interact every day is to rewrite Commissioner’s Directive 022 which governs media relations.  According to the CSC website, its purpose is “to provide guidance on media relations activities, including media interviews, to staff and to offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.”

What?  Why are “offenders” included in a media relations directive as they are?

It’s good policy and wise business practice to dictate the relationship between Correctional Service of Canada, its management and its employees with the media.  Of necessity, CSC must speak with one voice, just as every corporation, business, and government bureau does, no matter how twisted the message.  But, there is no legal basis for CSC “to muzzle, deny or justify restricting citizen access to the media, including those deprived of liberty,” as Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger wrote in his 2019-2020 Annual Report.

Further from that same report, “….we found that some of the policy criteria set out in Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations to be unreasonable, irrelevant or not founded in law.  In unreasonably denying or delaying an inmate’s access to the media, the Service may be in violation of recognized democratic principles and constitutionally guaranteed rights.  An incarcerated person does not forfeit the right to freedom of expression and the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”  The report does accept that there are reasonable security and operational restrictions that need to be considered when connecting inmates and the media, but they must be “grounded in law rather than how CSC thinks an inmate might behave or say to the media.”

Correctional Investigator Zinger wrote that the Service agreed to review CD-022, given the issues he raised.  “The Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates’ right to freedom of expression. in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”  There’s potentially negative subjectivity there but the end result will tell.

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It’s been about a year since the Commissioner agreed to this undertaking, and while it can be argued that a revision of the media policy is the relatively simple matter of an executive decision, this is ‘government.’  No doubt Commissioner Kelly asked that a committee be struck to study changes, given six months to submit recommendations, followed by an analysis of the ramifications of a rewrite, and ending with the release of an amended C-022 in due course.

CSC National Headquarters may need some prodding and a reminder.  That is in order.  A year should be a sufficient allowance for this work. 

As we wait, an examination of some Security functions needs a look.  Next.