Prisons & technology

“In Canada, those behind federal prison walls have long been deprived of most technological advancements in learning.  The current state of inmate access to information and technology is backward and obsolete.  Offenders have limited access to outdated stand-alone computers that still use floppy discs.  CSC runs Local-area Networks, which are equipped with software from the early 2000s, have no access to the internet, contain limited reference materials and have almost no technical capacity to support or facilitate eLearning of any kind.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

This is from Dr. Ivan Zinger’s introduction to his national investigation, “Learning Behind Bars”, that is included in that recent annual report.  He doesn’t limit his analysis of educational programming and vocational training in federal prisons to computers alone, but that is one primary example underscoring the difficulties offenders have with re-entry into the community.  These few paragraphs will focus on that basic technology.

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What does an ex-con do with a criminal record?  A person found guilty of an offence faces a penalty which may include incarceration, but once that price is paid, their obligation to society is satisfied.  While there are employer’s who will give people with records a second chance, most don’t hire ex-offenders; it’s doubtful someone looking for a job would find work at a McDonald’s or in corporate entry level positions, regardless of qualifications.

That’s why Jason Wang and joinfreeworld.com from last time (November 7) recruits ex-cons to become truck drivers.  There’s a severe shortage in the United States and Canada, and employers are willing to hire ex-con graduates from the organization’s program if they have the proper papers.  The plan is to introduce training in other trades as shortages arise…..welders, tool-dye makers are possible examples.

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Community initiatives don’t relieve Correctional Service of Canada of its responsibility to return inmates safely to the community.  That process must include adequate training to give these men and women a leg up in the job market considering the stigma of a criminal record.  Even so, CSC prohibited offenders coming into prison from including a personal computer in their property as of October in 2002.  Inmates who already had a computer were allowed to keep them, but at this point there are likely only a very few in the system.

Since the ban came into force, the correctional investigator maintains that “CSC has remained steadfast and impervious to expanding or updating inmate access to technology and information behind bars.”  And “in 2011/12 CSC outright rejected the Office’s (Correctional Investigator) recommendation to lift this ban and significantly expand the use of computers.  These decisions continue to be in effect today.” 

CSC does have a short supply of computers in prison libraries and other designated areas, but with limited access, obsolete and out-date software (i.e. floppy discs), and a network that is equally vintage.  There does not even seem to be a CSC policy for upgrading the hardware or software for technology in the institutions.

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True, there are technology-based programs initiated by CSC.  Desire to Learn (D2L) is a digital learning setting used by inmates in the community where resources are computer accessed.  Bath Institution’s Autodesk 3D Design has certified thirty students (as of last year) in 3D computer aided design, three institutions have a computer literacy training program which includes operating systems, hardware, software and networks, and an Ontario region plan allows offenders to upgrade their computer skills.  These are essential first steps to enhance an individual’s skills and knowledge in a competitive labour market, but they enlist only a small number of men and women, projects that are in indeterminate pilot stages.  These must be implemented in all institutions and accessible to all who want education and vocational training.

Excluding willing participants is simply sabotaging a “correctional service” to favour a “prison industry.”

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