Prisons – IS MEDIA RELATIONS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

This isn’t one of those ethereal questions like how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, one query posed centuries ago by philosophers musing in the abstract.  Correctional Service of Canada has signed on to federal government transparency and proactive disclosure measures that its website says, “strengthen public sector management by enhancing transparency and oversight of public resources in the federal government.”  What does that mean?  No matter, one would assume CSC would welcome media scrutiny.

Oh yes, nowhere though does transparency, oversight, or accountability mention inmate input.  That’s why Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger asked CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to revise Commissioner’s Directive 022 (Media Relations) to bring it in line with the Charter and the law.  As we noted in “Inmates have no rights” on May 9 of this year, Commissioner Kelly agreed to do that without needing a written recommendation in the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report.

This commitment to update media relations at CSC had been before the commissioner for about a year at that time.  A May 6th letter to Commissioner Kelly was added as a postscript to our May 23rd posting, “Prison Security.  How Much?  Too Much?”  In part, it read:-

……“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.

No response came from the commissioner’s office.  None was expected.  But, three and a half months later, with no revision in sight, “Prison – Media Relations revisited” on September 12 printed a follow-up letter to Correctional Investigator Zinger that was sent back on June 22.  Again, in part:-

I did write Commissioner Kelly in early May of this year to ask about this forthcoming change and questioned the delay in releasing the update since CSC NHQ had this in front of them for almost a year…….
..….with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 
……and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

An answer from Dr. Zinger’s office read in part: – The Office has been in contact with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the Media Relations Commissioner’s Directive and as soon as we have more information to share regarding an update, we will provide you with additional information.

It is near the end of the year and there is now a new sheriff in town.  Well okay, there is a new public safety minister.

November 29, 2021

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:       Correctional Service of Canada
            Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Minister Mendicino:

An early priority in your new Ministry should be to grease the works of Correctional Service of Canada.  A part of it is stuck in neutral.

To catch you up, reference page 18 of the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report where Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noted CD-022 Media Relations is not Charter-compliant with respect to inmate/media interactions.  The Commissioner committed to revisions and Dr. Zinger did not issue a Recommendation on the matter, satisfied with the Service’s intent.  As his report stated, “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”

A year on from this undertaking, and in the absence of a CD-022 update, I wrote Commissioner Kelly on May 6 encouraging her to avoid any suspicion that “the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media.”  With no response, I further wrote Correctional Investigator Zinger on June 22 to question the revision’s delay.  According to an August 27 email from his Office, the OCI has been in contact with Correctional Service of Canada on this issue.

It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.

Yours truly

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECTIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

Next, Justice Minister Lametti meets a commitment.

Prisons & vocational training

“CORCAN is a special operating agency within the CSC that provides employment, vocational training and employability skills to all offenders in federal correctional institutions, to support rehabilitation and help lower rates of re-offending.”
Correctional Service of Canada web site

“Few CORCAN run industries provide training or teach skills that are job relevant or meet labour market demands.  The Service has continued to maintain obsolete infrastructure and technological platforms for such an extended period of time that these problems now appear insoluble.  Federal corrections maintains environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

Note that CORCAN opportunities may be available to all offenders, as the CSC suggests, but the circumstances through which an inmate can in reality end up in a CORCAN program mean that only a small minority of prisoners are involved.  Further, the disparity between CSC’s description of CORCAN and how the correctional investigator sees the agency can be attributed to how much the prison industry prioritizes vocational training compared to the greater importance to which the correctional investigator attaches to it.  As Dr. Zinger wrote, “There appears to be little motivation to improve, evidenced by the lack of progress over the last two decades.”

This very brief overview won’t detail the range of barbs and laurels that can be hung on CORCAN, a lengthy task of interest only to those who are already aware of the contrasts and the shortcomings.  Rather, suffice it to record that on the one hand, even some CSC staff concede “that prison industries effectively fill an individual’s time rather than provide a usable skillset.”

But as counterpoint, there are CORCAN shops that do work to prepare participants for release to the community.  One is the welding program at Collins Bay in Kingston which is an accredited school that offers welding training and applies workers’ hours toward an apprenticeship.   Another is the construction program at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford where workers “are registered with the provincial ministry as an apprentice and all hours are logged toward a construction apprenticeship.”

Except for the opening excerpt from the Correctional Service of Canada web site, all other quotations are from the 2019-2020 Annual Report of the correctional investigator.  This is from Dr. Zinger’s conclusion:  “While the Service offers a number of programs, including education and vocational skills training, the current complement of learning opportunities does not and cannot provide effective rehabilitation or reintegration, particularly given the current lack of focus, outmoded technological capacity and limited resource allocation.”

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As an addendum to the November 21st posting, “Prisons & technology,” and referring to Jason Wang and his joinfreeworld.com, the Canadian Truckers Associations has only recently sounded an alarm over the shortage of truck drivers in this country.  It claims there is a current demand for 18,000 drivers in Canada which is expected to grow over the next few years. 

Feedback to the provincial alliance was warranted:-

November 22, 2021

Board of Directors,
Ontario Trucking Association,
Toronto, ON  M9W 1H8

Re:       Shortage of truckers

Trucking Association Board of Directors:

Again, the shortage of truck drivers in Canada is attracting media attention.  The demand for drivers in the United States is equally problematic for shippers.  Our supply chains are constipated and that’s partly on you to resolve.

Check out www.joinfreeworld.com

American prisons, just as with the Canadian prison industry, do a lousy job at returning criminals to the community as contributing, law-abiding citizens.  For one, most are woefully prepared to enter the job market; that is, if they can even find an employer to hire someone with a record.

“Joinfreeworld” is an initiative of Jason Wang, a young ex-con who along with his partners offer a program to train offenders as truck drivers.  They went where the need was.  Today it’s truckers.  Tomorrow it might be welders.  Giving these men and women an opportunity to earn a decent living wage is a strong incentive to stay out of prison.  Mr. Wang claims a 1% recidivism rate.

True, this is an American enterprise, but a Canadian counterpart would also put some qualified warm bodies behind the wheels of your trucks.

A radical suggestion, isn’t it.

Next….a new Minister of Public Safety, another push for the revised Media Relations directive.