Justice & Prisons….in the news #3

We could bankroll a criminal’s education in Harvard for the cost of keeping an inmate in prison.  You heard that before? 

The perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes cannot avoid prison, but we are missing opportunities to divert many offenders away from institutions that do not rehabilitate, are not correctional, and cannot best serve the public interest.  That is, of course, until or unless we elect or appoint courageous leaders to initiate radical reforms.  While we wait, let’s do something better than just tossing people in jails.

“For years, the U.S. justice system has been accused of deep bias and a judicial vindictiveness that has put roughly 2.3 million people behind bars,” so says Nathan Vanderklippe in a contribution to the Globe and Mail in late December.  Yes, the Americans love incarcerating people who break the law, particularly non-whites. 

But in a small corner of California, as it’s described, Yolo County, population 220,500, “a mix of agricultural areas and university campuses, has sought new ways to erase the role of race in the system, undo past injustices and, where possible, keep people out of prison.”  It has initiated an addiction court and a parallel mental health court that works “to heal and rehabilitate rather than merely incarcerate.”

Prosecutor offices use software that redacts racial indicators from police reports.  Judges can put defendants, some facing serious criminal charges, into community programming where judges themselves often moderate.  This project provides encouragement to both those that are doing well and those who are not but want to do better.

Now, that’s a start.

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Some people who plan to solve an imaginary problem to suit their own purposes end up creating a real one in the process.

Stephen Harper did that, and in particular with his so-called tough-on-crime crackdown, even as crime rates continued a slow years-long decline.  The work he and his fellow Conservatives did increased the cost of the criminal justice system by billions and ballooned the prison population by 25 per cent.  The mostly invented non-issue would have attracted like-minded voters, but the dire financial and human costs are still with us today.

One Conservative policy increased the cost of a pardon from $150 to about $650 which effectively denied most ex-offenders from even beginning the unwieldly process of applying.  The waiting period was also extended to ten years, putting prospects of a lawful re-entry into the community at extreme risk.  Now, after committing to review the Harper-years crime/justice/prison impositions six or seven years ago, the current Liberal government has finally cut the fee to $50.

There is a snag though.  The fee for a pardon, or record suspension, leaves the applicant still responsible for any additional fees to get the required processing information, like fingerprints, court documents and police checks.  The government has also allocated $22 million over five years to community-based organizations for support services in helping people complete the applications. 

A good beginning says Fresh Start, a coalition of more than 60 wide-ranging academic, civil rights, and racially marginalized groups, that applauds the long-awaited changes.  All the same, Moya Teklu of the Black Legal Action Centre said, “Reducing the application to $50 will not make the process any less long, any less cumbersome, or any less complex.” 

Is there something better?  Fresh Start would prefer the “spent regime” system, already used in Australia, England, and Spain as examples, where records are automatically sealed after a specified amount of time, with a few exceptions.  Canada already seals the records of offences by underage youth, but the government has yet to express support for expanding the practice.

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And finally…….

February 21, 2022

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

Re:      What do you fear?     

Dear Minister Mendicino:

Your staff chose not to respond to my November 29, 2021, letter questioning the delay in revising Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner Directive 022 – Media Relations.

I did hear from Colette Cibula, Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement at CSC on February 8, answering my May 6, 2021, letter to Commissioner Kelly.  Referring to the needed revisions to make the policy around inmate access to media Charter compliant, Ms. Cibula wrote, “I can assure you that it is now nearly complete.”

It is now approaching two years since the Service undertook to rewrite this directive.  It leads one to wonder just what it is that you all fear from inmate access to media?

Yours truly,

 

NEXT:  Not Prison News #4…….just More…..

The Prison Industry in the news #2.

THE LETTER……

Tuesday, February 8, 2022**

Dear Mr. Klassen,

Thank you for your letter dated May 6, 2021**, and for your interest in how the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) communicates with the media. I am happy to provide you an update on our work to renew the Service’s policy on Media Relations. I do apologize for the lateness of the reply.

CSC makes a great effort to be transparent and open about our work. We respond to about 100 media queries a month on a wide variety of topics and we issue regular news releases on our operations. As you stated, it is true that we facilitate all requests by media to interview inmates. It is extremely rare that CSC will deny or delay an interview. We take into consideration the security of the individual, others, and the facility as well as the impact on victims. For example, in 2021, CSC denied only 1 of 23 interviews, and this was based on a publication ban in place to protect the victims.

The renewal of the directive of media relations, where this is spelled out, is still underway. It was delayed as the tempo of media relations as well as the need for communications with inmates, staff, stakeholders increased significantly during the pandemic. I can assure you that it is now nearly complete. We have conducted external consultations and are finalizing internal reviews before publishing it.

I thank you again for your interest, and I wish you good health in 2022.

Colette

Colette Cibula

Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement
Correctional Service of Canada

**Highlights the 9 months between the letter to CSC Commissioner Kelly and the reply from Ms. Cibula.

THE RESPONSE……

February 10, 2022

Dear Ms. Cibula:

I thank you for your February 8, 2022, email responding to my May 6, 2021, letter to Commissioner Kelly.  You must be facing a considerable communications backlog for my letter to come before you for attention after so long in limbo.

The information you’ve provided is of great import as it underscores the need for a revision of Commissioner’s Directive 022 Media Relations.  You note CSC responds to about 100 media requests a month on the one hand, but that there were only 23 media interviews with inmates in all of 2021.  One was denied for cause, as you wrote, but my interest in a CD-022 revision suggests that just as the Service accommodates about 100 media contacts every month, so should inmate interactions with media number at least that as well.

CSC has made a point of headlining transparency as you referenced and having Charter compliant policies is paramount to meeting that objective.  True accountability and transparency are only possible however if the offenders in your care have an equal opportunity to lawfully communicate with the world outside the walls.

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

Thank you again.

Charles

Charles H. Klassen
908-31 Alexander Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 1B2
http://www.turnoverarocktoday.com

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The revision to Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive – 022 Media Relations was first featured back on May 9, 2021, in “Inmates have no rights!”, calling proposed changes, “One first step to letting in the light on the CSC prison environment…”  At that point it had been about a year since Commissioner Kelly committed to bringing the directive in line with the Charter.

May 23rd’s “Prison Security.  How much?  Too much?” included the May 6 letter to the commissioner, wondering in the nicest possible means, if CSC might be dogging it in getting the changes on the books.  Ms. Cibula’s February 8 letter above is an answer to that query to Commissioner Kelly.

“Prison – Media Relations revisited” posted September 12 last fall included a June 22nd letter to Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noting the delay with the revision of the directive.  There’s also an excerpt from his office’s August 27 answer.
“What’s the big deal,” we asked in the entry, “about inmate access to the media?  Think about ‘the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.’”  “The wider public is ill-informed now and doesn’t grasp the impact prison environments have on the community.”

Finally, “Prisons – IS MEDIA RELATIONS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?” from December 19 posted a November 29th letter to Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety.  In part it read, “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.’”  “It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.”

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A copy of the February 8 letter from CSC and the February 10 reply was sent to the correctional investigator’s office.  It appreciated having the information.  “It is quite helpful,” its note said.

Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement, Colette Cibula hits all the right notes in commenting on the letter sent to the commissioner nine months earlier.  But she was writing for members of the public who know nothing about our prison industry.  For any conversant Canadian, Ms. Cibula seems a Correctional Service of Canada ambassador who has never been inside a prison in this country, has never toured the ranges, and has never spoken to the inmates housed there.

Next:  What is an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment?