Prison is no place……

……TO BE UNHEALTHY, SICK, OR INJURED.

Health care services in our federal prisons have been skewered here before, just as what Correctional Service of Canada passes off as essential care for offenders has and is also harpooned by its many critics.  And while health care consistently invites the greatest number of complaints from inmates, the Service continues to follow the beat of its own drummer in the face of recommendations that would improve outcomes and reduce costs.

One can wonder why.  Well, perhaps not.  Speculation infers troublesome scenarios suggesting CSC has interests that trump its mandate to work for a successful reintegration of prisoners back into the community.  No matter.  Voices of concern will persist, knowing a day of reckoning will come.  Hell will freeze over.

)()(

The Canada Health Act specifically excludes federal prisoners from its definition of “insured person.”  The Corrections and Conditional Release Act assign Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) the obligation to ensure prisoners receive essential health services and care contributing to rehabilitation and social reintegration.  CSC is self-insured for health care services.  It’s both insurer and hospital.  Funding comes from its budget.  As Leandra Keren wrote in a Toronto Star contribution last December, this “result(s) in a health-care standard that is woefully inadequate inside our federal prisons.”

She went on to note that prison populations have more severe needs….high rates of addiction and other mental illnesses, high HPV rates, chronic diseases, and conditions connected to aging.  “….federal prisoners wait months to see a physician who may not believe in employing a harm reduction approach to treating addiction, or who denies you a prescription that you’ve been taking for decades before arriving at prison due to pressure from CSC surrounding cost and security.”  In practice, this means the prisoner is at the mercy of the health services CSC provides.

)()(

An inmate fills out a request form asking to see a doctor, dentist, nurse.  Then the wait.  The wait may generate a second request.  Hopefully, the inmate is taken to health services before either their release date or death, whichever is first.  In one instance a few years ago, an inmate asked a nurse what they do with an urgent or emergency request.  “We don’t pay attention to that,” she told him.

A report released last year authored by academics Jane B. Sprott, Anthony N. Doob, and Adelina Iftene on prison solitary confinement practices included a comment that applies to the whole prison arena.  “Many Canadians do not care how our prisoners are treated.  They are seen simply as people who committed offences.  But Canadians should care if they care about human rights; or if they care that a government organization is being allowed to operate outside of the law.”

)()(

Prison health care earns severe scrutiny.  There’s more to come next time.

A POSTSCRIPT to “Prisons & Racism” from October 10, 2021:-

“CSC management and staff treat racialized staff as though they are inmates, and not like equals.”

Well, that’s a mouthful.  It’s from the statement of claim supporting a proposed class-action lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada by its own employees, filed on January 11 of this year.  According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Aden Klein, his firm has been contacted by many potential class members.  “It seems that the racism is so widespread that there are a countless number of people that are affected,” he said to Global News on January 28.

Correctional Service of Canada’s response included, “racism and discrimination have absolutely no place in our society,” and, “CSC does not tolerate these behaviours and is committed to providing a workplace that is healthy, supportive and free of harassment and discrimination.”

The lawsuit must be certified by the court if it can proceed, and that can often take from one to three years.

Imagine.  If CSC’s staff feel compelled to act against their employer, what does that say about how CSC treats inmates, and racialized inmates particularly?

Prisons – Stay out. Get out.

Nova Scotian social worker Robert Wright was asked by the defence back in 2014 to testify at the sentencing of a 16-year-old Black offender for attempted murder after he shot his 15-year-old cousin in the belly.  The prosecutor argued against allowing the testimony, claiming Mr. Wright wasn’t qualified as an expert.

Justice Anne Derrick, then of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court allowed him to speak. She cited his qualifications as a past executive director of the province’s child and youth strategy, as a PhD candidate in social work and as an instructor at Mount Saint Vincent University.

He is also coincidentally a seventh- or eighth-generation Black Nova Scotian and knew from his life’s experience that he was qualified to speak on behalf of the convicted offender.  One of six children raised by a single mother, a mostly absent father, witness to domestic violence and alcoholism, a celebrated athlete sister murdered in her mid-20s and a brother who did time for robbery made him ‘expert’ on the topic he addressed.

What Robert Wright wrote in an assessment and said in court was that the prosecution’s depiction of the 16-year-old as a hardened and remorseless criminal, a conclusion supported by several psychological assessments as an unsalvageable youth necessitating a long adult prison sentence, missed one pertinent point:  what it means to grow up Black in Nova Scotia.  After considering the family history, the “racial trauma” pervasive in the African-Canadian community because of mistrust, rivalries and violence, the judge sentenced him as a youth, noting an adult sentence would most probably give him little chance at rehabilitation.

Mr. Wright’s testimony was the first of its kind for Black offenders in the province and it led to more race-based reports, by him and other clinicians, triggering changes in the sentencing of Black offenders.  By the summer of 2021, Nova Scotia’s top court issued a 5-0 ruling written by that same Justice Derrick, telling judges in the province to consider the race-based issues of Black offenders at sentencing, or risk having their sentences thrown out on appeal.

With federal government funding, what are known now as Impact of Race and Culture Assessments are about to spread across the country.  Provincial courts aren’t required to give special consideration to Black offenders, and while accepted as important and helpful, Ontario courts for instance underscore that offenders do exercise free will.

Just as Gladue Reports offer some guidance when determining the fate of indigenous offenders, Impact of Race and Culture Assessments will do much the same for Blacks caught up in the criminal justice system.

Keeping people with a potential for redemption out of the hands of the prison industry benefits us all.

)()(

“Stymied, Stigmatized and Socially Excluded”, a 2020 report released by the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre located in Belleville in eastern Ontario, is a study conducted on the civil legal issues confronting people released from the Quinte Detention Centre.

The challenges there for people released from that provincial institution are mirrored across the provincial/federal prison industry spectrum from coast to coast.  How does a person with a criminal record steer a path through a labyrinth of social and civil legal issues from housing to employment to income assistance to counselling to potent and timely mental health/addiction programs to discrimination and harassment?  How does a person avoid the ripple effect of a criminal record, stuck in a cycle of recidivism and poverty, one door after another shut in their faces?

The John Howard Society of Ontario, prompted in part by the Belleville study, developed a resource for use by front-line workers assisting people released back into the community who almost always also need help dealing with multiple problems related to their criminality and for which they didn’t know help was available.  “Knowing your rights is very important,” said a peer counsellor with the JHS Ontario’s York Region office.

jhslearninghub.ca is accessible by anyone, and though intended for front-line workers at the John Howard Society and other community service agencies, it’s designed to be easily understandable and useful to family, friends, and supporters of offenders before, during and after incarceration.  Yes, this is on Ontario initiative, but is or will be replicated across the country.

Next – Oh no, it’s still not safe to get sick or get hurt in prison!