Prisons – lost opportunities?

“The core mandate of our correctional system is to rehabilitate and safely reintegrate offenders into our communities.  To achieve this objective, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is committed to providing safe environments for those who work or live in its correctional institutions.”  CSC news release May 11, 2022

Too many prison inmates are as prepared to return to the community as contributing law-abiding citizens when they are released as any of us is prepared to be an astronaut on a moon mission.

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Consider the impact of institutionalization for example.  That’s the process where a person becomes unable to live independently because they are used to living in an institution.  That’s one source’s definition for this condition that counteracts a successful reintegration for ex-prisoners.

CSC knows what institutionalization is, can define it, and understands how vulnerable populations are affected.  To the degree that it feels a need to clarify how it deals with this, our prison industry might point to a step-down resocialization process by lowering inmate security classification levels, from maximum to medium to minimum to half-way houses to community supervision.  Nonetheless, CSC will release inmates directly from medium and even maximum-security facilities under supervision, either at statutory release or warrant expiry.

But simply giving an offender more freedom and flexibility can leave many feeling rudderless, not knowing what to do with it.  To boot, the CSC response to someone struggling in a more open environment is to increase security, including reincarceration from half-way houses.  What’s missing is a pro-active targeted supportive process that starts at day-one of a sentence and is ongoing for as long as CSC exercises control.

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“Rehabilitate and safely reintegrate offenders into our communities.”  How is CSC doing that now? A sampling:  programs that target criminality and address mental/emotional disorders and addictions, education, relevant job skill’s training, relevant life-affirming cultural initiatives, spiritual guidance, volunteer-run 12-step groups and socialization activities like book clubs and discussion/debate roundtables.

Keeping COVID restrictions in mind, all of this has been, is, or will be again available in federal institutions across Canada.   Sounds good.  Right?  But all options are never available in any one institution with only a few available in most institutions.  Maximum-security prisons often have next to nothing for inmate participation.  In far too many places and for too many inmates, choices are limited to sleeping away much of the day, watching television, playing video games, doing a turn around the yard, or taking an hour in the gym.  Staff negativity and hostility further exacerbate the challenges.  How does that meet CSC’s mandate?

There are a limited number of part-time institutional jobs that do nothing to prepare ex-cons for a competitive employment market.  CORCAN, CSC’s agency that offers some substantive job-training programs, has few openings in few institutions.  And as a CORCAN spokesperson conceded here some months ago, most positions are simply intended to fill an inmate’s time.

Most telling is a total absence in our prisons of any up-to-date computer technology, training, programming, or internet access, making Canada a stand-out in western world ‘corrections.’

What’s left in the end is a few excellent opportunities for less than a hundred inmates out of thousands.  While secondary school courses are widely available, going further is next to impossible without computer access.  How many colleges/universities still offer correspondence courses?  As for correctional/rehabilitative programming, one inmate described them as cookie-cutter modules, a template CSC uses as a model for all.

Could this be tokenism?

Look at it this way.  Five-day ‘work weeks’ must be available to all inmates at every security level, designed as a multi-pronged and progressive pathway toward contributing to the society they’ve offended and not simply as rehabilitation toward a safe reintegration.  Potential ‘opt-outs,’ possibly many, would be thoroughly screened by qualified professionals to ensure they understand the ramifications of their choices.

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What’s standing in the way of making a Service out of an Industry?  Budget constraints perhaps?  Then how does Correctional Service of Canada meet its mandate without funding?  And if there are behind-the-scenes negotiations, then why doesn’t the landscape change?

Does Correctional Service of Canada care about outcomes?

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