Prisons don’t care….

….WHY SHOULD WE?

The simple answer is that, with few exceptions, every man and woman in our federal prisons will one day be released back into the community.

Canadians take for granted and are encouraged to believe that our prison agency which oversees the rehabilitation process of offenders, and parole board members who decide the prospects for early release, meet their obligation to ensure a safe reintegration into society.  But frequent criticisms point to lawlessness by former offenders, accusing the system of failing its mandate to protect our neighbourhoods and for not supporting services to reduce recidivism.

We should care because we’re entitled to feel safe, and we want to be safe.

We should care because we want offenders to leave a life of criminality behind and contribute to the common good, even to mentoring children and youth in conflict with the law.

We should care because we want to trust that some very few offenders will never be released.

We should care because we own the shortcomings in the system.  They belong to us.  Apathy and indifference only serve to perpetuate our prison industry’s revolving door.

Releasing a prisoner on parole prior to their warrant expiry; that is, before the end of their sentence, allows for a strategically controlled release into the community.  It’s a good model.  Technically, ex-offenders are monitored as they move toward freedom, and constructive interventions can be deployed when and if necessary.  In theory, this is the preferred option, but in practice, there is a tendency more often to look for ways to return parolees to prison as an easy recourse rather than working with them to reverse missteps.

Before reaching the point in their sentence where applying for parole is possible though, prisoners must navigate the complexities in a carceral agency that is not always pro-rehabilitative.  The challenge for activists, lawyers, researchers, and family members working on behalf of our prison population is to find ways to make people care.  Prisoners are an easy political target and without public interest there is little political incentive for reforms.

Correctional Service of Canada is responsible for the incarceration and successful reintegration of federal prisoners and is mandated to manage their rehabilitation and potential risks.  In 2014, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, CSC experienced deep cuts in funding, affecting staffing levels and programming in both penitentiaries and in the community.

That left community partners, funded by other government levels or non-profits, to absorb ex-offenders into support programs for addictions, mental health, and indigenous and cultural healing that are already oversubscribed.  In the meantime, there’s been no compensating federal government funding for beds and spaces on which these programs rely for positive reintegration outcomes.

Further, Karen Hogan, Canada’s auditor general, writes in her 2022 report that our ‘prison service’ has not given offenders timely access to programs to help ease them back into society, including courses specific to women, Indigenous people, and visible minorities.  What’s more, Ms. Hogan’s office raised similar concerns in audits in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but little has been done to change policies, practices, tools and approaches that produce differing outcomes.  CSC agreed again to act on her recommendations, but then we’ve seen these assurances from Correctional Service of Canada on many issues over a lot of years, only to learn the agency is a lip service specialist.

(Sourced in part from Robyn Urback/Globe and Mail, February, 2021, Canadian Press, May, 2022, and David Neufeld/Globe and Mail, September, 2022)

As a postscript, the chase for the revision to Commissioner’s Directive C-022 Media Relations, promised three years ago by Correctional Service of Canada, is not abandoned.  More will come.

 

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