Reform? One good reason.

Political malpractice, dubious policy, sanctioned abuse….gotta go!

Toronto’s financial district’s steel, glass and concrete canyon walls tower over congested streets, where hurried pedestrians crowd the sidewalks… time to notice, late, keeping up, running away. It’s not a friendly oasis for society’s disadvantaged, for the addicted, the homeless, and the lost. Yet, these corridors of corporate power and wealth attract numbers of hopeful, desperate men and women who don’t fit into the boardroom profile or the trading floor hustle.

Outsiders, sometimes tolerated but not welcome, nuisances, obstructions. But still, a few years ago there was one Bay Street heavy hitter with a different perspective. On his way to the club for lunch one afternoon, and stepping over and around people who made the streets their home, he recognized a missed opportunity. Here was a population of lost consumers and potential contributors to community growth and prosperity. What if progressive and inclusive social programs replaced rejection and exclusion?

What if?

‘What if’ is good for the street. ‘What if’ is good for the cellblock, too. This country spends billions of tax dollars annually supporting provincial and federal prison industries, and though prisons will always be with us, the agencies that operate them misrepresent the word “correction” that is in one form or another always a part of their corporate names. Public safety may be the priority and isolating a few thousand people partly achieves that, but “correction” gets a failing grade.

What if cutting recidivism was a top priority? What if the efficacy of programs and their delivery was under constant review? What if there were no restrictions on the availability of services? What if every inmate was judged as potentially the next commissioner of ‘correctional’ services in Canada? What if, what if, what if?

The last four ‘Justice & the Penal System’ posts pry open a window on Correctional Service of Canada, our federal prison agency, the largest of these operations in the country. That there is so little public interest in prisons and the inmates they house is one of the intended aims of this tax-supported industry. The lack of accountability and scrutiny that results are black marks on Canada’s claim as a human rights champion, and a loss to good order and prosperity in our communities.

Let’s open that window wider.


Dubious policy……

…….through sanctioned abuse, and political malpractice

Okay, so we know it’s the inmates who pay for their phone service…that’s according to the government itself. On top of that, the government gets a kickback from what inmates spend on their phone service.

Now we move to October of 2013. Stephen Harper is still the prime minister. He and his government initiate a move by Correctional Service of Canada to CUT inmates pay by 30%. One source noted CSC’s enthusiasm for the policy. The new directive also took away the pay incentive for CORCAN jobs, what CSC calls its ‘training centre.’ CORCAN is a business run by the prison system using inmate labour to produce products and services which are primarily for prisons and the military. It offers inmates both work and work ethics experience, but there are very few positions available relative to the size of the prison population.

The agency claimed these cuts were to pay for room and board and the inmate phone system. The government added that this would make inmates more accountable and save the system about $4 million on its $2.6 billion annual budget. The government should also have noted that this was the basest kind of b.s. But then, perhaps the obvious didn’t need to be labelled.

So, what challenges inmates faced as things were now entered the realm of farce. An environment already rife with a vibrant underground economy, and ever-evolving inventive contraband pipelines, only spurred a stimulus that CSC cannot fully contain for a problem of its own making.

A group of inmates took the government to court in the fall of 2014 to contest pay policy. Jarrod Shook was one of the lead plaintiffs, and a Google search using his name will bring up a wealth of insight into this and other prison practices. He’s worth a read. In any case, the inmates lost, the court ruling they hadn’t proved the harm in the changes, and that it wasn’t up to the court to rule on the ‘wisdom’ of government decisions.

With the change in government, and Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calling for a review of the criminal justice system, it was hoped an intelligent assessment of prison conditions would yield enlightened and progressive legislation.

More on the way……..

Sanctioned abuse…….

…….political malpractice……..getting worse

Even as inmate finances in federal institutions were neglected over the years, there was one welcome although conditional relief in the first decade of this century……the cost of telephone calls. Even this wasn’t accomplished though without a duplicitous arrangement between Correctional Service of Canada and a major Canadian corporation. And, since this will bear on a morally repugnant government decision in 2013, we’ll pause to “talk on the telephone.”

We’re referencing life in federal prisons in this series and not conditions in provincial jails. Financial support for provincial inmates comes solely from friends and family. Provincial inmate telephone services are provided predominately by Bell and all calls are made collect. Generally, local calls are $1.00 but tariffs increase with distance. Burdensome to some families, although stays in provincial jails are short-term, and there’s no incentive for the relevant ministries to consider alternatives.

What is common in all telephone service provider contracts with provincial jail AND federal prison agencies is a “kickback”, a percentage of what the telephone companies take in from inmate calls. How much of a cut the government gets is a corporate trade secret and not subject to access to information legislation.

But, back to “talk on the telephone.” Federal inmate calls had been collect for decades. Even as competition and improvements in telecommunications drove costs to consumers lower, and the packaging of services became the norm, prisoners continued to pile up telephone charges to their families and friends, and Correctional Service of Canada and Bell Canada in particular profited.

At the beginning of 1998, the Service introduced the ‘Millennium’ telephone system to enhance security. With that came an increase in charges. In the succeeding years, no measures were taken to bring costs in line with those in the community, and no assessment of the system’s benefit as a security mechanism was undertaken. Naturally, this was contentious with both inmates and the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

A dozen years ago or so, Correctional Service of Canada undertook to rectify an obviously untenable position, and put out a tender to provide inmates with calling cards. Under this arrangement, each inmate received a card registered to their name and to which the institution placed up to five pre-approved telephone numbers. On a monthly specified date, and at the inmate’s request, cards could be loaded with funds from an inmate’s account, and telephone tariffs were competitive with what was available in the community. For an inmate who ran out of funds on a card before it could be reloaded, or an inmate with no money, all calls would be collect, and the charges for those collect calls reverted to the older and more expensive scale.

Bell Canada was awarded the contract for this service, and as long as inmates can keep a positive funding position on their cards, it’s worked well. The one drawback that comes to the Correctional Investigator’s attention now is access to telephones.

But, hold it. There was one snafu, one kerfuffle in this neat contracted process that was closeted.

When the bids to provide this telephone service to inmates were unsealed, and keeping in mind that Bell had been a big player all along, Correctional Service of Canada subsequently asked them to ‘repair’ their offer. Following the request, Bell was then awarded the contract.

Telus screamed foul, and took their argument to the federal government department charged with ethics and best practices. Telus lost. Why? It was ruled that judgments could be made only in circumstances where government money, taxpayer money, was involved. In the matter of telephone services for prison inmates, it was inmate money, citizen’s money, in question. The committee had no authority to intervene. Further, and to its discredit, no comment was made on what lead Telus to bring its case forward in the first place.

This should have come back to bite the government’s butt in a 2013 policy decision. It didn’t.

Read on……..

Sanctioned abuse……..

……..through political malpractice

So, the pay scale set up by Canada’s government in 1981 to help federal prison inmates cover the cost of what Correctional Service of Canada didn’t provide, to finance links with family and the community, and to give men and women in custody a head start on their release, hasn’t been adjusted from day one. Not even to accommodate inflation.

And, no one noticed. Right? No one at Correctional Service of Canada, or in succeeding governments over the years, Liberal or Conservative, thought about what a 1981 dollar bought in 1995, or in 2001, or in 2010….or today. Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

Of course not. The inmates noticed. They spoke about it often. They complained about it often. They made submissions often.

So did Howard Sapers. Referring to his 2002-2003 annual report when he was Canada’s Correctional Investigator, and under a section titled Inmate Financial Resources, he wrote…..

“As I have repeatedly indicated, adequate levels of inmate pay are important for two primary reasons:
(1) to combat the effects of the illicit underground economy that prevails in institutions where inmate funds are overly scarce, and
(2) to provide offenders with sufficient means on release to support their successful reintegration to the community.”

The Correctional Investigator went on to again make recommendations to resolve the increasing deficiencies with the compensation program.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s response to the CI:
“To address the complexities of the current pay system, CSC is examining all policies related to inmate monies, pay and the management of these funds. The study will address issues raised by the CI (Correctional Investigator), as well as those raised by the public. Stakeholders, including the OCI will be consulted.”

What happened? Nothing. The last posting here on June 24 referred to a 2006 report from that same OCI office targeting the same issue. It comes up year after year after year.

But wait. Isn’t what we read from CSC back in 2002-2003 typical bureaucratic double-speak anyway?

Nonetheless, Mr. Sapers went on to politely note all those years ago that:
“As to income pay in general, we the found the response (from Correctional Service of Canada) was vague as to timing and as to the specific offender problems that were the basis for our recommendation.”

Things were going to get a lot worse, we said.

It’s coming……

Political malpractice…….

……..leads to dubious policy and bad law.

So, you haven’t had a raise in ten years? How about not having a raise since 1981? How about not even having a cost-of-living increase? Worse, how about taking a pay cut?

Here’s one example of a suspect government program to guarantee the success of Canada’s prison industry.

Back in 1981, a parliamentary commission recommended a new pay scale for inmates in Canada’s federal prisons. It was based on the minimum wage at the time, reduced by 85% for room and board and other costs to the prison system. Only a very few inmates received the top rate of $6.90 per day, based on the work available to them, while the average was about $3 per day.

This money was intended to pay for phone calls, help with family support, save in preparation for release, fund outside educational courses, assist with travel and food costs for family visits, purchase personal hygiene products and over the counter medicines, and supplement the 2600 calorie a day diet provided by the institutions… a start. It was also an incentive to learn money management.

The purpose of this pay program hasn’t changed since 1981 but the dynamics certainly have. With no increases in funding over the years, the Office of the Correctional Investigator commissioned a 2005-2006 report after noticing increased complaints underscoring the impact of inflation.

This report, released in 2006, determined that the cost of a basket of canteen items purchased in 1981 for $8.49 had grown to $61.49 by 2006! And, inmates were expected to budget with the same $3 a day average.

That was back in 2006, and thanks to Stephen Harper and his band of merry Neanderthals, matters were going to get a lot worse.

Stay tuned…….

All we are saying………

……is give change a chance.

Canadians know more about the rings around Saturn than they do about the country’s prison industry, and what they do know about our prison industry comes from the men and women who operate it. And, the men and women who operate our prison industry like it that way, want it that way, and work to keep it that way.

Imagine General Motors recalling millions of cars on one hand, while GM management touts the corporation’s success on the other. Where are the voices of the customers? How long would it take for the public to catch on that something is askew?

And yet, when it comes to jails, prisons, and the men and women housed in them, most people in the community accept the status quo is the best we can do.

To repeat from Baz Dreisinger’s “Incarceration Nation” in our February 25 posting “’Prison industry’ talking points”, when writing about prisons, “….if any other system had a 60 percent failure rate – that’s the U.S. recidivism rate, and in much of the world the numbers don’t look much better – we’d dismantle that system right away and go right back to the drawing board.”

So, just when will the service agencies in this country with “Correctional” in their names become ‘correctional’ services for all of us? Just when will we get that programming can be stacked to the ceilings, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into some measure of success? The statistics challenge the efficacy of what we do now. Just when will the voices of inmates, the ‘customers’ of our prisons and jails, be included in the conversation?

We endorse the progressive and restorative policies in some other jurisdictions that are rejected here so often as a matter of course. We frequently suggest that Correctional Service Canada’s management be replaced, and not by second-stringers already in the Service, but by outsiders where best practices make for lower recidivism and safer communities.

Don Head, the long-time commissioner of our federal prisons, and his team might work out in another government agency. How about the Conflict of Interest & Ethics Commissioner’s office?

This is but another reminder that reform is overdue, and the call for change must be kept on the front burner.


Soleiman Faqiri & burying the truth

The Toronto Star’s Tuesday, May 15 front page featured staff reporter Fatima Syed’s “Correctional ministry won’t release video of inmate’s last hours.” Ms Syed has been following the Faqari family’s patience and forbearance as it struggles for answers, for accountability, and for transparency. So far, it has nothing……only a grave to visit.

Soleiman Faqiri died at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay in December of 2016 after a three-hour confrontation with guards. The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is keeping video of his last hours secret from the public and the man’s family.

We’ve previously published a few postings on this man’s death at the hands of provincial jail guards, the last on February 18, “Soleiman Faqiri-another comeback.”

MCCS cites section 65(6) of Ontario’s privacy law, which refers to labour relations. Experts in the field suggest the application of that section is ‘hokum’, in so many words, and is really a ploy to protect the identities of correctional officers who appear in the video.

Lawyers with a history of attempts to shake information out of MCCS claim secrecy is “part of the ministry’s MO”, as one put it. Another, familiar with privacy law, agrees the secrecy “is concerning because of vast potential to cover up serious misconduct in Ontario jails.”

May 24, 2018

Sam Erry, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
18th Floor, 25 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Soleiman Faqiri

Dear Deputy Minister Erry:

We know that Soleiman Faqiri was alive on the afternoon of December 15, 2016, at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay.

We know that he was dead by the end of the day.

We know his only contact in his final hours was with an army of correctional officers.

We know he had 50 injuries to his body and asphyxia was the cause of death.

We know your ministry says it hasn’t any idea how all that happened.

We know Faqiri didn’t commit suicide.

We now know you’re hiding the video of his last hours from his family and the public.

We know your ministry’s refusal to ‘come clean’ stinks of obstruction.

We hope the settlement is painful.


Charles H. Klassen

Remember, these are our civil servants. Does your behind ache?