Who’s afraid of the big, bad prison guards?

WELL, IT APPEARS EVERY SERVANT OF THE CROWN in Canada from the executive through to the legislative branches of federal and provincial governments, and the judiciary to some extent, are paralyzed by the sight of the uniform worn by “correctional officers.”  Thus it has been for decades.

Let’s cite a relevant posting by CBC News on October 28 of this year:-

“CBC News cross-referenced a decade of Toronto police disciplinary decisions with all of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigations in which the police watchdog laid charges against Toronto police officers, and against available data on public complaints.

The review revealed that only 12 per cent of investigations where the SIU laid charges against Toronto cops have led to a disciplinary hearing decision against the officer involved in the last 10 years.

For public complaints, the numbers are even lower.  Just one per cent of complaints made to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) about Toronto police officers in the last five years has led to a disciplinary hearing.”

The CBC release did not analyze how police were disciplined at these hearings, if at all.

)()(

No, this isn’t a misplaced “Policing” posting.  That will come, but for the moment, let’s also look at an excerpt from The Senate of Canada, Human Rights Committee, Interim Report, February 2019 we’ve printed before:-

“The security features inherent to federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out.  As a result, the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny.  Invisible to the general population, federally-sentenced persons are often forgotten.”

The gist of where this is going?  Despite some indicators to the contrary, police practices are more open to public audit than the environments in which prison/jail guards work.  If the results of complaints against Toronto police are as CBC research concluded, then where would one suppose grievances against guards end up?

)()(

Correctional Service of Canada and its provincial equivalents are bureaucracies, systems characterized by a division of labour, a clearly defined hierarchy, detailed rules and regulations, and impersonal relationships.  Not exactly an arrangement conducive to the rehabilitation of offenders.

Guards have been featured frequently here (e.g. the numerous Soleiman Faqiri entries, “Prison light switch #3” August 4, 2019, “Toronto South…..again” April 28, 2019, “Bob’s ‘Blue Wall’” November 18, 2018) and as with all else with Correctional Service of Canada and the provincial counterparts, guards will continue to attract our attention.

First, let’s define who a guard is, and how the role of a correctional officer (CO) figures into penal system operations.  The CSC site’s details could apply for all custodial agencies:-

  • guards supervise and interact with offenders
  • regularly watch for signs that the safety of others or security of the institution might be at risk
  • take appropriate security measures when necessary

Brief and broadly subjective, the functions are further defined and limited by a plethora of laws, policies, and directives.  This surfeit of regulations burdens all civil servants, and some empathy is deserved.  Regardless, right and wrong doesn’t need a handbook.

)()(

As bleak and tense as the relationship between inmates and guards is much of the time, there are occasional exceptions to the norms.  One example:-

A few inmates are out of their cells on an evening in a maximum security institution.  They’re told to lock up by guards earlier than expected.  They comply.  But, one inmate’s clothes are still in the washer.  He calls to a nearby guard, asking politely if his clothes could be moved from the washer to the dryer.  The guard puts the inmate’s laundry in the dryer.
On his way off the range, that guard stops at the cell of a seasoned long-time inmate who has motioned him over to quietly thank him for helping an inmate in need.  That older inmate knows this young and inexperienced new guard has done a good deed but will pay for it when other guards razz and dig at him for what he did.

The who’s, where’s, and when’s can’t always be put in print.  There are risks.

…..next installment….more guards.

Defunding prisons……

……IS ABOUT TAKING AWAY THE NEED FOR PRISON FUNDING, NOT TAKING AWAY MONEY THE PRISON INDUSTRY BUDGETS TO KEEP ITSELF AFLOAT.

As it is now for example, Correctional Service of Canada which operates our federal prisons can’t meet its mandate for “actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens,” without more resources.  Efficacious audits underscore the failures of the system to meet the objectives of its Mission Statement.  Or, as has been argued here and elsewhere, is the health of the industry a greater priority for CSC than the success of its commission? 

Isn’t the primary assignment of everyone employed by Canada’s “correctional services” to put themselves out of a job?  Now, that’s an unrealistic ideal but it can’t be dismissed as a target.    No matter, the response from prison ranges is, “They don’t care!”  Meanwhile, Canada’s federal and provincial prison industry does not like media attention focused on inmates and what they have to say.  That detracts from their messaging.  We reviewed that issue here on November 4, in 2018 with “The Firewall…..”

A recent John Howard Society report based on prisoner accounts of life behind the walls had many common themes, many mirroring earlier narratives.  Quoting from John Howard….

  • Poor conditions that got worse in recent years, such as poor food, expensive phone calls, poor ‘pay’ for prisoners (about $3 per day after compulsory deductions).
  • Lack of opportunity to do positive things, such as improve one’s education or learn real job skills.  It’s hard to use one’s time productively in prison, which works against rehabilitation.
  • Lack of access to effective programs to address the problems such as addictions that brought people into prison.  Many prisoners feel that they are released in worse shape than when they were first imprisoned.
  • Poor health care; lack of access to doctors and medication; absence of dental care.
  • Many staff who have no interest in being positive or helpful.
  • Challenges in visiting and communication, making it hard to maintain contact with family and friends.

According to the Society there are other issues that surface like a lack of privacy, endless petty requirements, and threats of abusive treatment if staff don’t approve of behaviour.

)()(

Food is not simply a life necessity but more importantly is life affirming.  Note the 19th century axiom that an army marches on its stomach.  Likewise, if our penal systems were correctional, then a proper provisioning for inmates is basic to the process.  It comes first.  Yet, the Canadian Senate’s 2018 interim report on its study of human rights in federal prisons notes one inmate issue is that the “quality and quantity of food is severely substandard.”  Even a 2019 federal audit of institutions found major problems with prison food services and raised concerns about quality, safety, a warning of food waste, unsatisfactory meal portions, and a “food-related health event” behind the walls. 

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, used this audit and his office’s own findings to flesh out a case study of Correctional Service of Canada’s prison food in his 2018-2019 Annual Report.  From his report, “CSC’s food services program nominally operates on a national average per diem ration rate of $6.12 per inmate per day………” 
That provides for a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50!  Inmates argue that unless they have funds to supplement the diet with canteen food, they would ‘starve.’

More from Dr. Zinger’s report:  “Because food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being, and has other impacts on the order and security of the institution, I am publicly reporting on concerns shared with the Commissioner (Anne Kelly) regarding the findings and, in my view, omissions of this particular audit………I am particularly concerned by some very disturbing developments and adaptations that have accompanied the implementation of CSC’s food services modernization project:

  1. The significant, predictable (and undocumented) amount of ‘cook-chill’ meals that are spoiled, wasted or considered inedible on the regular menu cycle.
  2. An inadequately low (and unreliable) per diem food metric that may unnecessarily put inmate health and safety at risk in an institutional setting.
  3. The rise of food as a commodity in the parallel (or underground) inmate economy.
  4. Inmate canteens that supplement or substitute for meals or portion sizes that are unappetizing, inadequate, poor of inconsistent quality.
  5. Loss of local autonomy to address deficiencies in meal quality and quantity (e.g., running out of certain food items or meals on the service line), which increases the risk of inmate frustration, tension, protest and/or violence.”

Dr. Zinger went on to make two food recommendations to CSC, both graciously received with florid comment but ultimately bound for a file drawer.

In a comment to us, one inmate sourly noted that at Millhaven Institution, considered the worst prison in Canada, a salad with the evening meal consisted of a handful of lettuce with a packet of salad dressing.  But, when he was transferred to Collins Bay Institution a few miles away for a multi-day program, salad included radish, onion, celery, etc. along with lettuce.  But, both prisons are on the same national menu, stressing inconsistencies with the food program.

)()(

Yes, “food is so foundational to inmate health and well-being”, and just so, it is the same for everyone and anyone on Earth.  There’s no intention here to ignore world hunger by spotlighting Canadian prisoners, or federal prisoners in particular.  

There may be less hunger in the world now than a few decades ago, but we still have no excuse for allowing people anywhere to be food poor.  We produce more than we can consume but getting it to where it’s needed is a challenge, and not just that, but putting it into the hands of the people in want and getting it past the impediments that are often thrown up by unscrupulous intermediaries and corrupt governments is a cause looking for help.  A cause looking for your lhelp.

Even here in Canada, the National Zero Waste Council says we waste almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food each year, costing us more than $17 billion.  58 percent of all food produced in Canada – 35.5 million tonnes – is lost or wasted according to new information, and about a third of that could be rescued for communities in need.  So, why are children going to bed hungry within a few blocks of where you live?  Can you spare some time?

More to come next time……..

DEFUND PRISONS!…..how ’bout that?

Just because the movement to defund police won’t gain traction unless people exercise the control they have by right of the power a democracy gives them doesn’t silence the call to action.

Likewise, prison reform has been a part of societal dialogue at least since the nineteenth century.  While the ebb and flow of incremental changes have benefited the effort in Canada, outcomes still don’t warrant the use of  “corrections,” “correctional,” and “correcting” in labeling what our jails and prisons are, as opposed to what they are intended to be.  After all these decades, the work goes on.

Over long years. innumerable organizations, groups and individuals have contributed voluminous and often repetitive entreaties, arguments, lawsuits, and demands for progressive initiatives to prioritize rehabilitation, recovery, and reintegration.  Ignored, denied, shunted aside, the responses spill from a yellowed and tattered ancient partisan script in use across the penal landscape.

Even the annual reports of the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator, along with human rights agency surveys that monitor provincial jails, bodies whose purpose is to work with the public service to encourage constructive upgraded practices, are patronized, humored, and neutralized.

But, the resistance cannot dampen the chorus for change; impediments only invigorate.  New voices will always replace those that drop away.  And as for this space, it’ll continue to press arguments for custodial sanity.

)()(

“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.”

That is the Mission Statement of the federal prison industry and it could summarize how the provincial penal systems across Canada see their purpose as well.  The men and women who wrote and approved and adopted this summary of objectives for Correctional Service of Canada no doubt believed it upheld the highest principles for improving the lives of those who come into conflict with the law, while protecting the best interests of the community.

One can wonder if the authors of the mission statement assumed these ideals would flow down through the ranks of institutional staff to be taken on as professional goals.  Or would they assume that?  Like it or not though, management’s mission may not be celebrated in the trenches….would that it was otherwise.

)()(

Our reaction to that lofty mission statement, to that declaration of a vision guiding the objectives of the prison industry, is reminiscence of an unrelated event of recent memory.

On January 20 in 2017 Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States in Washington.  As Mr. Trump took the oath of office and addressed the crowd on that day, he was surrounded on the dais by dozens of VIPs, including previous presidents and first ladies.

As the newly sworn-in president finished speaking, George W. Bush leaned toward Hilary Clinton and said, “Well, that was some weird shit.”

Next – HUNGER IS NOT REHABILITATING……and more.

Prisons & the law

WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN TORTURE THEM IN CUSTODY.
WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN TREAT THEM IN CUSTODY IN A WAY THAT PHYSICALLY OR MENTALLY HARMS.
WE CANNOT SENTENCE A PERSON WHO HAS A MENTAL OR PHYSICAL DISABILITY TO PRISON FOR COMMITTING A CRIME AND THEN IGNORE THAT DISABILITY WHILE THEY ARE IN CUSTODY.
WE CANNOT DO THAT IN CANADA.

Repeating again federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s citation that we send people to prison as punishment, not for punishment.

This applies equally to provincial and federal prison industries.

So why has the Ontario Human Rights Commission gone after the province’s ministry responsible for its jails….for the third time in seven years…..asking the Human Rights Tribunal to hold Ontario accountable for failing to meet its legal obligations?

Ontario agreed to a comprehensive settlement with Christina Jahn in 2013 that included a provision to not place persons with a mental illness in solitary confinement except as a last resort. Ms. Jahn had mental health and addiction disabilities but was held in segregation in Ottawa for more than 200 days. Not only has Ontario been taken to task more than once for not obeying the provisions of this settlement, but under two different governments even more people with noted mental disorders have been placed in solitary. Soleiman Faqiri was one, highlighted again in our September 13 posting. He was killed by jail guards in Lindsay in 2016 after a segregation placement.

This time though, the OHRC is also asking that no provincial inmate without a mental health condition be placed in segregation for more than 15 continuous days and a total of 60 days in a year. This would be in line with the latest case law and international standards.

As counterpoint, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General said the province has met “all 31 deliverables specified in the consent orders.”

Right. Now tell us, who are the compliance supervisors?

)()(

Meanwhile federally, Dr. Anthony Doob, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto Centre for Criminology, chaired the Implementation Advisory Panel established by Ottawa to monitor the ending of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Included among the eight members of the panel was Ed McIsaac, executive director of the federal prison ombudsman’s office from the late 1980s until about 10 years ago.

The panel never received data it needed from Correctional Service of Canada despite repeated requests, and its members were appointed for only one-year terms, which ended this past summer. “We have accomplished nothing,” Dr. Doob said. “How much confidence do we have that the experience of a prisoner has changed? My answer is none, because we don’t have any information.” The professor accused Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and CSC of back-pedaling and delaying promises to provide even basic information.

Minister Bill Blair has committed to revive the panel as its term lapsed before it could accomplish anything. In response, Mr. McIsaac commented, “I don’t see it coming back to life absent of having the information we requested in hand, and I don’t think further promises are going to get us very far.” Professor Doob added, “I guess I’m tired of being jerked around. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s watching the keepers. The irony of it all is that a well-run organization would have wanted to have the data collection we’re asking for in place on Day 1. It’s not rocket science to say: ‘Start recording it with a paper and a pencil – and here’s how you sharpen a pencil.’”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is making good on Bill C-83.

We wrote Mr. Trudeau:

August 28, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Ottawa, ON

Dear Prime Minister:

About the time your father was chasing the federal government out of the nation’s bedrooms back in the 60s, I was beginning to delve into our country’s prison industry.

According to Colin Freeze in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, “Ottawa not adhering to law on solitary, watchdog says,” he noted that “Prime Minister Trudeau said to reporters on Wednesday that the Liberal government is living up to its commitment to do away with solitary confinement.”

How would you know?

A little experience with Correctional Service of Canada teaches that the agency can be Trumpian with the truth. What CSC says is so may be smoke and mirrors, and what it lives by as true may not survive beyond the front gates. Assessing C-83’s efficacy must include the perspectives of the men and women who are intended to benefit from its provision, namely the inmates. As one said to me about the difficulties CSC is having with the new handheld technology, “That’s b.s.!”

Prime Minister, keep you smellmeter handy.

Yours truly……

Copies went to Professor Anthony Doob, Minister Bill Blair, and Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly.

Thanks to the panel for being refreshingly frank.

Soleiman Faqiri……say the name!

SOLEIMAN FAQIRI IS TO CANADA AS GEORGE FLOYD IS TO THE UNITED STATES.

So, why isn’t the reaction here like it is there? Soleiman is but one of many seriously harmed or killed by men in uniform in Canada, just a George Floyd is one of many harmed or killed by men in uniform in the U.S. Why the difference in public response? There was no camera recording Soleiman’s murder for one thing. Not only that, the perpetrators purposely blocked witnesses while they assaulted Soleiman in tandem.

There have been seven postings in this space since October of 2017 framing the grievance Soleiman’s friends and family have over his abuse and death at the hands of Ontario public servants. They want justice and are determined to persevere until the responsible jail guards are charged and convicted.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is now also taking Ontario to task for failing to meet its commitment to end putting prisoners with mental health disabilities in segregation. Soleiman’s death is a direct result of the province’s negligence.

Plus, the decision by the Ontario Provincial Police in August of this year not to lay charges in the death of Soleiman Faqiri following a second investigation of this crime has been condemned by 60 groups including legal, mental health advocacy and faith-based organizations across Canada.

This sad obstruction of justice by Ontario prompted another letter to the culpable provincial government minister:-

September 8, 2020

The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General,
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Re: Soleiman Faqiri

Minister Jones:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is far too polite in the motion it’s filed against Ontario for a continuing “breach of legal obligation(s) to keep prisoners with mental health disabilities out of segregation.”

Soleiman Faqiri is dead because your ministry failed to do what it agreed to do back in 2013 and again in 2018. Simply put, a mentally ill provincial inmate was murdered by gangs of guards acting in tandem for no better reason than to “teach him a lesson.”

Your provincial jail guards “teach lessons” to inmates every day in Ontario. Soleiman just so happened to die during the “instruction.” It’s against policy and procedure, it’s illegal, and it’s just plain wrong. And, it’s happening on your watch, Minister.

Following the OPP decision not to lay charges in what is so obviously a state sanctioned homicide, Yusuf Faqiri, Soleiman’s older brother, told an August 15 rally outside your office that if one wants to commit murder with impunity, then do it in a group.

Your ministry seems content with the status quo. What say you?

A cautionary note to Soleiman’s family. The government will one day come to the table to pay off the family, and one condition of a settlement is likely to be that they take the money, go away, and shut up. Government offices are well stocked with carpets and brooms.

Let’s hope the Faqiri family doesn’t allow that, but even so, Ontario can’t silence us all.

“Fighting crime by building more jails……

…….IS LIKE FIGHTING CANCER BY BUILDING MORE CEMETERIES.”
Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s quotation appeared here five years ago. It was relevant long before he said it first, is still timely today, as it will be tomorrow.

Suppose you were able to tour our provincial jails and federal prisons from Victoria to St. John’s. Aside from a gender imbalance, a noticeable observation is the difference between the racial make-up of an incarcerated population and the people in the communities from which they came. No matter what perspective you choose to explain the contrast, it remains a symptom of societal inequity.

The COVID pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of our supports and safety nets for vulnerable groups, conditions we’ve conveniently ignored and allowed to deteriorate through negligence, lack of resources and even intentional defunding. We’ve seen the tragic outcomes from viral infections in our seniors’ care facilities as an example, and are now attempting to save face, even though we’ve been aware of the unacceptable state of the situation for years.

At risk from any and all hazards facing the disadvantaged along with the elderly are the poor and homeless and addicted and people with physical and mental health conditions, and…….prisoners. The pandemic has underscored a lack of help for an increasing number of jail/prison inmates with mental health issues, with access to rehabilitative programming, and with support in transitioning back into the community upon release.

Addressing provincial conditions, Rajean Hoilett with the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project and quoted from a June Toronto Star article says, “We’ve seen a lot of folks who’ve been released without any support, who are telling us they don’t have shoes, they don’t have clothes, they don’t have a place to go. We know that there’s a lot of folks who use drugs who are coming out without any sort of harm reduction supplies, and we already know we’ve lost people in this way to overdoses.” Ergo, recidivism’s revolving door.

For offenders sentenced to a federal prison, we have what is called Correctional Service of Canada.
Many could and would argue the agency is better tagged Punitive Service of Canada, or Offender Warehousing Service of Canada, or Criminal Retention Service of Canada, or our preference, Prison Industries of Canada.
No, Canada calls what we have a “correctional” service. That, and “corrections” is the label provincial and territorial governments use to describe the role of ministries that oversee their jails.

This space has argued for years that putting a name to something does not necessarily make it so, like the offices that manage our jails and prisons for instance. It seems that either what we call them is a sop to people who believe they should serve that better purpose, or the intention to be a correcting influence on lawbreakers is genuine if not a touch jaded. No one in authority looks to be paying attention to compliance in the trenches with policy, procedure, or the law, or the efficacy of the way things are or what more can be done.

The criminal justice conglomerate is a mammoth monolith, costing billions of taxpayer dollars a year and employing tens of thousand of people. Most of these men and women, from policing to the courts and on through to our penal institutions and all the attendant supports and apparatus, are or believe they are working for the best interests of the country. And as we pointed out earlier, it works well….for those who control it.

Rehashing earlier critical appraisals isn’t on today’s agenda. How to fight “City Hall” is. How to effect change is. Quite simply, don’t give up, don’t give in.

Joshua and his army marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days until the noise of the shouting and rams’ horns caused those defenses to collapse.

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis learned from that old Biblical battle.

Persist. Persist. Persist.

That is the lesson.

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
Edward R. Murrow

Going to prison. Why?

“A Disparate Impact”, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Second interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service” was published within the past week. The reactions from municipal and community leaders are as we would expect. The calls for reform and our politician’s pledge to seriously consider the reports “next steps” are as we would expect, too.

However, what will come of this report is in question. Only community vigilance can succeed in preventing influential forces from appearing compliant to public concerns while preserving the status quo. There cannot be real reform without input from impacted neighbourhoods, and written concessions from stakeholders. While this issue is on the table, awaiting its fate, we move on from where we were last time.

According to Jonathan Rudin, program director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, “If we ran a program that failed as much as the criminal justice system, we would not be funded. We would not be able to operate. We just keep throwing money at it and keep relying on it even though it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.”

Added human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan, “The system is not structured to rehabilitate. We need to stop relying on this falsity. It helps us feel more comfortable with what is a really brutal system.”

If calls to defund the police were answered it would mean far fewer people in custody. This in turn has some people demanding we defund the jail and prison system, too. Ontario’s jail population was reduced by 30% by mid-June due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and is an example of what is possible. “These are people who, under the logic of the system as it was, shouldn’t have been behind bars anyway,” said Justin Piché, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

At the federal level, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees Correctional Service of Canada, asked both CSC and the Parole Board of Canada in early March to consider releasing low-risk offenders due to the threat of COVID-19. What is telling is that Minister Blair, who is after all supposed to be in charge, did not do more than politely ask the agencies to “consider” early releases. As a result, according to Douglas Quan in the Toronto Star on August 5, “there was no increase in the number of prisoners released during the first three months of the pandemic compared to a year earlier In fact, there were slightly fewer inmates released.”

Does that say that Correctional Service of Canada would prefer to hang onto its assets?

Now, more than half of sentences handed down by adult courts in Canada are for less than one month, 20 per cent are for more than six months, and only 3.6 per cent carry judgements of more than two years. Jonathan Rudin argues putting people in jail for 30 days because, “Oh, they’ll learn a lesson,” does more harm to the community than would funds redirected to social services and supports. “We’re just being cruel for the sake of being cruel,” he says. And, of course, minorities are more negatively affected by how the system operates than whites, exacerbating the already unacceptable social norms.

Our criminal justice system continues to put people in jails and prisons, knowing they don’t work for the good of us all. Yes, there are circumstances where some people need to be separated from the community, but better jails and prisons are not what the protesters in the streets want. The call is for an entirely different approach.

Can we really fight City Hall? Next…….

Bail boondoggle cured?

ONLY MAYBE.

Toronto City Council recently proposed a series of reforms to the city’s police service that have a significant similarity to reforms suggested by the U.S. Senate for American policing. They are both sops, which according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, are things of little importance or value that are offered to stop complaints or unhappiness. The same ineffective scenarios should be anticipated elsewhere at all levels of government in North America.

Politicians are elected to serve their constituent’s best interests, to have their backs. And yet, there is no appetite in North American municipal, provincial/state, or federal governments to confront head-on what brought so many people onto the streets to protest policing and its impenetrable blue wall.

What can be expected over time with what’s on the table now? The goal of law enforcement, under the auspices of police unions and with government indulgence, is to create a perception of change and reform, to vilify within police ranks the proliferation of cameras, and develop strategies to avoid being filmed. Business as usual. As Toronto human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan claims, “You create a lot of supply through policing. You overpolice communities – Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, impoverished folks, folks living with mental health challenges – and so you create a massive supply of folks that would need to then be incarcerated.”

About 70% of men and women in our provincial jails are in custody on remand. They are technically innocent and yet have lost their liberty. According to a recent Globe and Mail editorial, many of these people have been charged with violating bail conditions, itself subject to as much as a two-year sentence. Even a new Supreme Court of Canada ruling calls this country’s bail practices “unfair and harmful”, particularly for the poor, people with addictions and racialized minorities.

This ruling should make for substantial changes to the way bail is granted but there is and will be resistance unless and until the disadvantaged leverage the Court ruling in their favour. “Too often, the Court said, bail court judges have agreed to ‘boilerplate’ conditions that are applied to all defendants, regardless of their circumstances. In some cases, the conditions included unwarranted attempts at behaviour modification that are impossible for the accused person to live up to, such as telling an alcoholic they can’t drink, or ordering a homeless person to stay at a fixed address.”

With this new ruling, bail condition violations may compel a return to custody but without additional charges that simply create a “cycle of incarceration.” As it has been, people can end up serving sentences even if they were never convicted of any of the crimes for which they were initially charged. “The bail system is also partly to blame for overcrowded jails, and it contributes to the slow administration of justice by flooding the courts with unnecessary cases.”

When someone goes to jail for a few days, what happens is that people lose their homes, they lose their place in programs, they lose access to services, and for women in particular, lose access to their children. None of this makes someone’s life better or easier. High rates of recidivism continue, while what is needed are programs that divert people away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate services that get at the root causes of community rot.

It’s not rocket science, so what’s the hold-up? More later…..

Criminal justice……

…….IS A MAJOR INDUSTRY.

Why would we entangle a person who has committed a crime into the complexities of a legal and penal system that often does its damnedest to foil an eventual return to the community as a contributing law-abiding citizen?

Recovery is what the criminal justice system is intended to do. That it routinely fails suggests this system is broken. But no. There is a valid argument supporting just the opposite.

The system works. It is not broken. It works for the benefit of those who control it.

Start with law enforcement and the work of our police services. The first of Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing, propositions almost 200 years old but widely known and accepted in police agencies today, is “to prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.”

“Crime and disorder” in some form will always be with us and these nine truths underscore the maxim that the police are the public and the public are the police. The concluding ninth of these principles recognizes “always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

The sandwiched principles from two to eight stress a duty to secure public co-operation, approval and respect, to minimize the use of physical force, to seek favour by an impartial service to law, and to “refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary…..or of judging guilt and punishing the guilty.”

Today’s demands to defund the police are a symptom of decades of abuse and perceived injustices by law enforcement, a culmination of deteriorating relationships between police and disadvantaged neighbourhoods in this country and in other widespread areas of the world. The movement highlights the growing gulf between the police and the policed, and how far we have strayed from the founding fundamentals of preventing “crime and disorder.”

This writer grew up in a community without a police presence. Yes, the village was in the patrol area of the local Ontario Provincial Police detachment, and one of their cars would occasionally drive through the town, as did the Niagara Parks Commission Police on a patrol of their properties. Help from the police, available if needed, wasn’t witnessed in those years. Community policing was the norm, the usual remedy in times before fixed bodies were formed to enforce the law.

Was there ‘crime and disorder’ in that community? No, at least not that came to the attention of the criminal justice system via a police action. Would that be the case if the village were a neighbourhood in an urban area regularly patrolled by police officers? Yes.

Our police services are the first point of contact between a person presumed to have committed an offense and the criminal justice system. The argument for defunding police calls for a redirection of resources to social programming and services to reduce the demands on police, along with appeals for the decriminalization of minor and non-violent offenses to deter the overpolicing of some marginalized communities.

Our police fuel our courts, jails, and prisons. Efforts by the people to transform the status quo threatens the health of a major industry in Canada.

Later………..our public servants don’t have your back.

 

Crime dependent…..that’s us?

THE CELL PHONE CAMERA IS CHANGING OUR WORLD. COVID-19 IS CHANGING OUR WORLD. WIDESPREAD PROTESTS AND DEMONSTRATIONS CALL FOR CHANGE, URGING US TO CONFRONT SOCIAL INEQUITIES AND TO PRESS FOR REFORMS. THE PUSHBACK FROM THE RIGHT AND AMERICAN ALT-RIGHT DELINEATES A DIVISIVE GULF THAT PROMPTS A CONSIDERATION OF JUST WHAT OUR BEST INTERESTS ARE.

There’s no doubt though. The status-quo will not do any longer. But, what will change for real?

Demands to defund police are a doorway to hold our entire justice system up to scrutiny for example, to question its purpose, its goals, its efficacy, its outcomes.

As a redux of where this can go, let’s repeat a posting from March 26 of 2017.

“Cells for sale or rent.”

The New York Times ran a story in late February under Dan Bilefsky’s byline which began, “The Netherlands has a problem many countries can only dream of: A shortage of prison inmates.”

About a third of Dutch prison cells are empty, attributed to a ‘spectacular’ drop in crime over the last twenty years, and a national preference for rehabilitation over incarceration. There was a upswing in prison populations there in the 90s, but the Netherlands now imprisons only about 61 of every 100,000 citizens, similar to Scandinavia. The United States, on the other hand, puts about 666 of every 100,000 citizens in prison, the highest in the world.

Norway negotiated an agreement with the Dutch two years ago for a three-year lease of a high-security facility and sent 242 prisoners there. They’re paying $35 million per year for the use of this prison, and Belgium is also making use of Dutch jails, sending about 500 inmates across the border.

Even more cells will become surplus over the next few years. As one criminologist explained, the Dutch have a deeply ingrained pragmatism when it comes to regulating law and order. “Prisons are very expensive,” this professor at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam rationalized. There is a relatively liberal approach to soft drugs and prostitution, and the Netherlands is more focused on what works and what is effective, while people in the United States, for instance, make moral arguments for imprisonment.

The Dutch have also become creative with the vacancy rates by transforming jails into housing for asylum seekers, converting cells into apartments for families, and where the interior exercise yards, gymnasiums, kitchens and outdoor gardens have a practical benefit. High exterior walls and barbed wire are removed, but care is taken not to house former political prisoners in cells, unless they feel at ease.

Not everyone is happy. About 2,600 prison guards could lose their jobs in the next four years as more prisons close. The government doesn’t want to give up too many jobs, as this political football can play out to the disadvantage of the present centre-right party in control. As a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Security and Justice put it, the surplus of empty jail cells is “good and bad news at the same time.”

This isn’t an environment that’s generated in a vacuum, with no explanation, or can be simply written off to happenstance. This comes with a concerted effort to question the status quo, think outside the lock-em-up box, and take bold steps to take a different road. Separating some people from the community in a custodial setting will continue to be a reality for now, but there is an illogic to a prison-based system of justice. One perspective is in the form of a poem reprinted in Baz Dreisinger’s book, “Incarceration Nation”:-

We want them to be responsible,
So we take away all responsibilities.
We want them to be positive and constructive,
So we degrade them and make them useless.
We want them to be nonviolent,
So we put them where there is violence all around them.
We want them to quit being the tough guy,
So we put them where the tough guy’s respected.

Now, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it!

Of course, it doesn’t. We’ll go on to examine the why’s next time.