“Please sir, I want some more.”

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is found in the street as an infant and put in a workhouse by the age of nine where he and other boys unravel old rope. In the workhouse Oliver is the victim of slow starvation, the diet consisting of three small bowlfuls of oatmeal gruel per day, an onion twice a week and a roll on Sunday. Under this regimen which reduces the boys to living skeletons, Oliver and his companions become voraciously hungry.
At last they hold a council and choose by lot one among them to ask the overseer for more gruel. The victim of the lottery is Oliver Twist. The time arrives, and ‘desperate with hunger and reckless with misery’, Oliver gets up from the table and walks slowly to the master, basin and spoon in hand…….
“Please, sir, I want some more.”
Oliver got nothing but trouble.

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Pivot to the 21st century and our federal prisons today in this country, and to two examples of how Correctional Service of Canada keeps offenders “desperate with hunger and reckless with misery.” We’ll look at just one of those examples here.

FOOD: The previous federal government under Stephen Harper ordered ministerial across-the-board cost-cutting measures. Correctional Service of Canada followed suit, finding economies that would primarily impact inmates, whose concerns CSC need not consider or address.

Food was one target, and the Service initiated a “Cook Chill” process, bulk preparation, cooled and distributed to institutions for reconstitution and heating. Were there complaints about food quality and serving sizes? Absolutely. There still are. And worse, economies decreased spending to $5.41 per day per inmate, a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50! Not as severe as Oliver’s three daily bowls of gruel but leaving inmates hungry all the same. And, not exactly the conditions conducive for offenders to be “well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives” upon release.

“If you don’t have something going on the side, you’ll starve!”, said one source.

But wait. Prison inmates can purchase additional food from a canteen, although why they should have to do that just to supplement a poor diet is grounds for argument.

Hold it! Buying food from the canteen takes money. We’ll get to that next time.

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Bob’s “Blue Wall”

……….Robert Clark weighed in on another road block “to ensure that when offenders return to their communities, they are well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives.” (From Minister Goodale’s mandate letter to CSC Commissioner Kelly-September 2018)

Robert Clark retired from Correctional Service of Canada in 2009, rising through the ranks to become a deputy warden, and later authored “Down Inside: 30 Years In Canada’s Prison Service”, published last year. Experience taught him the culture within our federal prison system didn’t support positive outcomes for inmates, and in his dismayed opinion, that culture wasn’t likely to change. That doesn’t bode well for Ralph Goodale’s mandate to new CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly.

Mr. Clark also testified in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in July of last year at a lawsuit the BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society brought against Canada over CSC’s use of solitary confinement. (The BCCLA & John Howard won this action.) In his testimony, he talked about “the blue wall”, a code of secrecy where guards cover up for each other, an unwritten code that says correctional officers cannot “rat” on other guards.

Quoting from the July 19, 2017 Globe and Mail, “Mr. Clark testified there is considerable racism within the correctional service and a culture of collective indifference. He said employees often reach a point where they believe inmates are not worthy of their time and energy.”

When asked, Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa released a statement claiming employees are expected to act in accordance with legal and ethical standards and are subject to a code of discipline. “We do not tolerate any breach of our policies and all allegations are thoroughly investigated regardless of the source.”

Now, the bulk if not all complaints against officers would come from inmates. Please refer to “inmates always lie” from “The Firewall” (November 4), and “the blue wall” above to assess the probable effectiveness of CSC investigations.

Robert Clark then guested on CBC FM Radio’s “The Current” on August 27 of this year to comment on an inmate strike in the U.S. Relating this to his perspective of Canada’s prisons, he told his host that the majority of staff in Canadian prisons is indifferent to the plight and rehabilitation of inmates.

He noted the move away from dynamic security in which guards and inmates interact, to static security where contact is limited, as an example of a regressive measure.

The Firewall…….

…..how special interests within Correctional Service of Canada silences dissent and voices that need to be heard.

The October 21st posting ended by suggesting fairy tales can be brought to life.

In last year’s March 26th, “Cells for sale or rent,” the Netherlands had accomplished the enviable feat of emptying about a third of its prison cells through crime-reducing measures, and an emphasis on rehabilitation over incarceration. But, 2600 surplus prison guards became a political headache, and eclipsed the benefits of repurposing underused prisons and the more important achievement for progressive prison reform.

Why?

Job security is important for us all. And, just as in Holland, a thriving prison industry in Canada keeps many thousands of men and women employed, and not only with Correctional Service of Canada.

It’s been pointed out before that any other enterprise that had a failure rate as high as it is almost everywhere in the western world’s prisons would be dismantled and begun again from scratch.

If the success of a “correctional” system was measured more by the efficacy of its mandate to rehabilitate and less on only assessing risks to the community, input from the men and women who would benefit most from a “correctional” system is essential.

That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen because that is a risk to the status quo. It doesn’t happen because that is a risk to job security.

Prison staff, prison guards and the unions that so ably represent them have a mantra, a maxim that has multiple articulations but basically boils down to, “Inmates always lie. Guards are always truthful.” It’s become an ingrained watchword, a firewall against including the “governed” in decisions that affect their future.

What’s more, what’s worse, that won’t change under current CSC culture.

Too bad for it. Too bad for us.

“Once Upon a Time…..”

…….a beginning for the fantasies we’d like to make reality.

For years, the home page of the Correctional Service of Canada’s web site highlighted a Mission Statement that hit all the right notes, committing the Service to the highest ideals for a prison agency prioritizing safe communities through progressive rehabilitation programming for the men and women offenders under its charge.

Well, web sites get updated, refreshed and refined. Somewhere along the way, that Mission Statement disappeared from the site. To CSC critics, it always had little connection to day to day real-life operations in Canada’s federal prisons.

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Anne Kelly replaced Don Head as commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada in July of this year. After 35 years of experience with CSC, she’s as aware of the Service’s strengths and weaknesses as her predecessor.

Nonetheless, to suggest “recommended areas of focus”, her political boss Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, wrote a long Commissioner’s Mandate Letter in September, unusual in that it was made public and published on the CSC web site.

Quoting a core paragraph, published in part in our ‘”Corrections” in Canada? Really?’ on September 30:-
“As Commissioner, you play a key role in ensuring that CSC protects Canadian communities through appropriate custodial measures, effective rehabilitation and safe reintegration of people serving federal sentence. Your responsibility to Canadians is to ensure that when offenders return to their communities, they are well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives; your responsibility to CSC employees is to ensure that they have a safe and supportive workplace in which to carry out the Service’s mandate; your responsibility to victims of crime is to ensure that they receive the compassion, respect and information from CSC to which they are entitled; and your responsibility to the people in your custody is to ensure that they receive the programming, interventions and treatment they require, in an environment that is safe, secure and humane.”

A tall order…..and worth a read of the entire document. We wrote the minister:-

October 9, 2018

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
Ottawa

Re: Commissioner’s mandate letter – 2018-09-05

Dear Minister Goodale:

I’m a Correctional Service of Canada ‘specialist’, and first took notice of our federal prison service about 50 years ago, tentatively stepped onto the field as an activist in the mid 1980s, and developed a concerned interest 21 years ago after leaving behind a business career.

A Mission Statement that once headed CSC’s web site home page disappeared long ago. Your September mandate letter to new Commissioner Anne Kelly is a noble and fearless directive, a worthy successor to the earlier undertaking. That your letter is published in its entirety on the CSC site is a bold endorsement of an enlightened future for the Service.

Unfortunately, over many years of CSC observation and research, the distance between the ideal and the practice is a chasm, making the Office of the Correctional Investigator a necessity. A firewall supported by special interests within the Service regrettably silences the voices of clients/patients/offenders whose input must be essential in measuring the efficacy of CSC’s work towards its better purpose.

By copy of this letter, I’m suggesting that Commissioner Kelly make your letter required reading by all CSC staff members, citing its goals as hard targets, and not whimsical options.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc Anne Kelly, Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Next time, we’ll begin to look at how fairy tales can be brought to life.

“Corrections” in Canada? Really?

…..fact or fiction…

Every public service job comes with knee pads…virtual knee pads, and that goes for everyone from the Queen on down. Fortunately, she never has to be reminded of what duty and service means. Would that were the case for all our civil servants.

According to Minister Ralph Goodale’s recent mandate letter to the new commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada “protects Canadian communities through appropriate custodial measures, effective rehabilitation and safe reintegration of people serving a federal sentence. Your responsibility to Canadians is to ensure that when offenders return to their communities, they are well prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives.”

The man has got to be kidding! Is the minister so far removed from reality to not know what’s going on in his own department? Or, is he simply feeding us approved jibber-jabber.

Look at the Correctional Service of Canada website…..www.csc-scc.gc.ca. One would think it’s heaven-sent to save society from itself rather than hell-bent on preserving a failed “prison industry.”

The breadth and depth of moral and ethical corruption in our prison industry earns it a place on Michael Moore’s “to-do list.” We’re sticking it to the federal system here, but the same applies to its provincial counterparts.

As one seasoned inmate put it, “In spite of the decades of work by organizations and activist individuals to persuade or force Correctional Service of Canada to adhere to its own rules, policies, procedures…..and the law……nothing ever, ever, ever, ever changes.”

What is truly discouraging is the degree to which Canadians choose to look the other way, in spite of the danger on their doorsteps posed by CSC practices.

Ontario? What rules?

………and 25 Grosvenor Street pretends not to know.

September 7, 2018

Minister Michael Tibollo,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, Toronto

Re: It ain’t easy!

Dear Minister Tibollo:

I characterize your unflattering assessment of the previous government’s management of MCCS as partisan, and frankly dishonest. I concede a lack of experience in this portfolio leaves you unaware of the walls Marie-France Lalonde, David Orazietti, and Yasir Naqvi encountered. Surely you can’t believe these Liberal ministers didn’t attempt to push an elephantine bureaucracy towards a more enlightened 21st century purposeful perspective?

My specialty focuses more on provincial jails than policing, and the 2016 appointment of Howard Sapers as the Independent Advisor on Corrections’ Reform to the Ontario Government was welcome and progressive. That Bill 195 which adopted several of his recommendations never received Royal Assent is a setback, and I urge you to review Mr. Sapers’ work as you go forward with your agenda.

Know though that any overt staff sycophantic enthusiasm for whatever you propose will be coupled with a shrouded obstructionist determination to derail change. CBC’s August 23 posting, “Convicted drug dealer faced ‘oppressive’ conditions inside Toronto jail, judge rules” is only one instance of how little concrete has been accomplished to bring Toronto South Detention Centre’s operations up to standard. And, I’ve exampled but one facet in one institution.

MCCS needs an enema. It won’t be easy.

cc Sam Erry, Deputy Minister/Corrections

Michael Tibollo is a rookie Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP who came under strong criticism for wearing a bullet-proof vest on a police ride-along in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, a predominantly black community with a history of gang violence.

The CBC posting cites frequent lockdowns and poor treatment in freeing a small-time drug dealer from the Toronto South Detention Centre. Justice Katrina Mulligan noted “unduly harsh custodial conditions” at TSDC in her ruling, described them as “qualitatively oppressive and physically detrimental”, aggravated by “questionable” medical treatment. Judges continue to message Ontario’s ministry in many decisions for what they consider a bad situation.

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Oath of Allegiance

“I, …………………… , do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to the law.
So help me God. (Omit this phrase in an affirmation)”

Oath of Office and Secrecy

“I, ………………….. , do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully discharge my duties as a civil servant and will observe and comply with the laws of Canada and Ontario, and, except as I may be legally authorized or required, I will not disclose or give to any person any information or document that comes to my knowledge or possession by reason of my being a civil servant.
So help me God. (Omit this phrase in an affirmation)”

These are the oaths sworn by Ontario’s civil servants, including guards and staff at the province’s jails.
So, what do they mean to our jail guards? Not much.

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We have anecdotal evidence in two specific areas, primarily at Toronto South Detention Centre, although conditions should be considered uniform throughout the provinces prison industry.

Nothing has changed in Ontario in spite of the previous government’s commitment to improve MCCS and plans by the new government to do the same. Institutional staff is not paying attention to policy, procedure, or the law in some cases, if it doesn’t meet an anti-inmate agenda, believing guards and middle-management can act with impunity.

Reducing the use of solitary confinement as an objective prompted guards to create segregation cells on population ranges. They simply select the most isolated cell on a range, use it for segregation, allow the subject inmate out for two hours per day as prescribed, but only when other inmates on that range are locked away.

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What’s the problem? Manifold and many, no question, and they won’t be resolved even with a total rethinking of the penal system. A requisite first step though is accountability, now nowhere to be seen. And good luck to anyone at MCCS to get that idea past the guards’ union!

Rules & the law are ‘simply a suggestion.’

…….political malpractice at work

Back in the 1970s, this writer visited a close friend who was on a multi-year corporate assignment in Montreal. He headquartered in a downtown high-rise and made the most of exploring the city in his spare time.

On this visit and on a pleasant Sunday, we went for a mid-morning drive to see Old Montreal. The streets were quiet, talk was easy and casual, but a distraction all the same. As we coasted down a hill on a side street, my friend realized we were at an intersection with a red stop light against us.

His reflexes kicked in, he applied the brakes, there was a short skid, and we drifted slowly through the intersection when he lifted his foot off the pedal. Thankfully there was no other traffic in any direction….except for a police cruiser parked at the curb across the street facing us. We continued slowly down the hill as he kept checking the rear-view mirror. The police car didn’t move.

A few moments later, he said quietly, “You must remember that in Montreal, red lights are simply a suggestion.”

Correctional Service of Canada operations reminds me of that morning drive, as does Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and no doubt, similarities can be made with the way other provincial prison industries are run. Suggestions. That’s what policy, procedure and even the law so often seems to be.

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Then too, there’s a television moment from just over twenty years ago that can remind us of how our jails and prisons are managed.

The original “Murphy Brown”, the comic series now revived for today’s audience, ran from 1988 to 1998. For 24 episodes from 1994 to 1997, Garry Marshall appeared in the character role of Stan Lansing, the lovable, loud, cantankerous, mico-managing network president.

In a short scene from one show, ‘Stan’ is pacing around his desk, telephone in hand, and agitated in the midst of an animated conversation with the producer of one of the programs his network is running. They’re arguing back and forth about the quality of the product. Frustrated, and intent on bringing the call to a close, ‘Stan’ slams down the receiver with a final judgment on the subject, “It would be better if it didn’t stink!”

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There are no secrets here. Activists, reformers, progressives, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator in the case of Canada’s federal prison industry, stream observations, recommendations, criticisms, pleas, and initiate court actions to move the clock towards an environment of accountability and positive outcomes.

Results are negligible at best even with a sustained determination to effect change, but worse, the intransigence is defended and supported by the very elected bodies who are charged by the people to work for the betterment of society.

Next: Another look at Ontario’s jails before we tackle what the feds are doing.