Prison security. How much? Too much?

“Security is a top priority for CSC. It involves a constant focus on the safety of the public.  It also means making sure that staff and inmates have a safe and secure place to work and live.”  Correctional Service of Canada web site.

Every Correctional Service of Canada employee is part of the agency’s security substructure. Security means insurance, it means preservation, it’s surveillance, a guarantee, and a shield.  As CSC claims, keeping inmates, staff, and visitors safe is key.  Impenetrable institutional perimeters are a fundamental necessity.  Institutions also have staff dedicated to overseeing security, following prescribed policies which we assume match practice.  And, by design or practice, security has an overriding authority in institutional operations.  But, there are at least two problematic issues that can be counterproductive and in conflict with CSC’s Mission Statement.

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Contraband includes everything that is unauthorized by CSC policy or is illegal.  Considerable resources are available to prevent what is prohibited from getting into prisons, but the process is constantly challenged by opportunistic smuggling innovations.  Drone drops onto prison properties are a novel example. 

Anything that is illegal plus material that promotes or encourages criminality, or advocates gang activities, or endorses hate, and all drugs of course are confiscated.  Same for cell phones, and a range of items that could facilitate the introduction of what is restricted.  This we should expect.  But barred also are newspaper clippings, photocopies, internet sourced information, books, non-subscription magazines, “any material with a purchase value,” tobacco and marijuana, plus there’s an accommodation for institutional management to include anything it may judge as concerning.

The tobacco ban is unwarranted and unreasonable.  Most inmates are smokers, and taking tobacco away from a smoker does not make for a non-smoker.  It makes for a smoker without tobacco.  Granted, a solution that allows smoking on prison property while accommodating the concerns of non-smokers is illusive, but the policy as it is helps drive a parasitic underground economy in need of innovative solutions. This along with other prohibitions that are seen as arbitrary and punitive portray keepers as oppressors and does a disservice to rehabilitation objectives.

Drugs are clearly a serious problem.  There’s a higher percentage of incarcerated men and women with substance abuse and addition issues than in the community.  Some inmates may become initiates into the prison drug culture simply out of boredom and escapism.  Drug prices are exorbitant, profits attract outside criminal interests, violence is endemic, and drug rehabilitative remedies and programming is underfunded.  Security in prisons, just like police in the community, know the perils of the drug trade, and is in a position to consult with corporate management on best practices to reduce demand and make recommendations for progressive harm reduction strategies.  However, security is unlikely to see that as part of the job description.

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Inmate movement includes the numerous reasons prisoners have to leave their ranges.  There are jobs and visits and programs (presently suspended due to COVID), recreational and exercise periods, medical appointments, meal calls, and meetings with staff.  The sway of security personnel in institutions permits the cancellation or temporary suspension of any or all movement.  Imagine the inmate who has a toothache, has suffered for weeks waiting for the dentist (more the rule than the exception) and has his appointment cancelled for a security priority somewhere in the institution, and may have to wait for days or weeks to be rescheduled.  Security seems to operate under the presumption that there are no inmate priorities.  Not conducive to encouraging rehabilitative “correctional plan” goals, is it.

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Security in a prison environment is of paramount importance, yes, but it can also whip up a disrespect for the society to which we expect offenders to return as law-abiding and contributing citizens.

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Postscript:  From May 9, CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly’s reminder about the revision to the Media Relations Directive was mailed to her office on May 6: –

Anne Kelly, Commissioner,
Correctional Service of Canada,
Ottawa, Ontario

Re:       Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Commissioner Kelly:

Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger makes several recommendations in his Annual Reports each year to which Correctional Service of Canada responds.

On page 18 of his 2019-2020 Annual Report, Dr. Zinger cites an investigation into Commissioner’s Directive 022-Media Relations.  This might have led to another recommendation save that, “the Service agreed to review CD-022 and address the concerns noted above.”

Further, “the Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”

It has been at least a year since you undertook this review.  While there is much demanding your attention, this project is relatively minor on the one hand, but the changes will also eliminate any suspicion that the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media on the other.

I look forward to reading the new directive in the near future.

Should guards know what is in inmate health records?  That and more next time……

“Inmates have no rights!”

Again, the Senate of Canada’s appraisal of our federal prison industry:-

“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.”

While the focus remains almost entirely on Correctional Service of Canada, provincial institutions present the same challenges.  From sea to sea to sea, there isn’t much to choose from among the provincial and territorial jails.  Correctional Service of Canada, as head honcho of the collegiate collection of carceral coolers, has a national profile, and is the repository of men and women incarcerated for longer sentences, giving us a model vantage point to scrutinize how we treat the people who violate our laws.

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“Inmates have no rights!”  So says a seasoned, long serving federally-sentenced man who is one of many low-profile prison activists throughout the industry.  No matter what the law decrees, or what decisions come down from the Courts, no matter the policies Correctional Service of Canada lays out for its employees, or the pronouncements of its management and spin doctors on the efficacy of its operations, in the trenches inmates know that none of it carries any weight against the immunity every CSC staffer claims for whatever actions or behaviours arise from the performance of their duties.

Correctional Service of Canada makes every effort to throw a blanket over day-to-day life within its institutions.  This is the entry point for reformation.  Accountability and transparency have no meaning when self-administered by bodies that do not, for one, even know what its guards are doing.  The deaths of Soleiman Faqiri in an Ontario jail and Matthew Hines in a Nova Scotia federal prison example the extremes of the lack of responsibility to which the perpetrators of crimes in custody are held when wearing a uniform, and the absence of transparency in the overseers of penal institutions.  Notice too, in an industry where protecting one’s butt is an occupational priority, how CSC and the provincial agencies protest what critics have to say.

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One first step to letting in the light on the CSC prison environment as inmates and guards and other staff members interact every day is to rewrite Commissioner’s Directive 022 which governs media relations.  According to the CSC website, its purpose is “to provide guidance on media relations activities, including media interviews, to staff and to offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.”

What?  Why are “offenders” included in a media relations directive as they are?

It’s good policy and wise business practice to dictate the relationship between Correctional Service of Canada, its management and its employees with the media.  Of necessity, CSC must speak with one voice, just as every corporation, business, and government bureau does, no matter how twisted the message.  But, there is no legal basis for CSC “to muzzle, deny or justify restricting citizen access to the media, including those deprived of liberty,” as Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger wrote in his 2019-2020 Annual Report.

Further from that same report, “….we found that some of the policy criteria set out in Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations to be unreasonable, irrelevant or not founded in law.  In unreasonably denying or delaying an inmate’s access to the media, the Service may be in violation of recognized democratic principles and constitutionally guaranteed rights.  An incarcerated person does not forfeit the right to freedom of expression and the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”  The report does accept that there are reasonable security and operational restrictions that need to be considered when connecting inmates and the media, but they must be “grounded in law rather than how CSC thinks an inmate might behave or say to the media.”

Correctional Investigator Zinger wrote that the Service agreed to review CD-022, given the issues he raised.  “The Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates’ right to freedom of expression. in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”  There’s potentially negative subjectivity there but the end result will tell.

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It’s been about a year since the Commissioner agreed to this undertaking, and while it can be argued that a revision of the media policy is the relatively simple matter of an executive decision, this is ‘government.’  No doubt Commissioner Kelly asked that a committee be struck to study changes, given six months to submit recommendations, followed by an analysis of the ramifications of a rewrite, and ending with the release of an amended C-022 in due course.

CSC National Headquarters may need some prodding and a reminder.  That is in order.  A year should be a sufficient allowance for this work. 

As we wait, an examination of some Security functions needs a look.  Next.

Correctional Service of Canada exists……

……TO DELIVER EMPLOYMENT AND BENEFITS TO 18,000 PLUS FEDERAL CIVIL SERVANTS.

HOW COULD ANYONE THINK OTHERWISE? 

Consider this:
Thousands of men and women, dozens of organizations and groups, many of note like the John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Correctional Investigator of Canada, and a particularly important entity we know as the Supreme Court of Canada, have laboured for decades to persuade, cajole, convince, and even force Correctional Service of Canada’s compliance with it’s Mission Statement on the one hand, and to proactively adopt and initiate progressive correctional practices on the other.

Yes, there’s progress, recalling Margaret Mead’s:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  But progress in our prisons is slow, limited, sometimes moving under protest, and often confronted by clever sabotage.  There’s this sense that CSC pays lip service to what it sees as unwelcome interference while devising circumventions behind closed doors.  It gives no inkling that the prison industry is being dragged screaming and howling into a future where it sees no benefit to its viability.  That should be concerning.  It is howling and screaming, but we don’t see that.  This is an agency that has become practiced at keeping prying eyes out, and accountability and transparency at bay.

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Why?  What’s going on?

 Canada established this office as a correctional portal for people who come into conflict with the law, and assessed as meriting confinement, and subject to programming and guidance to permit a safe return to society.  It’s purposely named the Correctional Service of Canada, functions under federal legislation that is complemented by dozens of Commissioner’s Directives to define, flesh out, and detail policy and practice.  Further, there’s even limited allowances for institutional management to fine tune for local conditions.

The terrain is landscaped to meet the challenges for which Correctional Service of Canada is purposed.  Billions goes into operations.  CSC has the resources to aggressively lead in the field and be ahead of its critics.  No doubt, there are some earnest efforts to mimic a correcting system, and personnel who take their work seriously.  Despite this, where is the commitment to stay attuned to best practices, to meet the needs of the incarcerated, and prioritize positive outcomes?  All the while, how much is spent on legal fees to defend claims against CSC?  How much is spent to settle actions?  How much is spent on spin doctors to convince the public that CSC is doing what it is intended to do?  The groups and associations and courts and women and men who argue the delinquency of the system have good cause.

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“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Adapt this Mark Twain quote to our premise here that Correctional Service of Canada exists to deliver employment and benefits to 18,000 plus federal civil servants, then “the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  How could it be otherwise?

What’s next?  Simply put, another round is what’s next, followed by another round, followed by……..  There are objectives worth the pursuit.  No, this is a cause demanding the pursuit.  As one cycle follows another, there are always new people, new groups, new forces ready to take up the torch from flagging veterans.

And so, we begin.  We are always beginning.

 

(Note:  Correctional Service of Canada is only one small piece of government.  Just how much smoke and mirrors might there be elsewhere in Ottawa?)

Part II: How do prisoners get a life……

…….WHEN THE PRISON INDUSTRY SAYS NO.

“Canada does have promising programs in its federal prisons, and Walls to Bridges is a great example,” noted the March 28 entry.  Yet, its availability is extremely limited and restricted to few inmates, and as the Correctional Investigator points out: “The Walls to Bridges program is funded entirely by the university/college offering the course and only requires CSC to provide classroom space and screen community students coming into the institution.”

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Two points:  Prison programming with few exceptions is suspended during COVID which leaves men and women with too much time on their hands during the best of times as it is with even less to do.  As well, this will report on the latest viewpoints and findings of Dr. Ivan Zinger and his Office of the Correctional Investigator.

But first, referencing the Correctional Service of Canada website, we read:  “CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of the Correctional Service of Canada.  It contributes to safe communities by providing offenders with employment and employability skills training while incarcerated in federal penitentiaries, and for brief periods of time, after they are released in the community.”

Now, turning to the latest available correctional investigator annual report:  “…many prison shops visited for this investigation require offenders to work on obsolete machines no longer used in the community.  Few CORCAN-run industries provide training or teach skills that are job relevant or meet labour market demands.  The Service has continued to maintain obsolete infrastructure and technological platforms for such an extended period of time that these problems now appear insoluble.  Federal corrections maintain environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo.  There appears to be little motivation to improve, evidenced by the lack of progress over the last two decades.”

Further:  “It is equally difficult to obtain a job-ready or marketable vocational skills, even for those working in COCAN.  While we saw some CORCAN shops that were indeed providing workers with relevant, sought-after skills, it was also evident that too many workers were toiling day after day gaining very few skills that would assist them in obtaining a job.”  Some CSC staffers discussed how every CORCAN job taught dependability, working with others, problem-solving and conflict resolution, “many also confided that prison industries effectively fill an individual’s time rather than provide a useable skillset.”

The elimination of incentive pay by a previous federal government (changes that also reduced inmate pay from a base that hasn’t changed since about 1980) “made it difficult to recruit workers in CORCAN industries.  Few wanted to work all day in CORCAN jobs that were physically demanding, provided limited skills and were paid the same amount that a range cleaner makes, a position that requires far less investment in time or motivation.”

“Research and experience tell us that prison education and vocational training offer an important opportunity to intervene in the lives of individuals and a chance to provide them with the skills and knowledge required to succeed in today’s economy.  The reality is that the vast majority of individuals who are incarcerated will eventually be released back into the community; therefore, it is in the best interest of not only those who are incarcerated, but to all Canadians, that they be offered the basic tools in order to eventually contribute to the Canadian workforce and economy in law-abiding ways.”

The Correctional Investigator’s latest annual report cited ten of the recommendations it’s made for learning and vocational training behind bars to Correctional Service of Canada over the last ten years.  They range from computer and internet access to teaching computer skills, to meaningful work opportunities, to modernizing CORCAN, to action plans on relevant jobs, to studies on inmate work, to how to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

What’s been going on at Correctional Service of Canada all these years?  A studied observation next time.

How do prisoners get a life……

…..WHEN THE PRISON INDUSTRY SAYS NO?

Part I

The half dozen or so blocks of Bay Street south of Old City Hall in Toronto are the heart of the city’s financial district.  This is Toronto’s Wall Street.  Generally, the people who occupy the offices and walk the streets in the area are fiscal conservatives and socially ambivalent.  It is the route our heroes, champions, and special guests once were paraded through ticker tape streamers in the days of older technology and open windows up to a welcome at the grand building at the top of the route, the seat of municipal government years ago.

The canyon of office towers on Bay and its intersecting streets attracts many of Toronto’s homeless.  Heating grates on the sidewalks and the nooks and narrow spaces between buildings offer shelter and warmth, making such districts a common destination for the poorest in every large city.  The contrast between the neediest among us and the barons and their trains who manage much of the country’s wealth is stark and unwelcome.  The unfortunates tend to be shunned, seen as a nuisance.

A few years ago, one of the street’s financiers submitted a short opinion piece to a Toronto daily newspaper.  In it, he wrote about leaving his office for a short walk up Bay Street to lunch at his club.  On the way, he had to step over the body of a man laying over one of those hot air grates.  Normally, that would provoke a protest, an intrusion into his ordered world, but this time he took a different perspective.  This man lying on the sidewalk he thought, and all those men and women like him, were in truth lost consumers of society’s common life, people who could be lifted up, given the resources to regain dignity and purpose and to contribute to a higher good.  Not all would succeed but deserved care and support, nonetheless.

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What about our hidden population of men and women locked away in our prisons and jails?  Most of us assume that because the words “correction” and “correctional” are incorporated into the names of the provincial and federal agencies who manage offenders, that a correcting service is what these men and women are provided.  Inmates need only to take up the baton and run with it to a better future.  Right?

To be sure, the organizations that operate these institutions lay claim to the life-changing principles that underwrite rehabilitation.  The federal Correctional Service of Canada is representative of all in this field when its Mission Statement states that it “contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.”

Sounds good?  This is what we expect, don’t we?  Referring once again to the Senate of Canada’s 2019 report, “the security features inherent to federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out.” Same for provincial institutions.  Further, “the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny.”  Same for provincial.  So, not only are these men and women out of sight, out of mind, but how much attention do we pay to what services and programing is really available, or how widely available those services are?

Lee Chapelle spent just over 20 years in prison.  He’s been the president of Prison Consulting Services Canada for some years now, which offers a wide variety of comprehensive informational, reform and advocacy-based services.  Lee estimates that about 80% of incarcerated men and women can turn themselves around if the necessary supports are in place.

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“How can prisoners be rehabilitated without proper access to education?”  That headlined an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail from the end of December in 2019, authored by Lisa Kerr, an assistant law professor at Queen’s University, and Paul Quick, a staff lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic.  It begins:  “Few will be surprised to learn that our prisons house our most poorly educated citizens.  What is less known is that incarcerated people in Canada are effectively not allowed to obtain the education that might help them get and hold a job after their release”

Correctional Service of Canada is required to provide education up to Grade 12 to everyone who needs it.  But, policies effectively bar prisoners from using their own money to go any further than high school.  We’re told that CSC has a policy expecting prison staff to help inmates access postsecondary courses, but then there’s a total ban on access to the internet.  In today’s world, how many educational institutions still offer paper correspondence courses?  As the Office of the Correctional Investigator said a vey few years ago, “It’s hard to understand how an environment deprived of computers and internet, and thereby deprived of information, can be rehabilitative.”

Canada does have promising programs in its federal prisons, and Walls to Bridges is a great example.  For-credit courses are taught by university professors in classes that are equally composed of students from the university and the prison.  There’s an emphasis on equality among teachers, students and prisoners to advocate for inclusivity.  But, there are few institutions offering this program and space is strictly limited.

The United States and some European countries are way ahead of Canada, and what we do here may even be unconstitutional, a cause waiting for a Charter-based challenge.  Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s latest report tells us:  “In Canada, those behind federal prison walls have long been deprived of most technological advancements in learning.  The current state of inmate access to information and technology is backward and obsolete.  Offenders have limited access to outdated and stand-alone computers that still use floppy disks.  CSC runs Local-area Networks, which are equipped with software from the early 2000s, have no access to the internet, contain limited reference materials and have almost no technical capacity to support or facilitate eLearning of any kind.”

Bad enough?  It doesn’t get better……more on its way.

 

Inmates. How would you rate?

“WE DON’T BELIEVE THAT CORRECTIONAL SERVICE CANADA WILL CHANGE ITS BEHAVIOUR UNLESS IT’S COMPELLED.”

So said Vancouver-based civil-rights lawyer Jason Gratl, who filed a proposed class-action against the government in Federal Court on Monday, January 11, claiming systemic bias in Correctional Service of Canada’s security classifications. 

The lawsuit argues that living assignments, access to programs, parole opportunities are negatively impacting thousands of inmates through prejudiced and outdated risk tools.  The Senate of Canada’s study of prison inmates’ human rights also noted the Custody Rating Scale, CSC’s first key assessment of inmates, was designed in the late 80s, where the sample of individuals to develop the ratings was predominantly composed of white males.

According to the Globe and Mail in early January of this year, watchdogs and academics pressed concerns long ago about this most important risk tool’s fairness towards women.  The prison agency is overseen by Public Safety Canada, and it investigated the charges, issuing a report in September of 2004.  The Globe noted the report “found serious flaws” with the rating scale and “recommended the agency (CSC) design a new one.  Sixteen years on, the tool remains unchanged.”

Globe and Mail investigations show prison assessment mechanisms are not only biased against Indigenous women and women in general but for Indigenous and Black men they have “far-reaching consequences for an inmate’s experience in prison.”  To quote further from the paper, “Black men were about 24 per cent more likely than white men to receive the worst possible security scores at admission.  Indigenous men, meanwhile, were roughly 30 per cent more likely than white men to receive the worst reintegration potential score at any point during their sentence.”

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So, what is this ‘rating system’ about?  Brevity when detailing bureaucratic procedures is challenging, and more likely than not they are intended to be enigmatic, but an attempt here is in order.

A person ordered into a federal prison will have a preliminary assessment interview with a Correctional Service of Canada parole officer.  The result sticks with the inmate for the duration, will inform all further assessments and every decision, from where a sentence is served, access to programming, future meetings with staff, the use of restricted confinement, visiting privileges, odds of parole…every aspect of prison life.

The Custody Rating Scale, the first key assessment, measures what kind of security risk an inmate poses inside a prison.  It’s a 12 multiple-choice question evaluation focused on an offender’s history, it’s filled out by a parole officer, and the ‘score’ sets an inmate’s security level at minimum, medium or maximum.  Scores can be overridden if an officer believes it’s too high or too low.  Since treatment, programs, privileges, and jobs vary with institutions and with security levels, an inmate’s security ranking is their single most important score.  Levels can change with time, but the initial assessment is decisive.

A second key assessment is the Reintegration Potential Score, important near the end of a sentence, is used by the Parole Board of Canada to estimate an inmate’s preparedness for parole and what risks to public safety release presents.  Outcomes are based partially on two math-based actuarial risk assessments, such as the Custody Rating Scale for one, but two other assessments rely on the judgement of officers administering the tests which allows potential biases to interfere with impartiality.

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Much of this is impersonal and methodical, perhaps justified in a decision-making process.  But, between that preliminary assessment at the beginning of a sentence and an evaluation for a potentially successful reintegration near the end should come a plethora of multi-faceted opportunities for inmates to work towards a life most have never known.  That is fodder aplenty for upcoming postings.

In the meantime, the House of Commons public safety committee recently committed to a study into bias in prison risk assessments.  All the while, Correctional Service of Canada spokespersons say the agency “regularly conducts research to ensure they’re (risk assessment tools) still reliable.”  How is that possible?

“We want to see the system change,”
lawyer Jason Gratl told the Globe and Mail during his January interview.  Mr. Gratl has been focused on that for some time, and will no doubt live with Jobian patience.

How ‘bout housing?  How ‘bout education and jobs?  How ‘bout…..more to come.

Prison racism

The Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Human Rights in its interim report released in February of 2019 on the state of human rights of inmates in our federal prisons addressed racism in the system as part of its investigation.
“The committee wishes to draw attention to the fact that it has heard personal storis of racism and discrimination from almost every Black individual with whom it has had contact during its fact-finding visits.  This includes persons serving sentences and those administrating them.  Discrimination was often based on multiple, intersecting identity factors like gender, race, language and ethnic origin.  These experiences transcend the correctional environment and condition the way Black people in Canada experience the world.  As one witness stated, ‘one aspect of anti-Black racism in the prison system is that it is not only applied to prisoners but also to Black communities, families and advocates.’  Another told the committee that they would need to live a year in her skin to fully understand her testimony.”

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Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the House of Commons standing committee on public safety on Monday, November 2 last year that Indigenous and racialized people experienced “really bad results” in the federal criminal justice system.  “We know that Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the Canadian justice system and we are prepared to make significant actions, both in investment and legislation, in order to change that,” he added.  Minister Blair agreed with committee members that “timelines clearly defined” were necessary to address racism, some would argue systemic racism, within Correctional Service of Canada.

There isn’t a Black or Indigenous inmate in our federal prison industry who has not experienced racist treatment.  Now, we also have prison staff who allege systemic racism in the agency, too.

“They’re all talk.  Our input, our opinions, our feedback – it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference.  They just slough us off.  This kind of treatment – racism – shouldn’t go on.”  This is Jennifer Constant, one of two CSC correctional officers who are representative plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada filed in Federal court on January 11.  The statement of claim says that, “CSC management and staff treat racialized staff as though they are inmates.  It is an ‘us versus them’ mentality, and racialized CSC staff members are on the outside.”  The suit can proceed once its proposed class – all racialized people who worked for or with CSC – is certified by a judge.

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Hold on.  We’re talking here about federal public servants supposedly working on our behalf and in our best interests who are financed from basement to roof, from underwear to tunic, from tire to steering wheel, from first day of training to graduation, and for each hour of a shift, by diverse communities of taxpayers that include racialized minorities who are factually paying government employees to discriminate against them!  Are we still in Canada?

Racism is learned.  Racism is taught.  As hard pressed as we would be to point to a country where racism is not a part of the landscape, perhaps we should credit “the former guy” in Washington’s White House who endorsed racist and white supremacist factions with exposing the depth of it in the United States, and in Canada.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” 

We out here in the community have the freedom of movement and access to the seats of power to petition for action against this pestilence, unlike the men and women in prisons.  To finish with an excerpt from that senate report, one we’ve printed previously at least twice. “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.”

What Bill Blair told the House committee is old news.  Will anything change this time?

The inmate rating system discriminates, and another lawsuit, next…….

 

 

 

Sick in prison. Death in prison.

Port Cartier Institution is a maximum-security prison with a small inmate population located outside the town of Port Cartier in far eastern Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence.  Opened in 1988, it was built to boost employment opportunities in an area represented in parliament at the time by Brian Mulroney.  He was the member for the electoral district of Manicouagan and the Prime Minister.

The prison is a remote 600 kilometres from Quebec City and roughly a 14-hour drive from Montreal.  This increases operating costs.  Staffers travelling to Montreal or Ottawa must drive 60 kilometres further east to Sept-Iles and fly from there.  And, to meet Correctional Service of Canada’s mandate to encourage inmate contact with the community, visitors can be reimbursed for some travel costs.  It’s a long way from home.

Several years ago, a contact in the institution was placed in segregation for a time.  An elderly inmate was in the next cell, old and feeble and out of his mind.  He muttered through the day, had nothing but bedding and a few clothes, and spent at least some of his time painting the walls with his own feces.  Once a day, two guards would take him to the shower while his cell was hosed down.  This man lived in segregation with only himself for company, and he wasn’t there serving an institutional sentence.  He was intentionally hidden away, and by now has more than likely died, his only relief.  Why was he still in prison?

This is an evident example of cruel and unusual punishment, and it didn’t have to be.  Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger has pointed out that “prisons were never meant to house sick, palliative or terminally ill patients.”  Just so, the legislation and policies which direct Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board allows for compassionate release of sick inmates to hospices, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The release authorization process is slow and cumbersome to the point that sick inmates often die before their request is considered.  CSC recently developed its own MAID policy to accommodate inmates who don’t want to suffer through an often futile wait for a decision, but even that is a process.  There’s no question a sick inmate does not want to die in a prison environment, but notices are posted on the CSC website almost weekly announcing deaths from “natural causes.”

In this age of COVID, we frequently hear of sick patients dying in hospital alone, with only nurses and doctors for comfort.  A tragic death we’re told, and so it is.  Death in a prison infirmary is singularly solitary. No one cares.

Should we?  A moral tale may illustrate the conundrum.

A man has a dog, a faithful friend, a part of the family for years, a friend who walks with him every day in the ravine down the road.  There comes a time when the walk in the woods turns deadly.  His dog runs on ahead, an old habit, and encounters a predator….a coyote.  The man runs towards the sound of howls, growls, and barks, picking up a broken tree limb as he goes.  He reaches the fighting animals as the coyote tears at his dog’s throat.  He beats viciously on it  until it rolls away, bleeding, whining, gasping on the ground.  His dog is dead.  The man picks up his old friend to carry him away and pauses to look down at the coyote.  The animal is laying on its side, quivering, breathing heavily, mortally injured.  What does the man do?

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The state of health care in the prison industry is dismal despite the tens of millions of dollars spent by provincial and federal carceral agencies.  The need for services by the imprisoned is substantially higher than in the general population and explains in part the disparity between what is done and what is left undone.  The challenge in finding health-care staff who give a damn about outcomes is another piece to the answer.

From a lawyer in Quebec who specializes in post-conviction law we learn that “almost all federal prisoners are dealing with at least one serious medical problem and a quarter of the population are(sic) aggravated by health services which range from slow to spotty to forget-about-it.”  Over 40% of men and women sitting in provincial jails awaiting trial have mental/emotional health issues.  Our jails and prisons have become our largest provider of mental health services, and warehouses for the mentally ill.  And yet, most are left untreated in any meaningful way in spite of what CSC wants to tell us about the role of psychologists in the federal system.

Whether a decayed tooth, a broken bone, a diseased body or mind, the call for care tests the capacity to respond.  Imagine for instance the anxiety of a provincial prisoner who is transferred to the federal system where their prescribed medication is cut off until the federal health-care unit does a reassessment and may change or not renew an established regimen.  Imagine having to wait weeks with a toothache.  Imagine knowing you must live with bi-polar disorder because the treatment you need is not forthcoming.  Imagine men and women punished rather than treated because illness causes them to act out.

Institutional healthcare has been and will continue to be dissected here and elsewhere.  Changes?  Improvements?  Incrementally, yes, maybe.

There’s a long way yet to go.  For now, we move on.

Soleiman Faqiri….restless in the grave…

….WAITING FOR JUSTICE.

 Soleiman’s family and his supporters’ anger only grows as court documents suggest jail guards violated policies and ignored guidelines when they killed him on December 15 in 2016.  The province fired two managers as scapegoats, but its culpability is detailed by its refusal to hold jail staff members involved in this crime accountable, allowing a questionable OPP investigation to prevail.

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt’s essay, “The dangers of turning a blind eye to abuse in jails,” was published on the editorial page of the Wednesday, January 20 Toronto Star.  Referring to Soleiman Faqiri’s death, Mr. Spratt writes “…despite the compelling evidence suggesting the killing was a criminal offence, the OPP declined to charge any of the guards because they could not say for sure who delivered the fatal blow.  The OPP’s absurd justification for the lack of charges is a legal fiction that smells of a coverup.”

Mr. Spratt believes police should be charging the guards involved in the killing as well as investigating politicians who often intentionally ignore the violence in the jails they supervise.  He tells us that we should not be surprised by the atrocities that occur in jails when politicians go so far as to dismiss “judicial condemnation” for the conditions they allow to persist.

The closing argument demands that “Those who commit murder, even if they are jail guards, should be held to account.  And so should the politicians who enable them.”

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We thanked him for his perspective, adding in our letter that “Those guards wanted Faqiri in that cell where he died.  Once inside, all they had to do was close the door.  Why didn’t they just do that and leave him alone?  It’s the kind of scene that plays out in provincial and federal institutions across Canada daily.  The inmate had given guards a hard time and they wanted to teach him a lesson.  They may not have intended to kill him, but they sure as hell didn’t care if he died.”

The minister needed to be reminded of the obvious:-

January 25, 2021

The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General,
George Drew Building,
Toronto

Re:     Soleiman Faqiri

Minister Jones:

A group of men is brawling one afternoon in the courtyard of the YMCA across Grosvenor Street from your office.  It’s noisy.  The storm of flailing arms and legs, shouts, screams, and shuffling feet is incessant, and it appears focused on just one person, a victim of the melee.

The police arrive, the dust settles.  A man lies dead on the concrete plaza.  Notes and photos are taken, men are interviewed.  No one is arrested.  An investigation follows.  No charges are laid.  Why?  The police cannot determine which of that group of men may be responsible for the homicide.

Fiction?

Yes, unless those men were employed by Ontario’s correctional services, in uniform and working in our jails.  Like the men who murdered Soleiman Faqiri in Lindsay back in December of 2016 and still walk free.  And what about ministry personnel like you who enable the daily atrocities and abuses that characterize life in provincial institutions by turning a blind eye to violence and a deaf ear to judicial reprimands?  Impunity extends to you too, doesn’t it.

Are you able to feel shame?

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Soleiman’s family is in the midst of a $14.3 lawsuit against Ontario and the individuals responsible for his death.  That however is the sound of only one shoe dropping.  How about criminal charges where criminal charges are due as a next step!

Prisons as long term care facilities….and more….next time.

Guards coast to coast ……#5

WHY SO MUCH ATTENTION TO PRISON GUARDS?  A note from an inmate in Alberta included an afterthought unrelated to his purpose in writing but it illustrates one reason for the notice correction officers are due.
This man was wakened early one morning by guards to search both him and his cell.  He was not moving fast enough to please one guard who called him “a piece of shit.”  He objected at length, and as a result, was written up for a minor charge.  No contraband was found in the search.
The charge was dismissed by an internal review but the deputy warden, with whom he had never met, let him know that his behaviour would not be tolerated, and his visiting privileges were in peril.  The guard’s behaviour was never an issue.  The inmate was free to file a grievance, a process that is universally understood to be nothing more than a sop.
This is typical for every day in our provincial and federal institutions.
THAT’S REASON ENOUGH!

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In a call shortly after 7pm on Saturday, September 7 in 2019, an inmate in Millhaven Institution phoned from the prison gym where guards had moved the men on his range while they conducted an unauthorized search of the institution.  There had been violent incidents on one range during the last week of August and guards had recommended a search of the institution.  The warden did not agree and would not consent to a search.  The guards waited for the weekend when management would not be in their offices and went ahead anyway.

The inmates could have countered the guards’ action.  If, for instance, the men on his range refused to allow the search and the guards persisted, extraction teams would be called, equipment and chemical agents would be issued, thereby creating a written record requiring a justification for the search.  The inmate on the call complained that his fellow prisoners didn’t have enough “jam” to confront guards who were violating policy.  In plain English, they did not have the balls.  And, as he said, this is the kind of thing that will go on for as long as people stand by and do nothing.  For him, that meant it would go on forever.

So, what happens if/when the warden learns that a search was conducted despite her decision?  Anywhere from not much to nothing.  Management does not want a conflict with the guards’ union.

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It was late on an early June afternoon last summer.  During a call from an inmate in a maximum-security institution in eastern Canada a commotion erupted on the range.  A loud but unintelligible male voice was shouting a command, repeated more than once, and was then followed by the sound of a short scuffle.  The inmate on the phone called out to someone, castigating them for the use of pepper spray.  I asked for an explanation.

An inmate had been a ‘nuisance’ earlier in the day, uncooperative and in a foul mood.  As I was on the phone, he was let out of his cell for a shower, called for a guard to turn on the water, was ignored, and ignored more than once.  Using some initiative, he pulled a plastic bag over his head which brought guards running onto the range, ordering him to remove it.  He refused.  Pepper spray was discharged.  He would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of pepper spray under the circumstances, and even though he put himself into that position, caution was in order.  That’s the objection the inmate on my phone was making.

Once the bag was off, policy dictates an inmate who has been sprayed must be decontaminated ….in the shower.  For better or worse, and one way or another, this man was getting his shower.

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Some would say the inmates above and below were authors of their own misfortune, but that is no justification for guards to behave less than to expected standards.

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An inmate in a western province was transferred to a maximum-security institution, likely earning the move to a more restrictive environment.  He had prescription glasses which were a necessity for any reading, writing, or close work.  When his property arrived, he opened the protective case to find the glasses had been crushed and broken.  That could only have occurred when guards at the previous institution packed his property.

This inmate was told he could not replace his glasses, at least not without intervention from God.  He had contact lenses which would have been a partial solution, but he needed moisturizing solution.  He was told that was no longer available from the institution.  He was not given any options, and water was neither a satisfactory nor a sanitary substitute.  He needed lenses to function.

What this man needs most is a lawyer.

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Treading into a provincial jurisdiction, namely Newfoundland and Labrador, offers two recent examples of perfidy by their penal system staff.

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The CBC ran a story on December 8 of last year under Bruce Tilley’s byline which began, “A former Bishop’s Falls inmate claims one corrections officer performed dental surgery on him while another recorded it, and he’s suing them, three dentists, and the provincial government.”

It seems that Ron McDonald and Roy Goodyear, two guards at the local correctional centre, took inmate Blair Harris to the Gander Family Dental Clinic for surgery on October 16 last fall and dentist Dr. Louis Bourget permitted McDonald “to do a procedure” while Harris was sedated, and Goodyear videotaped it and then distributed the recording.

Harris was unconscious and none the wiser, but on November 19 he was told by a provincial superintendent of prisons that he had obtained the tape and a day later said that both guards had been fired. A week later, the inmate was taken to another clinic because teeth fragments left in his gums required further surgery.

Blair Harris is no longer in custody.  The RCMP is investigating.

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Jonathan Henoche died at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s on November 6, 2019 after an interaction with jail guards.  He was a 33-year-old Inuk man from Labrador, awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge relating to the death of an 88-year-old woman there in 2016.  He had been moved to St. John’s over concerns for his safety.

The chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.  The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced charges against ten guards on December 22 of last  year.  The charges include manslaughter, failure to provide necessities of life, and criminal negligence causing death.  The announcement did not include the names of the accused, when they were arrested or under what conditions they were released.

That’s right.  The charges were not filed in court and all ten were released.  Bob Buckingham is Mr. Henoche’s lawyer.  “I have never seen a case where one individual has been charged with manslaughter and allowed to go home, let alone a cabal of ten correctional officers charged with the care and custody of an individual be charged like this, and not be brought to court.  It is reprehensible.  How many aboriginal accused persons get to have their bail hearings deferred on manslaughter charges?  Or get to have their names withheld from the media?”

Charges were filed in court this January 8, and the ten guards were named.  Again, Mr. Buckingham, “In all the research that I have done – and I’ve had a number of my colleagues doing research on this across the country – no one has ever seen people charged with manslaughter who have been released by an officer in charge…without being brought to a court for a judicial interim release before a judge.  This was favouritism to a group of Department of Justice employees.  And the racism component involved the fact that my client was Aboriginal.”

Nuff said.

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If guards are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem.
Guard material is endless.  But with one exception next time, we will move on.