Prison is no place……

……TO BE UNHEALTHY, SICK, OR INJURED.

Health care services in our federal prisons have been skewered here before, just as what Correctional Service of Canada passes off as essential care for offenders has and is also harpooned by its many critics.  And while health care consistently invites the greatest number of complaints from inmates, the Service continues to follow the beat of its own drummer in the face of recommendations that would improve outcomes and reduce costs.

One can wonder why.  Well, perhaps not.  Speculation infers troublesome scenarios suggesting CSC has interests that trump its mandate to work for a successful reintegration of prisoners back into the community.  No matter.  Voices of concern will persist, knowing a day of reckoning will come.  Hell will freeze over.

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The Canada Health Act specifically excludes federal prisoners from its definition of “insured person.”  The Corrections and Conditional Release Act assign Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) the obligation to ensure prisoners receive essential health services and care contributing to rehabilitation and social reintegration.  CSC is self-insured for health care services.  It’s both insurer and hospital.  Funding comes from its budget.  As Leandra Keren wrote in a Toronto Star contribution last December, this “result(s) in a health-care standard that is woefully inadequate inside our federal prisons.”

She went on to note that prison populations have more severe needs….high rates of addiction and other mental illnesses, high HPV rates, chronic diseases, and conditions connected to aging.  “….federal prisoners wait months to see a physician who may not believe in employing a harm reduction approach to treating addiction, or who denies you a prescription that you’ve been taking for decades before arriving at prison due to pressure from CSC surrounding cost and security.”  In practice, this means the prisoner is at the mercy of the health services CSC provides.

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An inmate fills out a request form asking to see a doctor, dentist, nurse.  Then the wait.  The wait may generate a second request.  Hopefully, the inmate is taken to health services before either their release date or death, whichever is first.  In one instance a few years ago, an inmate asked a nurse what they do with an urgent or emergency request.  “We don’t pay attention to that,” she told him.

A report released last year authored by academics Jane B. Sprott, Anthony N. Doob, and Adelina Iftene on prison solitary confinement practices included a comment that applies to the whole prison arena.  “Many Canadians do not care how our prisoners are treated.  They are seen simply as people who committed offences.  But Canadians should care if they care about human rights; or if they care that a government organization is being allowed to operate outside of the law.”

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Prison health care earns severe scrutiny.  There’s more to come next time.

A POSTSCRIPT to “Prisons & Racism” from October 10, 2021:-

“CSC management and staff treat racialized staff as though they are inmates, and not like equals.”

Well, that’s a mouthful.  It’s from the statement of claim supporting a proposed class-action lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada by its own employees, filed on January 11 of this year.  According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Aden Klein, his firm has been contacted by many potential class members.  “It seems that the racism is so widespread that there are a countless number of people that are affected,” he said to Global News on January 28.

Correctional Service of Canada’s response included, “racism and discrimination have absolutely no place in our society,” and, “CSC does not tolerate these behaviours and is committed to providing a workplace that is healthy, supportive and free of harassment and discrimination.”

The lawsuit must be certified by the court if it can proceed, and that can often take from one to three years.

Imagine.  If CSC’s staff feel compelled to act against their employer, what does that say about how CSC treats inmates, and racialized inmates particularly?

Prisons – Stay out. Get out.

Nova Scotian social worker Robert Wright was asked by the defence back in 2014 to testify at the sentencing of a 16-year-old Black offender for attempted murder after he shot his 15-year-old cousin in the belly.  The prosecutor argued against allowing the testimony, claiming Mr. Wright wasn’t qualified as an expert.

Justice Anne Derrick, then of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court allowed him to speak. She cited his qualifications as a past executive director of the province’s child and youth strategy, as a PhD candidate in social work and as an instructor at Mount Saint Vincent University.

He is also coincidentally a seventh- or eighth-generation Black Nova Scotian and knew from his life’s experience that he was qualified to speak on behalf of the convicted offender.  One of six children raised by a single mother, a mostly absent father, witness to domestic violence and alcoholism, a celebrated athlete sister murdered in her mid-20s and a brother who did time for robbery made him ‘expert’ on the topic he addressed.

What Robert Wright wrote in an assessment and said in court was that the prosecution’s depiction of the 16-year-old as a hardened and remorseless criminal, a conclusion supported by several psychological assessments as an unsalvageable youth necessitating a long adult prison sentence, missed one pertinent point:  what it means to grow up Black in Nova Scotia.  After considering the family history, the “racial trauma” pervasive in the African-Canadian community because of mistrust, rivalries and violence, the judge sentenced him as a youth, noting an adult sentence would most probably give him little chance at rehabilitation.

Mr. Wright’s testimony was the first of its kind for Black offenders in the province and it led to more race-based reports, by him and other clinicians, triggering changes in the sentencing of Black offenders.  By the summer of 2021, Nova Scotia’s top court issued a 5-0 ruling written by that same Justice Derrick, telling judges in the province to consider the race-based issues of Black offenders at sentencing, or risk having their sentences thrown out on appeal.

With federal government funding, what are known now as Impact of Race and Culture Assessments are about to spread across the country.  Provincial courts aren’t required to give special consideration to Black offenders, and while accepted as important and helpful, Ontario courts for instance underscore that offenders do exercise free will.

Just as Gladue Reports offer some guidance when determining the fate of indigenous offenders, Impact of Race and Culture Assessments will do much the same for Blacks caught up in the criminal justice system.

Keeping people with a potential for redemption out of the hands of the prison industry benefits us all.

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“Stymied, Stigmatized and Socially Excluded”, a 2020 report released by the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre located in Belleville in eastern Ontario, is a study conducted on the civil legal issues confronting people released from the Quinte Detention Centre.

The challenges there for people released from that provincial institution are mirrored across the provincial/federal prison industry spectrum from coast to coast.  How does a person with a criminal record steer a path through a labyrinth of social and civil legal issues from housing to employment to income assistance to counselling to potent and timely mental health/addiction programs to discrimination and harassment?  How does a person avoid the ripple effect of a criminal record, stuck in a cycle of recidivism and poverty, one door after another shut in their faces?

The John Howard Society of Ontario, prompted in part by the Belleville study, developed a resource for use by front-line workers assisting people released back into the community who almost always also need help dealing with multiple problems related to their criminality and for which they didn’t know help was available.  “Knowing your rights is very important,” said a peer counsellor with the JHS Ontario’s York Region office.

jhslearninghub.ca is accessible by anyone, and though intended for front-line workers at the John Howard Society and other community service agencies, it’s designed to be easily understandable and useful to family, friends, and supporters of offenders before, during and after incarceration.  Yes, this is on Ontario initiative, but is or will be replicated across the country.

Next – Oh no, it’s still not safe to get sick or get hurt in prison!

Justice & Prisons….in the news #3

We could bankroll a criminal’s education in Harvard for the cost of keeping an inmate in prison.  You heard that before? 

The perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes cannot avoid prison, but we are missing opportunities to divert many offenders away from institutions that do not rehabilitate, are not correctional, and cannot best serve the public interest.  That is, of course, until or unless we elect or appoint courageous leaders to initiate radical reforms.  While we wait, let’s do something better than just tossing people in jails.

“For years, the U.S. justice system has been accused of deep bias and a judicial vindictiveness that has put roughly 2.3 million people behind bars,” so says Nathan Vanderklippe in a contribution to the Globe and Mail in late December.  Yes, the Americans love incarcerating people who break the law, particularly non-whites. 

But in a small corner of California, as it’s described, Yolo County, population 220,500, “a mix of agricultural areas and university campuses, has sought new ways to erase the role of race in the system, undo past injustices and, where possible, keep people out of prison.”  It has initiated an addiction court and a parallel mental health court that works “to heal and rehabilitate rather than merely incarcerate.”

Prosecutor offices use software that redacts racial indicators from police reports.  Judges can put defendants, some facing serious criminal charges, into community programming where judges themselves often moderate.  This project provides encouragement to both those that are doing well and those who are not but want to do better.

Now, that’s a start.

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Some people who plan to solve an imaginary problem to suit their own purposes end up creating a real one in the process.

Stephen Harper did that, and in particular with his so-called tough-on-crime crackdown, even as crime rates continued a slow years-long decline.  The work he and his fellow Conservatives did increased the cost of the criminal justice system by billions and ballooned the prison population by 25 per cent.  The mostly invented non-issue would have attracted like-minded voters, but the dire financial and human costs are still with us today.

One Conservative policy increased the cost of a pardon from $150 to about $650 which effectively denied most ex-offenders from even beginning the unwieldly process of applying.  The waiting period was also extended to ten years, putting prospects of a lawful re-entry into the community at extreme risk.  Now, after committing to review the Harper-years crime/justice/prison impositions six or seven years ago, the current Liberal government has finally cut the fee to $50.

There is a snag though.  The fee for a pardon, or record suspension, leaves the applicant still responsible for any additional fees to get the required processing information, like fingerprints, court documents and police checks.  The government has also allocated $22 million over five years to community-based organizations for support services in helping people complete the applications. 

A good beginning says Fresh Start, a coalition of more than 60 wide-ranging academic, civil rights, and racially marginalized groups, that applauds the long-awaited changes.  All the same, Moya Teklu of the Black Legal Action Centre said, “Reducing the application to $50 will not make the process any less long, any less cumbersome, or any less complex.” 

Is there something better?  Fresh Start would prefer the “spent regime” system, already used in Australia, England, and Spain as examples, where records are automatically sealed after a specified amount of time, with a few exceptions.  Canada already seals the records of offences by underage youth, but the government has yet to express support for expanding the practice.

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And finally…….

February 21, 2022

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:      What do you fear?     

Dear Minister Mendicino:

Your staff chose not to respond to my November 29, 2021, letter questioning the delay in revising Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner Directive 022 – Media Relations.

I did hear from Colette Cibula, Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement at CSC on February 8, answering my May 6, 2021, letter to Commissioner Kelly.  Referring to the needed revisions to make the policy around inmate access to media Charter compliant, Ms. Cibula wrote, “I can assure you that it is now nearly complete.”

It is now approaching two years since the Service undertook to rewrite this directive.  It leads one to wonder just what it is that you all fear from inmate access to media?

Yours truly,

 

NEXT:  Not Prison News #4…….just More…..

The Prison Industry in the news #2.

THE LETTER……

Tuesday, February 8, 2022**

Dear Mr. Klassen,

Thank you for your letter dated May 6, 2021**, and for your interest in how the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) communicates with the media. I am happy to provide you an update on our work to renew the Service’s policy on Media Relations. I do apologize for the lateness of the reply.

CSC makes a great effort to be transparent and open about our work. We respond to about 100 media queries a month on a wide variety of topics and we issue regular news releases on our operations. As you stated, it is true that we facilitate all requests by media to interview inmates. It is extremely rare that CSC will deny or delay an interview. We take into consideration the security of the individual, others, and the facility as well as the impact on victims. For example, in 2021, CSC denied only 1 of 23 interviews, and this was based on a publication ban in place to protect the victims.

The renewal of the directive of media relations, where this is spelled out, is still underway. It was delayed as the tempo of media relations as well as the need for communications with inmates, staff, stakeholders increased significantly during the pandemic. I can assure you that it is now nearly complete. We have conducted external consultations and are finalizing internal reviews before publishing it.

I thank you again for your interest, and I wish you good health in 2022.

Colette

Colette Cibula

Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement
Correctional Service of Canada

**Highlights the 9 months between the letter to CSC Commissioner Kelly and the reply from Ms. Cibula.

THE RESPONSE……

February 10, 2022

Dear Ms. Cibula:

I thank you for your February 8, 2022, email responding to my May 6, 2021, letter to Commissioner Kelly.  You must be facing a considerable communications backlog for my letter to come before you for attention after so long in limbo.

The information you’ve provided is of great import as it underscores the need for a revision of Commissioner’s Directive 022 Media Relations.  You note CSC responds to about 100 media requests a month on the one hand, but that there were only 23 media interviews with inmates in all of 2021.  One was denied for cause, as you wrote, but my interest in a CD-022 revision suggests that just as the Service accommodates about 100 media contacts every month, so should inmate interactions with media number at least that as well.

CSC has made a point of headlining transparency as you referenced and having Charter compliant policies is paramount to meeting that objective.  True accountability and transparency are only possible however if the offenders in your care have an equal opportunity to lawfully communicate with the world outside the walls.

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

Thank you again.

Charles

Charles H. Klassen
908-31 Alexander Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 1B2
http://www.turnoverarocktoday.com

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The revision to Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive – 022 Media Relations was first featured back on May 9, 2021, in “Inmates have no rights!”, calling proposed changes, “One first step to letting in the light on the CSC prison environment…”  At that point it had been about a year since Commissioner Kelly committed to bringing the directive in line with the Charter.

May 23rd’s “Prison Security.  How much?  Too much?” included the May 6 letter to the commissioner, wondering in the nicest possible means, if CSC might be dogging it in getting the changes on the books.  Ms. Cibula’s February 8 letter above is an answer to that query to Commissioner Kelly.

“Prison – Media Relations revisited” posted September 12 last fall included a June 22nd letter to Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noting the delay with the revision of the directive.  There’s also an excerpt from his office’s August 27 answer.
“What’s the big deal,” we asked in the entry, “about inmate access to the media?  Think about ‘the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.’”  “The wider public is ill-informed now and doesn’t grasp the impact prison environments have on the community.”

Finally, “Prisons – IS MEDIA RELATIONS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?” from December 19 posted a November 29th letter to Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety.  In part it read, “A year on from this undertaking, and in the absence of a CD-022 update, I wrote Commissioner Kelly on May 6 encouraging her to avoid any suspicion that ‘the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media.’”  “It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.”

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A copy of the February 8 letter from CSC and the February 10 reply was sent to the correctional investigator’s office.  It appreciated having the information.  “It is quite helpful,” its note said.

Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement, Colette Cibula hits all the right notes in commenting on the letter sent to the commissioner nine months earlier.  But she was writing for members of the public who know nothing about our prison industry.  For any conversant Canadian, Ms. Cibula seems a Correctional Service of Canada ambassador who has never been inside a prison in this country, has never toured the ranges, and has never spoken to the inmates housed there.

Next:  What is an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment?

 

Criminal justice & the prison industry……

……IN THE NEWS #1.

Kitten Keyes, an Indigenous woman, was forced to sleep on a floor for 21 straight days.  And this while she was in the care of Canada’s federal government. 

Kitten Keyes uses a wheelchair and was an inmate at the Grand Valley Institution.  Her wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the door into her cell. She couldn’t reach her bed and she couldn’t get to her toilet. 

What did that federal prison institution’s staff do to help her, to accommodate her disability?  Nothing.  Canada is the only country in the world whose constitution explicitly protects people with disabilities from discrimination.  More recently, our government passed the Accessible Canada Act which prohibits discrimination based on disability in all federally regulated organizations.  This Act provides the means and enforcement parameters to accomplish that purpose.

What has Correctional Service of Canada done to meet this mandate?  Well, it more often ignores the needs and human rights of inmates with physical/mental disabilities, more than half of prison populations, while spending about $5 billion a year for operations.  So, what have the powers-that-be in Ottawa who oversee the prison industry done to remedy the neglect?  You guessed it.  Nothing.

That’s one strong argument for defunding prisons.

Thankfully, Kitten Keyes has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada for the discrimination and suffering she faced as a prisoner, contrary to the government’s obligation to accommodate her disability. 

Extracted from University of Toronto law student Matthew Tran’s contribution to the Toronto Star, published on December 9, 2021.  Matthew is also a member of the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project.

How many of your tax dollars do you think our government spends each year to pay off complainants because of irresponsible conduct?

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Journalist Kristy Kirkup, writing for the Globe and Mail from Ottawa on December 18 of last year, reported that Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger deplored the “sad milestone” Canada will reach soon, where half of federally sentenced women will be Indigenous, while representing only 5% of the women in the country.  This is a human rights issue, evidence of “public policy failures over successive decades, as no government has been able to stop or reverse the trend.”

Dr. Zinger’s office reported in January of 2021 that the proportion of Indigenous men and women in prisons reached 30 per cent, an historic high, and numbers were continuing to climb.

Senator Kim Pate argues high incarceration rates for women contribute to the issues around murdered and missing Indigenous women.  Senator Yvonne Boyer notes the number “has skyrocketed” because the current approaches to reform are failing.  Senator Mobina Jaffer has drafted legislation to allow judges to exercise discretion in not imposing mandatory minimum sentences when that would result in injustices and perpetuate systemic racism.

The Toronto Star editorial on Monday, January 3 of this year, “The shame of our prisons,” was authored by Dyanoosh Youssefi, law professor and former criminal defense lawyer.

25 years ago, he wrote, the Criminal Code was amended to lower Canada’s high incarceration rate by requiring judges to consider alternatives, particularly for Indigenous offenders.  22 years ago, in R. v. Gladue, the Supreme Court called the number of Indigenous people in prison a “crisis”, and 9 years ago, the Court declared the Canadian government complicit in creating environments that lead to crime among the Indigenous population.

8 years ago, then Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers warned the rates at which Indigenous and non-Indigenous were imprisoned was widening.  7 years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked governments at all levels to “provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.”  But, 2 years ago, current Correctional Investigator Dr. Zinger told us incarceration rates reached a new high.

This despite the current government’s assurances that they are committed to reducing the number of Indigenous persons in prison.  “It’s almost as if there is zero political will to end this reprehensible injustice,” wrote Professor Youssefi.  “Most importantly, we must take proactive steps:  bolster education, child welfare, housing, health care, employment opportunities and cultural connections in Indigenous communities.”

What’s going on?  Whose special interests are blocking the way forward?

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The Department of Justice will say its concern for the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the system is a priority (as it is for the numbers of Black offenders in custody).  Correctional Service of Canada argues it has no jurisdiction over who is put into its care, and that it spends millions a year to accommodate its responsibility to the mandates around accessibility and the care of all offenders.

How would you measure their success?

 

 

Police & racism

…..STILL?  HOW CAN THIS BE?

Wouldn’t you think, wouldn’t we all think, that when countless people accuse public servants of wrongdoing, and substantiate those complaints with the support of the Courts and the media, wouldn’t you think there would be a non-negotiable compulsion to act?

Apparently not.

Wouldn’t you think that our elected office holders, responsible for ensuring the men and women who work under them are meeting their mandate, wouldn’t you think they would not tolerate a dilly-dally response or a flurry of window dressing from wayward public employees?

Apparently not.

There isn’t a police force in North America that hasn’t at least paid lip service in the last couple of years to demands for a review and study of race relations.  Many in policing are sincere in their intentions to find solutions to what one American pundit describes as structural racism.  The reference was to the U.S. as a whole, including law enforcement.  What persists there is jaw-dropping, but we are not dancing in a field of clover here in Canada either.

The RCMP’s reputation is far from admirable.  Police services in Quebec City and in Montreal are notorious for their treatment of minorities.  Police practices in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Halifax are questioned.  Nowhere in this country is any sizeable police organization free of criticism in its relationship with the community.  Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles of law enforcement seem to have been abandoned in the field of operations.

A recent case in point attracting media attention is the conduct of Constable Darrell Corona, a member of the Peel Region Police Service, the third largest in Canada after Toronto and Montreal.  The Regional Municipality of Peel, about 1,250 square km in area with a population of near 1.5 million residents borders the west and northwest boundaries of Toronto and includes the cities of Mississauga and Brampton and the town of Caledon.  The population is highly diverse.  The police chief himself was born in Sri Lanka.

The Toronto Star’s “Peel cop’s gun case tossed” from last December 5 began, “For the fourth time in four years, Peel Regional Police Const. Darrell Corona has been rebuked by a judge in a case where criminal charges have been thrown out due to his interactions with a black man.”  The judge found this officer racially profiled an 18-year-old Black man, breached his “human dignity” and violated his charter rights, whereby evidence of a revolver Corona seized from the accused was tossed and the charges dismissed.  There had been three previous similar incidents where Black men were freed of charges brought by this same officer.

Peel police recently partnered with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to deal with systemic racism and discrimination in the force.  Further, the service is about to introduce a pilot project where officers will collect race-based data during traffic stops.  Will this make for change?  In any case, Constable Corona is still in uniform and that warrants comment.

December 27, 2021

Nishan Duraiappah, Chief,
Peel Regional Police Service,
Mississauga, Ontario

Re:       Constable Darrell Corona

Dear Chief Duraiappah:

For a time in the late 1980s, American media highlighted the number of charges that were dismissed by U.S. courts due to infringements or violations of a defendant’s rights and/or constitutional protections.  Press attention was drawn by the very serious nature of some of these crimes, and the apparent culpability of the accused.  A retired judge whose name I did not record at the time suggested that if all involved in bringing an accused before the courts did their jobs properly then justice would be better served.

You head one of the largest police operations in Canada, servicing among the most diverse communities in the country.  I don’t doubt you and your management team work to reflect the background of its members in the faces of families in Peel neighbourhoods.

Given that, why is Constable Darrell Corona still a member of your force?  Perhaps, as lawyer Alex Mamo told the Toronto Star; “Anti-black racism is so deeply embedded in our society, so when we see these cases of racial profiling by police officers, I think it’s just a reflection of that.”  Just as importantly, he added; “…how many times are these officers breaching peoples Charter rights, racially profiling an individual and illegally searching him and not finding anything, and nothing comes of it.”

I’ve been observing police interactions with the public since the early 1960s.

You can do better.

Where is management in all this?  Where are our elected officials in this?  Where is the executive of the police unions?  Does nobody know how to give an order?  Does nobody know what to do when orders are disobeyed?

Apparently not.

When praise is due……

…..THEN GIVE IT.

“The Liberal government tabled Bill C-22 in mid-February to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people in the justice system.  It would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences and some firearm offences, expand the use of conditional sentences (i.e. house arrest) for a number of crimes and allow police and prosecutors to divert drug possession charges away from the courts.”

That began “Prisons & Bill C-22” from August 1 of last year.  The government had taken years to get this before the House, only to have it die when the election was called last fall.  Advocates had much to admire and much to criticize in this proposed legislation, but it was a important first step as Justice Minister David Lametti underscored.  We joined the chorus to chastise the government and Mr. Lametti for not moving the bill through Parliament much earlier.  As Vice President Daniel Brown of Ontario’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association said at the time, “anyone watching would wonder whether or not (C-22) was a hollow promise…..”

On Tuesday, December 7 last month, Bill C-22 was revived as Bill C-5 and without any changes to add stronger or additional reforms.  Voices echoed earlier complaints that as good as this was, there was still much more that could have been done.  What’s true as well is Mr. Lametti’s “important first step” took so many years to materialize, one can only imagine when an important second step might come along. 

Kudos to all who stepped up to call out the government.  The need for noise isn’t going away any time in the foreseeable future.  But compliments are due to Mr. Lametti for doing as he said he intended to do when the election was called.

December 9, 2021

The Honourable David Lametti,
Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:      Bill C-22 reincarnated

Dear Minister Lametti:

Thank you for bringing Bill C-5 to the House.

As you’ve said previously, this is an “important first step”, and once C-5 becomes law, your office can look to make even greater headway with reforms to our justice system. 

I encourage you to look past the medievalists among the Conservative Members who may never learn that the prison industry they champion when given the opportunity is not a correctional system that benefits the community.  Their vision is quite simply regressive and punitive.

Best wishes in the work you have ahead.

Be grateful for progress….any progress.





Prisons – IS MEDIA RELATIONS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

This isn’t one of those ethereal questions like how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, one query posed centuries ago by philosophers musing in the abstract.  Correctional Service of Canada has signed on to federal government transparency and proactive disclosure measures that its website says, “strengthen public sector management by enhancing transparency and oversight of public resources in the federal government.”  What does that mean?  No matter, one would assume CSC would welcome media scrutiny.

Oh yes, nowhere though does transparency, oversight, or accountability mention inmate input.  That’s why Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger asked CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to revise Commissioner’s Directive 022 (Media Relations) to bring it in line with the Charter and the law.  As we noted in “Inmates have no rights” on May 9 of this year, Commissioner Kelly agreed to do that without needing a written recommendation in the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report.

This commitment to update media relations at CSC had been before the commissioner for about a year at that time.  A May 6th letter to Commissioner Kelly was added as a postscript to our May 23rd posting, “Prison Security.  How Much?  Too Much?”  In part, it read:-

……“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.

No response came from the commissioner’s office.  None was expected.  But, three and a half months later, with no revision in sight, “Prison – Media Relations revisited” on September 12 printed a follow-up letter to Correctional Investigator Zinger that was sent back on June 22.  Again, in part:-

I did write Commissioner Kelly in early May of this year to ask about this forthcoming change and questioned the delay in releasing the update since CSC NHQ had this in front of them for almost a year…….
..….with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 
……and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

An answer from Dr. Zinger’s office read in part: – The Office has been in contact with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the Media Relations Commissioner’s Directive and as soon as we have more information to share regarding an update, we will provide you with additional information.

It is near the end of the year and there is now a new sheriff in town.  Well okay, there is a new public safety minister.

November 29, 2021

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:       Correctional Service of Canada
            Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Minister Mendicino:

An early priority in your new Ministry should be to grease the works of Correctional Service of Canada.  A part of it is stuck in neutral.

To catch you up, reference page 18 of the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report where Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noted CD-022 Media Relations is not Charter-compliant with respect to inmate/media interactions.  The Commissioner committed to revisions and Dr. Zinger did not issue a Recommendation on the matter, satisfied with the Service’s intent.  As his report stated, “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”

A year on from this undertaking, and in the absence of a CD-022 update, I wrote Commissioner Kelly on May 6 encouraging her to avoid any suspicion that “the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media.”  With no response, I further wrote Correctional Investigator Zinger on June 22 to question the revision’s delay.  According to an August 27 email from his Office, the OCI has been in contact with Correctional Service of Canada on this issue.

It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.

Yours truly

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECTIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

Next, Justice Minister Lametti meets a commitment.

Prisons & vocational training

“CORCAN is a special operating agency within the CSC that provides employment, vocational training and employability skills to all offenders in federal correctional institutions, to support rehabilitation and help lower rates of re-offending.”
Correctional Service of Canada web site

“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 maintains environments that are information-depriving, often using security concerns as a basis for maintaining the status quo.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

Note that CORCAN opportunities may be available to all offenders, as the CSC suggests, but the circumstances through which an inmate can in reality end up in a CORCAN program mean that only a small minority of prisoners are involved.  Further, the disparity between CSC’s description of CORCAN and how the correctional investigator sees the agency can be attributed to how much the prison industry prioritizes vocational training compared to the greater importance to which the correctional investigator attaches to it.  As Dr. Zinger wrote, “There appears to be little motivation to improve, evidenced by the lack of progress over the last two decades.”

This very brief overview won’t detail the range of barbs and laurels that can be hung on CORCAN, a lengthy task of interest only to those who are already aware of the contrasts and the shortcomings.  Rather, suffice it to record that on the one hand, even some CSC staff concede “that prison industries effectively fill an individual’s time rather than provide a usable skillset.”

But as counterpoint, there are CORCAN shops that do work to prepare participants for release to the community.  One is the welding program at Collins Bay in Kingston which is an accredited school that offers welding training and applies workers’ hours toward an apprenticeship.   Another is the construction program at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford where workers “are registered with the provincial ministry as an apprentice and all hours are logged toward a construction apprenticeship.”

Except for the opening excerpt from the Correctional Service of Canada web site, all other quotations are from the 2019-2020 Annual Report of the correctional investigator.  This is from Dr. Zinger’s conclusion:  “While the Service offers a number of programs, including education and vocational skills training, the current complement of learning opportunities does not and cannot provide effective rehabilitation or reintegration, particularly given the current lack of focus, outmoded technological capacity and limited resource allocation.”

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As an addendum to the November 21st posting, “Prisons & technology,” and referring to Jason Wang and his joinfreeworld.com, the Canadian Truckers Associations has only recently sounded an alarm over the shortage of truck drivers in this country.  It claims there is a current demand for 18,000 drivers in Canada which is expected to grow over the next few years. 

Feedback to the provincial alliance was warranted:-

November 22, 2021

Board of Directors,
Ontario Trucking Association,
Toronto, ON  M9W 1H8

Re:       Shortage of truckers

Trucking Association Board of Directors:

Again, the shortage of truck drivers in Canada is attracting media attention.  The demand for drivers in the United States is equally problematic for shippers.  Our supply chains are constipated and that’s partly on you to resolve.

Check out www.joinfreeworld.com

American prisons, just as with the Canadian prison industry, do a lousy job at returning criminals to the community as contributing, law-abiding citizens.  For one, most are woefully prepared to enter the job market; that is, if they can even find an employer to hire someone with a record.

“Joinfreeworld” is an initiative of Jason Wang, a young ex-con who along with his partners offer a program to train offenders as truck drivers.  They went where the need was.  Today it’s truckers.  Tomorrow it might be welders.  Giving these men and women an opportunity to earn a decent living wage is a strong incentive to stay out of prison.  Mr. Wang claims a 1% recidivism rate.

True, this is an American enterprise, but a Canadian counterpart would also put some qualified warm bodies behind the wheels of your trucks.

A radical suggestion, isn’t it.

Next….a new Minister of Public Safety, another push for the revised Media Relations directive.




Prisons & technology

“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 stand-alone computers that still use floppy discs.  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.”
Office of the Correctional Investigator Annual Report 2019-2020

This is from Dr. Ivan Zinger’s introduction to his national investigation, “Learning Behind Bars”, that is included in that recent annual report.  He doesn’t limit his analysis of educational programming and vocational training in federal prisons to computers alone, but that is one primary example underscoring the difficulties offenders have with re-entry into the community.  These few paragraphs will focus on that basic technology.

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What does an ex-con do with a criminal record?  A person found guilty of an offence faces a penalty which may include incarceration, but once that price is paid, their obligation to society is satisfied.  While there are employer’s who will give people with records a second chance, most don’t hire ex-offenders; it’s doubtful someone looking for a job would find work at a McDonald’s or in corporate entry level positions, regardless of qualifications.

That’s why Jason Wang and joinfreeworld.com from last time (November 7) recruits ex-cons to become truck drivers.  There’s a severe shortage in the United States and Canada, and employers are willing to hire ex-con graduates from the organization’s program if they have the proper papers.  The plan is to introduce training in other trades as shortages arise…..welders, tool-dye makers are possible examples.

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Community initiatives don’t relieve Correctional Service of Canada of its responsibility to return inmates safely to the community.  That process must include adequate training to give these men and women a leg up in the job market considering the stigma of a criminal record.  Even so, CSC prohibited offenders coming into prison from including a personal computer in their property as of October in 2002.  Inmates who already had a computer were allowed to keep them, but at this point there are likely only a very few in the system.

Since the ban came into force, the correctional investigator maintains that “CSC has remained steadfast and impervious to expanding or updating inmate access to technology and information behind bars.”  And “in 2011/12 CSC outright rejected the Office’s (Correctional Investigator) recommendation to lift this ban and significantly expand the use of computers.  These decisions continue to be in effect today.” 

CSC does have a short supply of computers in prison libraries and other designated areas, but with limited access, obsolete and out-date software (i.e. floppy discs), and a network that is equally vintage.  There does not even seem to be a CSC policy for upgrading the hardware or software for technology in the institutions.

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True, there are technology-based programs initiated by CSC.  Desire to Learn (D2L) is a digital learning setting used by inmates in the community where resources are computer accessed.  Bath Institution’s Autodesk 3D Design has certified thirty students (as of last year) in 3D computer aided design, three institutions have a computer literacy training program which includes operating systems, hardware, software and networks, and an Ontario region plan allows offenders to upgrade their computer skills.  These are essential first steps to enhance an individual’s skills and knowledge in a competitive labour market, but they enlist only a small number of men and women, projects that are in indeterminate pilot stages.  These must be implemented in all institutions and accessible to all who want education and vocational training.

Excluding willing participants is simply sabotaging a “correctional service” to favour a “prison industry.”