Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Canada's Prison Expansion Plans Well Under Way in Ontario

We could look at this as an opportunity.  While prison building is front and centre on the local landscape and our neighbour's are talking about it, why don't we get out there and provide some factual information?
It's obvious from some of the comments in the Etobicoke article that people really dont know much about jails, who is imprisoned or why.  The women who state that they won't feel unsafe once the prison is open for business must not have realized that there has been a jail in this location since at least the 1970's!  Aside from the fact that no one in that prison will be incarcerated for more than 2 years less a day!  Meaning all those folks they are so terrified of will soon be returned to the community and probably without any effective supports. 
If we could go door to door or set up a community forum for concerned persons, access to factual information around community safety - how it is achieved or as is the current case - rendered less safe could be provided and discussed.

Etobicoke 'superjail' leaves some neighbours uneasy

Residents of south Etobicoke have mixed feelings about the opening next year in their community of a maximum security "superjail" that will house 1,650 inmates.
Some welcome the massive 67,000-square-metre Toronto South Detention Centre that will house inmates now held at Mimico Correctional Centre and the Toronto Don Jail that are slated to close.
The facility will hold adult inmates, including those with special needs, who have been sentenced to two years less a day.
It will also include the Toronto Intermittent Centre for those serving weekend sentences.
The project, which was launched in May 2008, will hire about 500 workers and dole out $120 million in salaries during construction, according to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Ministry officials said about 2,900 person years of employment will be generated from the project.
The site at 130 Horner Ave., near Kipling Ave., is busy with activity from dump trucks ferrying soil and workers building its three towers that range from four to six storeys high.
Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes, in whose riding the jail is located, said hundreds of "good-paying" correctional services jobs will be located at the facility when it is completed in September 2012.
"This project will be great for the economy of the area," Grimes said as he gave a tour of the riding that includes the MasterCard Centre and Toronto Police College.
"Well-paying jobs will be created and people will be spending in the community."
Grimes showed several prefabricated concrete cells, each with a sink and toilet that will be used in the jail.Area residents said they didn't realize how big the facility would be and many doubt it will bring economic gain to small businesses along Lake Shore Blvd. or Queensway Ave.
"I think this will give us a reputation for having a superjail in the area," said John Scheffer, chairman of the Lakeshore Village Business Improvement Area.
"I don't think there will be much economic spinoff for us because we are some distance away."
Those visiting prisoners aren't in the area to shop, Scheffer said.
"I don't think this facility will have much of an impact to the area," he said.
"It will mean more traffic and congested roads."
Two female merchants with stores on Lake Shore Blvd. W., near Islington Ave. said they won't feel safe once the jail is open.
"These are all bad people who we are talking about," said one who didn't want her name used.
"They are being visited by a similar type of people who will be driving around the area."
Another woman said she's worried that the jail is less than five-minutes drive by car from her store.
"I think this is too close for my comfort," she said.
"I have daughters and already I feel scared and the jail is not even open yet."
But physiotherapist Gui Mansilla, an area resident, said he's pleased to see new people and potential customers moving in.
"You have to put these people somewhere," he said.
"I think this will be good for businesses to have new people in the area."
Correctional services officials claim the jail will be the greenest in Ontario and use ground source heat pumps to reduce natural gas consumption by 75% and special technology to reduce water consumption by 20%.
Ministry officials have said the site is best suited for the centre because it is accessible by highways and public transit and is located in an industrial and commercial area that won't require a change of zoning from the city.
"It will be built to the highest security standards ensuring every measure is taken to maintain community safety," said Terence Foran, Ontario Infrastructure communications adviser.
"The project is more than 40% complete and is on time and on budget."

Windsor council OKs super jail site plan

WINDSOR, Ont. -- The city has approved site plans for the province's new super jail in South Windsor, where work is hoped to begin this summer.
"It's scheduled for completion of construction at the end of July 2013," said Bruce Gray of Infrastructure Ontario at city hall on Monday night.
Gray said there are further steps that need to be taken, including formal application for a building permit, but things are on track for ground breaking in the coming months.
"It's been a very well-organized and collaborative approach to this development," Gray said. "I think it's gone well.
"There's been public consultation. There's been positive feedback, as well.
"I think it's good news for the community."
Monday's approval is the latest progress in the ongoing creation of the South West Detention Centre, to be located at 4819 8th Concession Rd., just east of where Walker Road meets Highway 401.City council voted unanimously in favour of the floor drawings and site maps submitted by Infrastructure Ontario.
The only conditions that council added were that the province build a bus shelter near the site and consider installing a playground in the green space to the east of the jail.
The building's gross floor space will be almost 205,000 square feet, capable of accommodating up to 315 male and female inmates.
The structure itself represents a $247-million provincial investment, with maintenance costs over the next 30 years expected to raise the project's total price tag to $336 million.
A consortium of firms under the name Forum Social Infrastructure landed the contract for the work. Bondfield Construction Company Limited is responsible for the actual construction. Gray assured that there's a local jobs component in the building process. "Our constructor has a high commitment to local labour."
Coun. Hilary Payne, in whose ward the super jail will be situated, said he's reviewed the plans and he's satisfied.
"They seem to be going to considerable lengths to screen the jail itself from the surrounding area, either by berms or landscaping or shrubbery, Payne noted.Much controversy and debate preceded the 2009 decision to build the facility at its South Windsor site.
Payne said he knows his constituents are still overwhelmingly against the jail's location, but that part of the issue has passed.
"It turned out not too badly," Payne said. "I don't think it's the right place, but that's ancient history now. And it's really good to see that the province is doing these extra things - which, really, they don't have to do."
Consultations with the public resulted in plans for a soccer field and a cricket pitch in the green space to the east of the jail. The site plans and the report to council were posted on the city's website a week prior to Monday's meeting.
Gray said there aren't any security issues about the public having access to the information because the floor drawings don't include specifics about the practices and measures that will be put into place.
"There's electronic and physical security - and operational intent - that wouldn't be obvious in this layout."

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Health Canada has recently released a series of proposed changes to the Federal Medical Marijuana program.  The proposed changes do nothing to address issues identified in the many successful court challenges of the program.  In fact the proposed changes promise to worsen program quality and access for patients.  Please see the below update provided by the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy:

Health Canada's proposal includes removing Personal Production Licenses (PPL) for patients, reform of the application for exemption procedures, and the creation of 'licensed commercial distributors', among other changes.  Make your opinion heard.  How do you want to see the federal medical cannabis program improved?

Health Canada's proposed changes are available here:  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/marihuana/_2011/program/index-eng.php

You can send comments to Health Canada here:
Email - consultations-marihuana@hc-sc.gc.ca
Fax - 613-946-4224
Mail -
Marihuana Consultations
Controlled Substances and Tobacco Directorate
Health Canada
Mail Room, Federal Records Centre - Bldg 18
1st Floor, 161 Goldenrod Driveway, Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa ON K1A 0K9

After medical cannabis dispensaries were ignored in the  proposed changes, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries launched their ‘Dispensaries are Indispensable’ endorsement campaign to show how important medical cannabis dispensaries are for people who use cannabis medically.  If you use cannabis medically and believe that ‘Dispensaries are Indispensable’ please check out this campaign: http://www.camcd-acdcm.ca/2011/07/jendorsement-campaign/

Also troubled with Health Canada’s proposals, WhyProhibition has created an online petition laying out their concerns with the changes.  The petition describes how the changes will not increase or promote improved patient access, and that Health Canada needs to “return to the drawing board”.  The petition is available here: http://whyprohibition.ca/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=4&reset=1

It is time Canadian policies recognize that cannabis is safe and effective medicine.  Please take a look at Health Canada’s proposed changes and have your voice heard before the July 31 consultation deadline.

Caleb Chepesiuk
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PELICAN BAY HUNGER STRIKERS are in immediate need of our support.  Prisoners medical conditions are worsening by the hour.  There are two upcoming solidarity events in Quebec and the Anarchist Black Cross in Toronto has been instrumental in organizing support for the prisoners here.  Check out the Hunger Strike website for updates.

July 8, 15, and subsequent Fridays 12 – 1.30 pm: Picket at the American Consulate. 1155, rue Saint-Alexandre, corner Rene Levesque, metro Place des Arts. For more info, contact: montrealcontreprisons@gmail.com

Saturday, July 16 1 pm: Contractor Crawl! Meet at Dorchester Square, metro Peel to discover some of Montreal’s prison contractors

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition received an urgent update from medical staff at Pelican Bay State Prison that the health of at least 200 hunger strikers in the SHU is rapidly worsening. A source with access to the current medical conditions who prefers to be unnamed reported:

“The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.

SHU prisoners at Pelican Bay have said they are willing to risk their lives and will continue to strike until their demands are met. The CDCR continues to refuse to negotiate.

Prisoners across CA continue to refuse food in solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU hunger strikers.
This past weekend, families and friends sent encouragement and support to their loved ones during weekend visits at prisons across the state, witnessing the toll the hunger strike is taking on their bodies. Families have said their loved ones are extremely pale, shaking and have already lost 20-30 pounds. Some families of prisoners who have only been drinking water for 12 days now witnessed their loved ones faint or go into diabetic shock in visiting rooms over the weekend.

People locked up across the state have been telling their friends and families about the tactics prison officials have been using to break the strike.

Many prisoners have said that medications are being denied to prisoners on hunger strike.
Prisoners have reported that guards in at least Pelican Bay General Population and Calipatria State Prison have been calling throughout blocks and units: “The Hunger Strike is over! The 5 demands have been met!” which is not true. According to family members of prisoners at Calipatria, participation at Calipatria was huge–at least 1,500 prisoners throughout that prison alone joined the hunger strike– until the guards spread rumors of the strike ending. Some prisoners at Calipatria remain on hunger strike, however.
While the CDCR released it’s estimate of 6,600 prisoners participating in the hunger strike during the 4th of July weekend and declared the numbers dropping to over 2,100 in the following days, of course the CDCR failed to mentioned how and why that happened. The decline in numbers in no way demonstrates a lack of support or dedication to this struggle from the prisoners, rather how eager the CDCR is to make this issue go away quickly and quietly.

Families and community organizations like Prison Moratorium Project continue to rally support outside of striking prisons like Corcoran, sharing information and trying to visit their loved ones as regularly as possible. Families and community members are also supporting the strike outside Pelican Bay.

Support for this hunger strike is at a crucial point, where we need to pressure the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners immediately. Call the CDCR and urge them to negotiate NOW. Also call your legislators and urge them to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners in good faith. Click here for more info, including a sample script and phone numbers.

***The coalition also needs help getting updates and information to prisoners throughout CA. If you know people who are locked up in CA, please either send us their information or send them updates of the strike, including how people are supporting outside. The Hunger Strikers need our support, and need to know how much support is growing for them outside prison. ***

***An emergency press conference will be held Wed July 13th at 11 am outside the California State Building in San Francisco (Van Ness & McAllister)***

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Open Letter from a Family Member

The conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison in California and at institutions across the US and around the world can only be described as inhumane and amount to explicit torture.  A prolonged assault on the human spirit through deprivation, fear, hunger, extreme temperatures, and violence are the tools of choice.  Those under lock and key in these dungeon's and twenty first century torture chambers are without a voice of their own as so aptly described in this letter by Tammy Jones, a family member of Joseph D. Jones who is currently imprisoned on the SHU unit at Pelican Bay;

The below letter retrieved from:
To Whom It May Concern,

I am the sister of Joseph D. Jones AKA AC8602, currently being held at Pelican Bay Prison. His story is all too familiar—how a young person became a resident of the prison system, how prisons criminalize human beings, and how we as a society have failed to fathom that some people want to change, have changed and have become great people stuck on the bad side of life.

My brother was incarcerated at age 16 and we all know how naive and inexperienced we are at that age. He served his time, was released and moved on.

Again, stuck on the bad side of luck, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in South Carolina and found himself in a trial to which he never truly belonged. With split juries and a rap sheet from his past life and an appearance less than appealing with tattoos covering his body, the system decided to again place him under lock and key.

After serving 13 years of his current 20-year sentence, my brother longed to see family. This level 2 prison in South Carolina provided him church ministries, work programs, and jobs along with phone calls and allowed pictures to send to his family, but not seeing any one for 13 years was too long. I am disabled and unable to travel and his only other family, his mother is unable to travel as well.

Our family gathered funds to get my brother transferred closer to home and were told that instead of Arizona, they could get him in California. In the beginning of the transfer, they sent him to Tracy, where the counselor interviewed him and specifically asked if he was in any gang relations. My brother informed the counselor that he had not been active in any gangs. He asked what the tattoo on his hand stated and he explained it was from his previous term. He asked where the incident happened in which he was accused of his crime and he stated a biker bar. The end result ended up being Level 4 Max Security Pelican Bay Prison, 16 hours still away from any relative.

Once he was placed in Pelican Bay, I was told in order to do another transfer we would have to wait for his yearly review. My brother has had no write ups. I began to contact as many people as I could to try and get information on as to how we could get him moved. It was not understood why he would be placed from a lower level programmed facility to one of the worst prisons in California.

Since the placement, my family, church, and friends have written numerous letters in support of my brother. He has had numerous counselors in which have provided me with little information and one in which has told me I was even borderline harassing them.

With my brother’s yearly review close approaching this last March, I began gathering up information again and sent again the numerous letters in support of my brother. At first they explained that they were unsure of his review date and then suddenly they explained that because of racial tension on the block my brother was in, they placed all whites in Ad-Seg and they were going to do a non-adverse transfer. They were unsure of where he would be placed and when this would happen. He still had not been in front of committee. Then while in Ad-Seg waiting for the placement, he was stabbed while in handcuffs in the showers. At this point my brother doesn’t know what is going on.

He has lost 50 pounds within a year and has had property given and then taken away numerous times. He is unable to make phone calls. We have not received pictures of him and each day a letter gets more saddened. Now after seeing committee, they explain that they do not have all of his documentation so they postponed his case for 30 days. His next committee visit, they explained that he had prior gang affiliation in his last term and that he had an incident involving a guard in 1988 causing them to increase his points from 58 to 118 with no conversation about another transfer. My brother was claimed not guilty in the incident in 1988 and does not understand how they are able to include this for his current term.

He is now in SHU/AdSeg and has been told that if he debriefs he will be able to have yard access and be placed closer to his family, which should have originally been done with the interstate transfer. My brother has little to no information simply because he has been a non-active gang member and fears that this will put himself and his family in danger. Still he waits however for decisions to be made and for him to get answers. The facility has moved him several times and he is not able to be found in the inmate locator. He writes letters of how hungry he is and how he has yet to have any church or faith recreation. He states that the temperatures are near freezing at times and that he prefers no contact simply to stay safe and out of trouble.

It is a constant struggle to stay uplifted and reformed when there is no one to keep us grounded. The mind grows weak under duress.

Based on all of the occurrences within the year and the treatment given to my brother, it is clear that based on arbitrary policies and practices re: “status” of the prisoners [i.e., a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) gang “label”, without ever being charged, and found guilty of committing a gang related illegal act] are in violation of the 1st, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and International law, which bar the use of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment acts committed (per U.N. Conventions Against Torture of 1984 – 1985).

This letter is written to shed light on the treatments of all prisoners. They have been wrongly labeled. While there are those who have done wrong in society, they are human beings and deserve the same rights that others receive. We need to help those who are starving, freezing and are in hopes to become greater than they once were. They have a limited voice so it is up to family, friends, churches, and public to help and have faith that there is reformation. These prisons are overcrowded and Judges have implemented the decrease of prisoner population to begin NOW, yet these institutions are making it so that these prisoners are set up for failure.

Tammy Jones
Fort Mohave, AZ

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


"Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) is a coalition based in the Bay Area made up of grassroots organizations committed to amplifying the voices of and supporting the prisoners at Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) in their hunger strike to end tortuous conditions.

The indefinite hunger strike will start July 1, 2011 and is an organizing effort initiated and led by prisoners against torture and imprisonment. In the Spring of 2011, prisoners inside Pelican Bay State Prison contacted prisoner-rights and anti-prison activist organizations announcing 50-100 prisoners would be beginning a rolling hunger strike on July 1st, and that they needed support making sure their voices and demands were heard and acted on outside prison walls."


Monday, July 4, 2011


Donate NowNew development: Independent ISPs -- which fight Big Telecom to provide us with affordable Internet prices -- have come out publicly to say the government’s online spying plan will destroy Canada’s already fragile Internet choice and competition. If we don’t stop this online spying scheme, you will have to pay more for Internet access.

Many generous people like yourself have contributed to the campaign this week, and we've almost reached our goal. Now, indie ISP Acanac has told me they will generously provide matching funds if we meet our goal in the next 24 hours. This is a huge opportunity and we're very close, so please
contribute now to help us get over the final hurdle.

Why should you contribute to our campaign now?

  1. To save your money: You’ll stop a spying scheme that will increase phone and Internet prices and hurt Canada’s economy.
  2. To protect your privacy: You’ll help stop a range of “authorities” from having access to your private information via your Internet and mobile devices.
  3. To make a difference: Your contribution will pay for ads in Public Safety Minister Vic Toews riding. We’ve used this strategy to force the government to back down before. With your help, we can do it again.

Steve Anderson (on behalf of the OpenMedia.ca team and all our volunteers)

P.S. There are hundreds of thousands of us, so if everyone gave $5 -- less than the cost of lunch -- we'd easily reach our

*OpenMedia.ca is a registered non-profit organization that relies on donations to operate.
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Friday, July 1, 2011


Why are women Canada's fastest growing prison population; and, why should you care?

University of Western Ontario – Faculty of Law
Distinguished Speaker Series
March 18, 2011

Before I begin my comments, I want to acknowledge and thank the traditional custodians of this land that we now know as London.  The last time I was here, in November, it was to bury my dear friend, Trish Monture.  Trish was a proud Haudenosaunee woman, a Mohawk woman, mother, sister, auntie, friend, ally, scholar, writer, advocate, activist, woman of immense integrity, incredible courage and a brilliant schemer!  She left us too early and we miss her terribly, as we continue the work she inspired. May we all continue to be motivated and compelled to continue this work.  

As a non-Indigenous woman who lives in Algonquin territory and has the privilege and responsibility of walking with many Indigenous women, men and young people, I consider it a duty to name the negative impact of colonization on all of us – for we see the consequences in very stark and profound ways when we enter our prisons and see firsthand the over-representation of Aboriginal men, boys, girls, and  -- most especially -- women.  Indigenous women are more than one third (34%) of women serving federal sentences and more than 50%, 70%, 80%, even 100%, in some provincial and territorial jails and remand centres.

Our association has 25 members spread throughout Canada, providing services to marginalized, victimized, criminalized and institutionalized women, especially those who are imprisoned.  We also undertake policy and law reform initiatives, most of which, these days, are aimed at trying to undo the outrageous injustices being perpetrated at breakneck pace in Ottawa.  We also make every effort to address the interconnectedness of economic, social, legal and political decisions that contribute to women being the fastest growing prison population. 

As we see the further erosion of the substantive equality of women, especially those most vulnerable because of multiple intersections of marginalization and discrimination, be it race, sexual orientation, ability – particularly disabling mental health issues -- or those escaping violence, we are witnessing the exponential growth of women in prison.  Women are the fastest growing prison population worldwide. 

The fact that women are the fastest growing prison population is not accidental.  In Canada, we recognize that our links to the United States have meant that we were amongst the first countries to be impacted by the regressive, so-called, law and order agenda, which are making prisons the default option for those most significantly impacted by the destruction of social safety nets, and the evisceration of medical, economic and education standards and services. 

In too many communities and contexts, prisons are the only “service” that cannot turn people away because of waiting lists, a lack of beds or resources, change in mandate, et cetera.  Imagine if, instead of continuing to cram more people into over-crowded prisons, we limited the number of bed days available for judges to impose as sentences, or if we turned women away and would not allow them access to prisons when they really need housing, a shelter to escape violence, treatment to deal with past sexual abuse and other forms of trauma, drug and/or alcohol detoxification and treatment to address mental health and/or addiction issues.

In our organization, at the national level and amongst our members, we have recognized this reality very concretely by the change of our mission to articulate that we work with women who are criminalized versus the historic orientation of working with women who come into conflict with the law.  With this reality, we recognize that it is the laws and policies that are increasingly coming into conflict with peoples’ lives, resulting in the virtual inevitability of criminalization; rather than the notion that people are the full and consenting authors of their own circumstances. 

In Canada, in 1996, we decided to follow the U.S. lead when the federal government eliminated the Canada Assistance Plan and therefore the essential nature of Canadian standards of social, medical and educational resourcing.  We have now experienced the same sorts of cuts and knee-jerk band-aid responses – all of which norm crime and criminal justice and penal responses, thereby presuming criminality and perpetuating the problems of the past, be they crime prevention, homelessness, restorative justice or other responses. 

Canada is rushing to follow the U.S. race to incarcerate the most dispossessed for longer and more brutalizing periods.  Ironically, this is occurring at a time when many US jurisdictions are retreating from regressive ‘law and order’ agenda.  Moreover, in 2008, a panel of federal judges ordered California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 over the next two years – which reflects a roughly 27% cut from the current population of 150,000. Until very recently, Canadian politicians were ignoring their social and fiduciary responsibilities to Canadians by passing laws, seemingly without concern as to the human and fiscal costs associated with them. The long list of new criminal justice reforms, will raise incarceration rates out and suck resources out of the community.  Although, as I speak, today, the government’s refusal to reveal the costs of the current crime agenda, means that Parliament is in the midst of deciding whether the government is in contempt of Parliament.  

By creating criminally low social assistance – formerly known as welfare -- rates throughout Canada and even bans on receipt of state resources in some jurisdictions, many poor people are immediately relegated to the criminalized underclass.  Rather than resulting in the criminalization of poor women for welfare fraud, prostitution, drug trafficking or whatever other survival strategies are employed, if we were truly interested in addressing fraudulent transactions that harm others, then criminally low welfare rates might result in the criminalization of those who craft, those who pass, and those who enforce, the laws and policies, not those subjected to them.

We are also seeing the increased feminization and criminalization of poverty.   Welfare fraud is one example of how poor women are increasingly likely to be criminalized.  Their attempts to survive poverty too often results in charges ranging from fraud (including welfare fraud), soliciting, pimping, living off the avails, or, importing and trafficking.  As we learned via the Hamilton and Brown cases, African Canadian single mothers are literally recruited to traffic narcotics as they exit meetings with their assistance workers.  Women who are trying to make the rent and/or feed their children/families are especially vulnerable.  It used to be that we might see women resorting to such means to address extraordinary expenses such as birthdays, Christmas and/or other holidays, child care, summer camp expenses, et cetera.  It is increasingly the manner in which sole support moms are attempting to cover basic living costs.

In Ontario, we have the tragic reality of the life and death of Kim Rogers.  Kim was criminalized in the first place because she attended school, while she was receiving ‘Ontario works’ funding.  She was charged and convicted of "welfare fraud".  This label and resulting punishment were applied because Kim attempted to return to school as an adult in order to obtain an education while still on social assistance.  As part of the process, she also sought and received student loans.  Although everyone knows that it is impossible to live on welfare without some supplemental income/support, to be “caught” doing so means the near certainty of criminal prosecution.  We question why those responsible for the development of such harmful social policies and legislation are not held legally responsible for the human and social costs of criminalizing the most marginalized, vulnerable and oppressed. 

In Kim Rogers’ circumstances, her death was a result of criminal negligence and complicit political, economic, legal and social policy decisions, yet only she was held accountable. Moreover, after her death, we discovered that she could have been attending school and receiving additional benefits, had she or, more to the point, her worker known. She was eligible for disability benefits. Her usual work was waitressing and bar tending, but her knee surgery made it impossible for her to continue in that work, so she went back to school. 

We should all examine the realities regarding who benefits from the discrepancy in monitoring, charging, prosecuting and sentencing of tax evasion, unemployment fraud, OHIP/doctors’ over-billing, lawyers dipping in to their trust funds, GST fraud, versus the demonization of the poor exemplified by the criminalization and pursuit of welfare recipients.  We should also question why some behaviour is characterized as almost benign omission versus purposeful, criminally intended, fraud? 

During the mid-1990s, here in Canada, all of the provincial, territorial and federal heads of corrections met and agreed that we needed to reduce reliance on prisons.  They opined that as many as 75% of those in prison, either serving sentences or awaiting trial, could be released to the community, without any corresponding increase in risk to public safety.  The Correctional Investigator has repeatedly called on the government to address the needs of those with mental health issues in the community, rather than continuing to abandon them to prisons. 

In the United Kingdom, noted policy leaders such as Pat Carlen and the Howard League are amongst those calling for the criminal justice system to refuse to proceed with criminalizing the young, those escaping violence, those with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues; they are also amongst those calling for more decarceration, community development, and social (re)investment.  Indeed, many academics, professionals and practitioners on the front lines have also characterized the push to criminalize the most dispossessed as the present manifestation of race, ability, class and gender bias, and argue that this demands we examine our fundamental beliefs and notions of whose interests and biases are privileged, and at whose expense? 

When we know the histories of abuse, poverty and extreme marginalization that is the reality of most of the young women and girls with whom we work, it seems quite ludicrous that we continue to pretend that telling women and girls not to take drugs to dull the pain of abuse, hunger or other devastation, or tell them that they must stop the behaviour that allowed them to survive poverty, abuse, disabling health -- especially mental health -- issues, et cetera, in the face of no current or future prospect of any income, housing, medical, educational or other supports.  Surely none of us thinks it of benefit to anyone to continue to imprison women and girls, and then release them to the street with little more than psycho-social, cognitive skills or drug abstinence programming, along with the implicit judgment that they are in control of and therefore responsible for their situations, including their own criminalization.  We all must rethink, resist and reject such notions.

Indigenous women continue to suffer the shameful and devastating impact of colonization.  From residential school, to child welfare seizure, to juvenile and adult detention, Aboriginal women and girls are vastly over-represented in institutions under state control.  Although Aboriginal women make up 1-2% of the Canadian population, they make up 34% of the federal prison population, and too often represent the majority of the women classified as maximum-security prisoners.  Indeed, even as we work to deinstitutionalize and decarcerate, we are seeing that “treatment” is increasingly the colonial control mechanism of choice.  Indeed, we are already seeing this, as we first saw exemplified in the case of G, the pregnant young Indigenous woman who was institutionalized for forced treatment. 

The focus on fetal alcohol spectrum syndromes and disorders are gendered, classed and racist in approach and we must venture forth very carefully.  Consider for a moment the reality that such alphabet soup diagnoses of FAS, FAE, FASD, ARND [alcohol-related neurological disorders] et cetera, are most prevalent in countries that have high rates of criminalized Indigenous populations.  Even although the shopping lists of symptoms or characteristics of foetal alcohol labels overlap significantly with other conditions ranging from inadequate nutrition, oxygen deprivation, learning disabilities, attention deficit, et cetera, the labels are persistently utilized in places such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.  It is not coincidental that these are also countries with high rates of criminalization of racialized Indigenous peoples. 

In the European Union, on the other hand, this approach is not seen as particularly helpful – they consider the symptoms and impact of other toxins, be they pollution, bad water, insufficient nutrients, lack of prenatal and postnatal supports, accidental brain injuries, lack of oxygen, et cetera, as equally important.  After all, despite the rhetoric that it is 100% preventable, since many women do not know they are pregnant before the apparently crucial day 17 of gestation, the only way to make it so would be to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by all women of child-bearing age. 

Moreover, since we don’t really know what the impact of alcohol is on male sperm, then likely it should also be illegal for men to drink too.  Obviously, we all want to limit the impact of alcohol and other toxins on foetal development, but we know that criminalizing behaviour is only likely to end up with a focus on those least able to defend themselves against it.  Current access to justice issues being what they are, a focus on fetal alcohol exposure, in isolation, is likely to continue to result in the disproportionate application of the law and societal judgment against poor and racialized women.

How many fewer diagnoses of FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders), et cetera would there be if that label meant that the recipients thereof could not be relegated to the most isolating prison conditions?  If such a label meant that someone could not be criminalized but must be found to be in need of community supports because their disability renders them incapable of forming criminal intent, we predict that the diagnoses might virtually evaporate. Courageous jurists, like Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (as she then was) have tried to take on this issue in individual cases. We applaud and encourage such efforts and continue to push for broader, systemic change.  

It is no accident who is criminalized, nor who is imprisoned; and, nor is it an accident who is not!  What if, instead of denying and defending abuse of power and force by police and prison personnel, as well as the neglect and abuse of institutionalized persons, we collectively condemned and stopped such practices. 

I used to meet most women with significant mental health issues kneeling on a cement floor, or institutionally linoleum tiled floor, peering through a meal slot in a solid metal door.  For almost three years following the publicity surrounding the death of Ashley Smith, I was denied access to the segregation unit where she died.  In order to meet with the women in the circumstances Ashley faced before she died, they and I must “agree” to them being fully shackled, usually handcuffed to the back too, and isolated behind bullet-proof glass, monitored by 2-5 correctional officers.

In our attempts to address these issues, we have met with judges, prosecutors, the defence bar, correctional authorities and mental health professionals.  Mental health and youth workers, in particular, have lamented the reality that the evisceration of their resources, combined with the advent of zero tolerance to violence policies, have resulted in policy directives that instruct them to call the police and urge the pursuit of criminal prosecution in cases where those with mental health and/or intellectual disabilities are assaultive or abusive.  Behaviour that might previously have been considered to be symptomatic of the psychiatric or mental health label attached to the individual is treated as criminal or “bad” behaviour in the criminal justice context.  Reduced resources and priorities mean that they are usually without the requisite supports to handle the most challenging folk.  There is a long line-up of others in the community who are not criminalized awaiting treatment options, so they are seen as legally and ethically justified in making such decisions. 

The reflex of corrections to develop mental health service in prisons sounds positive to many, yet, in reality, it is only serving to exacerbate the trend to increasingly criminalize women with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities.  Developing such services in prisons at a time when they are increasingly non-existent in the community is resulting in more women receiving federal sentences because of a presumption that there is an ability to access services in prison that are not available in community settings.  It is vital that we recognize, however, that prisons are not, and cannot be, treatment or healing centres. 

In fact, those subject to federal terms of imprisonment are too often relegated to the most isolating conditions, almost inevitably accumulating additional charges and usually ending up serving many more years in prison, as a result of behaviour and charges arising in prison, largely in response to the conditions of confinement to which they are subjected.  For further insight into this phenomenon, I encourage you to read an article by Marian Botsford, entitled, “Life on the Instalment Plan”, in the March 2009 volume of The Walrus.

Unlike the sentiment expressed by mental health workers, corrections staff  necessarily categorize the mental health considerations as secondary.  Because they are dealing with people who have been criminalized, the behaviour is generally labelled as bad – manipulative, attention-getting, capable of control, [indeed, within the control of the individual] -- and mental health issues almost always take a back seat to security and punitive responses. 

We need to continually question who benefits from such approaches.  The off-loading of responsibility without requisite resources, the lack of appreciation by many of the impact of resource cuts, and the apparent belief that someone else will address issues, is resulting in the reality that increasingly, we are witnessing the abandonment of social issues to the criminal courts and penal systems to rectify.

The pre-existing lack of trust, connection and communication (too often further exacerbated by literacy and English as a second language issues) between ‘client’ and ‘counsel’ will only serve to further isolate the most marginalized.  Similarly, limited access to justice, especially as a result of cuts to legal aid, and the concurrent vilification of those left standing and/or advocating with and on behalf of the most marginalized, means that the last ones left standing with the women and girls we know, are generally without adequate supports or resources, so they also continue to be vilified for their inadequacy to make things work.

So, to sum up, according to Statistics Canada, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of people remanded in custody, and with the exception of a slight increase two years ago, the imprisonment rate for men has been falling for much of the last two decades.  It is appropriate that sentences reflect the credited time for pre-trial custody; pre-trial custody is generally warehousing in a maximum security – often very isolated – setting.  The lack of community-based resources and resulting increase in homeless people, those with mental health and addiction issues, as well as those escaping violence, is directly contributing to the increased numbers remanded in custody.

Women account for 10-15% of those charged with violent offences, and 45.5% of all property related charges against women, are for “shoplifting”.  85% of women in federal custody are serving their first federal term of imprisonment, 47.9% are between 21 and 34 years of age; 17% are serving life sentences. 

It currently costs between $185,000 and upwards of $350,000-500,000 per annum to jail a woman in the federal system, compared to approximately $35,000 for residency in a funded, supervised community-based setting.  Even a few weeks remanded in custody can interfere with housing, employment, social assistance, child custody, et cetera.  As such, it is not surprising that relative few women receive conditional sentences.  As the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported in June of last year, one new law alone – of the many already passed or in the works – will cost tax payers between 7 and 10 billion dollars.  Rather than addressing the egregious conditions in local lock-ups and remand centres, the government passed a law to eliminate judicial discretion to credit time served for those awaiting trial.   

Current and proposed legislation will promote the on-going construction of new federal, as well as provincial and territorial prisons across the country.  It is estimated that the expanded capacity of 6,000 spaces will cost of over $2 billion for construction and $310 million a year in operating costs.  These figures are considered to be conservative estimates.  Unfortunately, despite having campaigned on a platform of accountability and transparency, the government refused to disclose what its new criminal law and penal reforms will cost Canadians.  Although yesterday, they signaled they might retreat from their mantra that such information is protected by Cabinet confidence, there is still a paucity of accurate information regarding the cost of current criminal justice reforms.  As such, the breach of  fiduciary obligations to Canadian taxpayers continues.

So, where do we go from here?         

Where to -                               We want to continue to challenge lawyers and judges to throw out cases that bring the administration of justice into disrepute.  How can this not be the case for welfare fraud for instance?  Why have those responsible for the regressive legislative and policy decisions not been called to account?  Why do the provincial and federal governments routinely intervene to restrict access to justice by the oppressed, rather than assist them by intervening on behalf and in support of progressive laws and policies, for example, cases involving breaches of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

We also need to challenge current definitions of mens rea and theories regarding definitions of what is a crime?  The opportunity for this was explored by the Law Commission of Canada – before they were obliterated -- regarding the definition of what is considered to be a crime.  Resources are always an issue when it comes to matters of equality and social justice, so we also need to ensure that adequate and flexible resources exist to assist women’s, Aboriginal, anti-poverty, and other grassroots groups and those living the oppression to alleviate – indeed eliminate -- the structural inequity occasioned by current social, economic and legal policies and law reforms. 

We need to breath life into the initiatives proposed by true leaders, women like Louise Arbour, who have called on us to demand a Canada that pushes for human rights that equate with freedom from want.  We must push municipal, provincial and federal governments to restore or develop sorely needed housing, social assistance, supportive women-directed counseling, educational and advocacy services, and facilitating access to them is another. 

Encouraging and facilitating the access of advocacy groups like ours and others doing feminist, anti-racist, anti-poverty and human rights work, to provide women and girls with accurate and accessible information and tools as to how to advocate individually and collectively, is yet another strategy.  Currently, our Elizabeth Fry Societies in Ontario are being denied access to women in provincial jails and information booklets regarding their rights are being seized and being labeled as “contraband” within the prisons.
Affordable academic and vocational training opportunities for women and girls is another vital need for women in and from prison. In a time where governments will be cutting social services in an attempt to balance their books, such spending is not only fiscally disastrous for all of us, but the diversion of funds into prison systems will further erode the social fabric of Canada.  It is more than disingenuous of our Parliamentarians of all political stripes to not challenge this rise in penal expenditure at a time when Canada is described as having a stable 'crime' rate.  Most of us do not want to have our tax dollars spent on building prisons instead of on social services, schools, and hospitals.

It costs substantially less to host and maintain community programs, than it does to build more prisons.  Furthermore, community-based prevention and sentencing options are more effective than prison in promoting public safety.

Members of Parliament and Senators have a fiduciary responsibility to exercise due diligence and cost benefit analysis before they spend taxpayer dollars. By passing the current crime bills without any idea as to how much they will cost Canadians, they have abdicated their fiduciary responsibility.  Moreover, by expecting taxpayers to write the government a blank cheque, they are further violating this relationship of trust.

We applaud recent efforts of Members of Parliament to exercise their public offices more responsibly. We must stand up and object to the current trend to send more people to prison instead of college and university.  Penal expansion has far reaching consequences beyond prison walls which are extremely damaging to all of us.

Much is possible, right now, if we merely have the will to stand together, to collaborate and confront the myths, misconceptions as well as the realities that are out current challenges. 

Crime is a theory. 

Name any behaviour and we will be able to identify times when it is considered legal and times when it is not.  Law and criminalization are theories and choices made by those who we give the authority, as well as those who take power. 

Who among us does not already acknowledge that jails are not the shelters battered women need, that they are not treatment centres or places of healing, that they are not an appropriate substitution for adequate and affordable housing, education or skills development.  We know who is and who is not in prison.  With few exceptions, the wealthy and most privileged are not jailed.  Crime is a theory -- defined, monitored and enforced for specific identifiable purposes. 

Rather than personalizing the various legal, human rights and social justice struggles and uprisings of prisoners, we are hopeful that increasingly, all will recognize that it is always in our collective interest when the oppressed resist and challenge their oppression.  Increasing prisoner access to the justice and equality occasioned by social inclusion will benefit all of us and all of our communities of interest. 

We encourage you to join the growing world-wide political, economic, and social coalition to stop the increased intrusion of the state in terms of surveillance and social control as well as the retreat of the state in terms of the provision of supportive social, health and educational services. 

And, as Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal woman in Australia has stressed, we need to work together to correct current injustice.  I will conclude with her words, shared with me more than 19 years ago by a woman inside.

If you have come here to help me,
you are wasting our time.
If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.

I dedicate these words to the memory of Trish Monture, her daughter Kate, as well as to Ashley Smith and the far too numerous other men, women and children who have died unnatural and preventable deaths in our prisons…

Thank you to all of you for the part you do now and will do, when you use your legal and other training and life experience to change the world, and try to prevent harm befalling others.  And, to women with the lived experience who are my constant allies, agitators, mentors and friends, your strength, courage and perseverance continue to inspire and drive me.

Thank you