Monday, December 17, 2012

Former Prisoners Denied Re-integration Through Discrimination

An American blog providing advice to former prisoners who are trying (against all odds) to find work and move on with their lives.  I really like the idea of allowing people to write in directly and get a response directly on specific situations encountered.  These sorts of services are few and far between.  

Making this blog an especially important service is the fact that employment or rather lack of it, is the number one factor preventing people from escaping the revolving door of the legal system.  In fact, given the enormous barriers to escaping the prison system, one can reason that the powers that be, prefer to keep the powerless right where they are.  Without marketable skills, without close family ties, without hope.  Marcs referred to these folks and others  similar to them as surplus labour.  Their existence goes a long way to driving down labour market wages, benefits and to discouraging people from organising, forming unions, and demanding improved working conditions.

How does that work some of you are asking.  People working in lower paying, precarious forms of employment, or people who dont yet have permanent resident status, etc are afraid that the retributive hand of the government will come down on them next.  And there are plenty of examples.  Immigration programmes are designed to ensure workers are kept in the most precarious of working conditions with the ever present threat of separation from families, incarceration and deportation.

The USA and Canada less so (so far) have found ways to make prisoners themselves a commodity to be used for the express benefit of corporate America.  Prisoners are contracted out to the lowest bidder on construction or materials production contracts.  And prisoners are paid no more than 5.00 a day and often nothing at all.  They are forced to participate in some of the most dangerous forms of work, iwthout proper safety training or even adequate safety equipment (similar trials faced by immigrant, and trafficked women and children) Think the BP oil spill.  Prisoners who refused to work lost good time, yard time, reduced shower, phone, and visitation "privileges".
Trading in the bodies of those deemed as less than "worthy" is but one form of prison comodification which has come to be known as the prison industrial complex

I have a personal quip however with the usage of the word "Felon" in the title.  Or the words "offender" and "ex offender" throughout the content.  I'm not sure what the thought process has been around this - perhaps a reclaiming of the language the criminal legal system uses?  In any case I'm completely against using the language of the oppressor.  Its something we've been tuaght to do and without question.  As though this type of language is based within the fact of the situation and it simply has nothing to do with fact based language, and everything to do with "othering" those outside the status quo.

Forgive me if I'm coming across in a judgmental fashion.  My intention is simply to speak my mind and get others thinking about this issue - how and why we use language.  When I first started doing writing around criminal legal issues, I found that i was continuously coming across language that made me cringe, but did'nt have alternatives in my immediate repertoire.  

So I decided to ask my self, "what is the truth of the topic/situation I'm talking about?"

For instance 'criminal justice system"  Never does this system render justice for anyone.  I saw some people using "injustice" system.  This was the truth but didn't fit for professional writing.  So what is really happening here, what is the truth of this situation?  Its not a criminal justice system - It is a criminal legal system.
The criminal, offender, felon (this last is a word we dont really use in Canadian context anyways)..What do these words mean?  If we consider the fact that crime is a social constuct, then it seems inappropriate and even detrimental to refer to a person this way.  Who are we to decide if something is "criminal"?  And "offender" is intended to dehumanise, to render other, less than, different from "us".

So this brings us back to my original critical questions on language in the criminal legal complex.
"what is the truth of the topic/situation I'm talking about?"

What is really happening here?  What do we mean when stating that someone is a criminal, has committed a crime?  How can I phrase this situation honestly in my writing without needing to use a paragraph or more to explain/be honest?  I chose to use "lawbreaker", "person who has broken the law, person who the law has come into conflict with.

Inmate is another no-no.  People who are forcibly confined against their wills in jails and prisons are prisoners.  But that is not all they are.  None of us can be defined so narrowly.  So what about "person in prison".  Try to think from an anti-oppression, anti-racist theoretical framework.  Person living with a disability.  Person of colour.  Woman who stays at home/works at home. etc.

Now I've gotten completely of topic.  I think 

How felons can get jobs 

is a blog well worth looking at, even from Canada.  Many of the issues to overcome in seeking work with a criminal record are similar here in Canada as in the USA.  And where issues differ, perhaps this is an opeing for someone to take on a project such as this from the canadian perspective!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Recently my life has taken some interesting turns to places I really thought were long behind me forever.  I was arrested and held for 25 days at Vanier (provincial jail for women in Milton) before an amazing and true friend who lives what she believes in, bailed me out.  I wrote a little about my experience below.

Thursday, November 22, 2012




Solitary – by Renee Acoby

Many people have asked me what it was like to live in solitary confinement for years on end under the infamous “management Protocol” that CSC designed for unruly federal females.You wonder what right you have to feel angry about your confinement because it was your own actions/reactions that led to your conditions. So, you solder up and tell yourself to deal with it…until you find yourself in a tangled web of carceral politics and loopholes that rendered indefinite solitary justifiable. You submit the customary grievances and rebuttal at every thirty day segregation review, inwardly questioning if you’re closet-case masochistic. Experience dictates that Regional and national levels in CSC will only regurgitate prior findings at institutional hearings, which in turn lead to frustration, anger and the millionth self-proclamation for abandoning the internal grievance system forever. Of course, you never do give up on submitting grievances because, ha ha, maybe someone will eventually listen.
Then you have those renegade days where you wake up feistier than the notorious Black Widow on a geriatric ward. Ten squares of toilet paper? Fuck you. One book for four hours? Fuck you, I have my imagination. So it goes. You push back to reclaim your so-called dignity, know it’s one word with a dictionary definition, especially on the rare days you opt for a nude Mexican stand-off. Ironic how you used to attribute weakness to the heads and bug cases that used to wild out for human contact, only to find yourself on the same trip, minus the lovely baby doll attire.
Your mood fluctuates. Although some staff acknowledge that instability in mood is common for long-term degradation, most are quick to opine that mood swings are indicative of a major incident. You try to avoid the intake of endless CSC reports because the general consensus is at odds with what you and your loved ones know to be bona fide about yourself. You are categorized as a number and compared to inanimate/volatile objects, ie; “handle her as though you are carrying a can of gasoline in one hand and a lighter in the other.” The asshole aspect of you wonders if the clowns are making a double-entendre about your brief juvenile gig as a pyromaniac.
Your body bounces back and forth between healthy and unhealthy, with a dash of grey pallor to highlight your chiseled cheekbones. Your friend is quick to tell you that in medieval era; political prisoners were very gaunt and pale, likening these sickly characteristics to noble suffering?! Only a dear friend could romanticize such ugliness, and you smile at the loyalty. You spend so much time pacing your cell that you being to feel a tingling sensation that could signal restless leg syndrome or perhaps it are simply psychosomatic. Even though you know you’re too slender to take on a fast, you do it anyway///why??? Because you can.
Spirituality is a swinging pendulum in solitary, especially when you’re on the red road. Medicines, drums and other cultural entitlements become privileges or behavior modification instruments. At times, you question the existence of God simply because you’re still breathing. You wonder if redemption will come in the form of some Dante’s Inferno inspired hell. And even if you did gain access to Heaven, what if I got so angry about my mistreatment in Hell that I fuck up and get tossed back for another round of fire and brimstone? Your find yourself agreeing to see the chaplain, simply to toss out these questions and gauge their level of confusion and faith.
You mind feels like a Molotov cocktail was thrown into it. Sometimes it could be the scent of a shampoo that triggers an old memory, good or bad and sometimes both. You have tunnel vision some days, with every smile you see hiding an agenda and every tear lurks a crocodile. Anger and unbridled hostility permeate ever fiber of your being like a virus…
It stays in your system longer than clarity. The proverbial goblin on one shoulder and the voice of reason on the other is a constant battlefield; traversing the minefield between “why” and “why not” becomes almost analogous to defective neurons that can’t seem to fire. You joke about the smoke detector concealing a pinhead camera in your cell and tend to get overly-sensitive when the screws remove the toilet paper from the smoke detector during cell search. Everything is magnified, yet all of the solutions are so simplistic. Classic Zimbardo-ism.
You reflect on the validity of being compartmentalized as manipulative, violent, and threatening and generally as a bad seed by CSC, yet the System that claims to have zero tolerance for such unsavory traits is the first to adopt them when it suits their purpose. When you witness them use OC spray on women with ligatures around their neck over and over, your mind begins to question your logic and values. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you remember a poignant phrase you read in a Holocaust Survivor memoir: “we speak out against torture not to complain, rather to make sure the people never forget what happened.” You know you’ll continue to speak out, no matter what the cost, because every inch of you believes that someone would do the same for you.
You tend to over-analyze your conversations with people and become slightly annoyed when some people pontificate how similar they were to you, but have since changed. Unsolicited advice pertaining to the battle against an “entity” like CSC is like molten lava being injected into your marrow. You feel no affinity with such despondent individuals because you and at least a million other people don’t believe corrupt systems ever win. When your exterior radiates how adversity is overcome, you are met with resistance. It’s almost as if by refusing to be a victim, you are rendered incorrigible. It is not related to rationalization, minimizing or reaction-formation. And while you don’t feel any compelling need to reiterate this to the System, you do point out that Canada is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely: “WHERAS IT IS ESSENTIAL, IF MAN IS NOT TO BE COMPELLED TO HAVE RECOURSE, AS A LAST RESORT TO REBELLION AGAINST TYRANNY AND OPPRESSION, THAT HUMAN RIGHTS SHOULD BE PROTECTED BY THE RULE OF LAW.”
When you are not intellectualizing your conditions of confinement, you rely on your television for socialization. Mind-numbing, scripted reality shows is far more appealing than the mundane queries you encounter from the undesirables that can’t function in solitary without constant attention. Yeah, all you cons know who I’m talking about…you’ve all had your fair share of vent-whores on the range.
You become very OCD about your surroundings, noticing when (not if) your books are askew and not color-coded from the daily cell search. It becomes a perverse game between you and the guards (TO SEIZE, OR NOT TO SEIZE), and you cut your losses with a grievance or two. You are one of the lucky ones that are denied access to appliances of any kind, so in a way you are relieved of the burden of trying to iron your socks and floss-thin undergarments. Yes, the OCD can get that bad when you have little to no control over the minuscule details of life in solitary.
Since there have been no longitudinal studies conducted on the long-term effects of being in solitary for years on end (none that I’m aware of, but if so, holler at me), I can only describe what it feels like. When I was told in May 2011 that the Management Protocol was no longer an option, my first inclinations was to hide my reaction from Management. This was a way of survival for me while I was in segregation, and I found it very hard to shake.
But when I got back to my cell, I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe that after close to seven years of being held on the Protocol, the end was in sight. But that’s another story for another time. I’m still alive, and that’s all that matters.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Some of you may be aware that I have myself had very recent run-ins with police, courts and jail.  Run-ins which are to be ongoing possibly over Christmas as I wait to find out my fate.  I I have a lot to say about these experiences and the processes of criminalisation, about the political connections around who is targeted, what brings someone to "crack" under pressures of poverty, joblessness, sexism, and classism.  In fact I did some writing while waiting 25 days for bail to be worked out.  And I plan to do more which I will share with readers here once I feel more ready.
In the mean time I want to share a post with you from  a woman (Ann Hansen), who has been directly targeted by the state for her political beliefs and community organising associated with those beliefs.  To my knowledge and understanding it appears that nothing Ann did was actually deemed illegal by the state, rather her actions were made to fit an administrative breach of parole.   Ann has shared some important pieces with us about the very real, practical, and emotional differences made for her through support of friends and professionals.

 Ann Hansen - Account of Political Ogansing and Subsequent Arrest

Monday, September 3, 2012 voices silenced by fear voices silenced by fear: Bullied & silenced by a public authority or government agency? Add your voice and be counted! Speak out and tell your story today.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

World Overdose Awareness Day - August 31

 See the below links for info and agencies/people who are recognizing the day through events, writing, etc.   
(Canadian Resource with listings for events happening for Overdose Awareness Day in Canada)
(Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution - Articles, videos, About the day)
(Website specific for the day - Find info, pay tribute to someone who died from overdose) (American resource and links) (Safer Injecting Advice, video's, interviews - cool - Canadian?)

    (see their Overdose Awareness workshop)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Prison News this Week August 21-28 - Hunger Strike Needs Support - Overcrowding Women

Please check back through the week for links to analysis on issues of overcrowding and the use of hunger strikes as a means of prisoner protest.

Here's one the mainstream press is ignoring.  Its important that prisoners know the public has heard their protest for help and that we show support however we can.  If anyone knows anyone imprisoned here or have other suggestions about how to connect with prisoners at Prince Albert facility please share them here!

Prince Albert Prisoner Hunger Strike

And more overcrowding issues sure to lead to increased violence and abuse of prisoners.

New women's jail already overcrowded

CBC News has learned the women's prison in Headingley, which opened 7 months ago, is already over capacity.
There are 212 inmates at the Women's Correctional Centre, but capacity is 168.
Critics say the facility has been overcrowded since it opened in January and the reason is the backlog in the court system.
142 of the prisoners are on remand awaiting trial.
Tracy Booth, who delivers anger management counselling for the Elizabeth Fry Society to inmates at the centre, blamed the overcrowding on the number of inmates on remand.
Booth said most of the women shouldn't be there and the space should be used for more violent criminals.
"They are in limbo," she said.
The province said it was addressing the number of inmates on remand by adding Saturdays to the court schedule and planned for it in the budget.
But that was over a year ago and there have been no changes.
Progressive Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said there's more to it than just the numbers.
"Why are people just going out of the prison system and causing another crime (often) within two to eight months," he said.
"There's nothing that's happening within our corrections system that corrects behaviour," he added.
The Headingley facility is supposed to offer more programs than were available in the former Portage Correctional Centre.
But Darren Sawchuk president of Criminal Defence Lawyers Association (Manitoba) doubts the value of more programming, given the overcrowding.
"How are they going to be able to cure the problem now with the capacity problems they are having?" he said.
Sawchuk also said security is a concern.
"When you start to double-bunk then you have a more difficult time managing. There's safety not only for the inmates but the staff," he added.
The province said double-bunking is not unique to Manitoba and happens across the country.

Marlene Moore: Women in Prison

See this link for details regarding the Marlene Moore story that you may not have heard before.  Marlene was the first woman in Canada given the Dangerous Offender designation.  As with most women having received this label and increasingly now with men too, the designation is an over-reach of the injustice system.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Prison(er) Advocacy and Activism Series: How to do prisoner advocacy. Reaching inside and resisting the Prison Industrial Complex. (PIC)

How to do prisoner advocacy.  Reaching inside and resisting the Prison Industrial Complex. (PIC)

Two very different forms of prisoner advocacy which I've found inspiring, both coming from the USA, but could just as easily be replicated in a Canadian context!

The first 3 links provide information on the successful closing down of one of the most brutal forms of imprisonment.  That is a whole prison, for the purpose of holding people in long term solitary confinement with no phone calls in some areas and extremely limited visitation.  Some prisoners went in when the place - TAMMS Correctional opened a decade ago and were not heard from again.  These places are referred to as supermax prisons, and created for the purpose of controlling, torturing, and humiliating the so called worst of the worst.  The problem with these horror stories (besides the obvious human rights violations already mentioned) was that there were no parametres for who could or should be sent there.  Rather than imprisoning the most violent or so called dangerous prisoners, those who had beefs with guards or who pissed of the prison administration in some way, were now in for a treat.  As if the state didn't have enough valves to release oceans of pain as it was....Now administrators have the supermax.  

However thanks to a few concerned citizens, those administrators now have one less supermax!


 "Between the Bars" is a US based prisoner advocacy initiative.  Its a blog which allows prisoners to write in to the producer on the outside and have posts put up.  I've never seen anything quite like it and think its a terrific idea for someone to take up this side of the border.  This particular blog posts actual images of the hand written letters, an archiac form of written communication of which prisoners have no choice, denied computer access as they are.
The posts on Between the Bars give a really detailed and at times really disturbing  view of life inside.  Check out the post copied below the next paragraph.

About Between the Bars
"Between the Bars is a weblog platform for people in prison, through which the 1% of America which is behind bars can tell their stories. Since people in prison are routinely denied access to the Internet, we enable them to blog by scanning letters. We aim to provide a positive outlet for creativity, a tool to assist in the maintenance of social safety nets, an opportunity to forge connections between people inside and outside of prison, and a means to promote non-criminal identities and personal expression. We hope to improve prisoner's lives, and help to reduce recidivism" 

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Dispatches from Prison: Art, Stories, Drawings from Ontario Prisoners: Guelph Peak

 The Guelph Peak has put together this collection from Prisoners across Ontario.  And judging from the extensive list of submissions it has turned into a really amazing project!

Symposium: Prison Crowding: University of Ottawa

August 25: Symposium on Prison Crowding and its Implications for Human Rights

July 18, 2012
Article Source
John Howard Society of Canada

Objective: To conduct an evidence-based examination of prison crowding in Canada and measure the current conditions against appropriate legal standards.
This will be accomplished through reviewing the evolution of protections and international standards, examining current conditions in Canadian correctional institutions, comparing current conditions with existing legal standards and exploring remedies for violations of these standards. The final panel of the day will highlight and discuss some of the special challenges involved in representing prisoners.
The Symposium has received continuing professional development (CPD) accreditation from the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), The Law Society of British Columbia, The Law Society of Saskatchewan, and Barreau du Québec.
Event Information:
Date Saturday, August 25, 2012
Time 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Place University of Ottawa Campus
Contact Catherine Latimer
Phone (613) 384-6272
Contact Graham Stewart
Phone (613) 389-1737

Friday, August 17, 2012

Prisoner Speaks Out on the "Club Fed" Myth: Live From the House of the Dead: Lounging in hell

Live From the House of the Dead: Lounging in hell

 By I.M GreNada, Special to The Province July 28, 2012

Live from the House of the Dead.
Finally, after a double decade of drag-racing dust mites on the window sill, I’m feeling a bit of breeze blow through the Big House. Like most breezes, this one has as much to do with hot air as cold. Nary has a week passed in the last 20 where some government minion hasn’t graced the audience with a blustering assurance of “inmate accountability.” And while it’s true that most of us in the clink don’t do so well with the six-syllable nouns, general consensus is that this new buzzword has something to do with a change in prison management. Bye-bye, Dr. Phil — hello, Dr. Mengele.
When the Canadian government recently sank spades on the biggest prison-building campaign since the days of Diefenbaker, the press carped loudly. Crime is lower than it’s been in 30 years, they howled. What no one took note of, though, was the role that Canadian correctional policies played in that. Especially since 1992, Canada has been a world leader in results-driven correctional programs, parole practices that reduce incidents of criminal re-offending, and lower rates of prison violence than any of its G8 partners. Whenever a developing nation needed help implementing a prison system focused on public safety, Canada was the first name in the Rolodex. How the correctional service realized this was by adopting one simple principle: Look south. Whatever the U.S. is doing, do the opposite.
While Americans were embracing “three strikes” legislation and mandatory minimum prison sentences, Canada was curbing its bad puppies with conditional sentencing, specialized aboriginal courts and electronic monitoring bracelets. When American jails were bursting at the seams with overcrowding, drugs and gang-related violence, Corrections Canada eliminated double-bunking, implemented successful methadone treatment and urinalysis programs, and redirected the energies of First Nations gang members (the largest piece of the prison-gang pie in Canada) into specialized programs that addressed aboriginal realities. While American prisons teemed with HIV and hepatitis C, Canadian prisons brought in condoms, syringe-bleaching stations and a prison tattoo program regulated by community health professionals. The result? Tens of thousand of ex-cons (the largest demographic of violent criminal offenders in any western society) coming out of prison healthy, drug-free, educated, supported, monitored and enlightened by correctional programs. Ninety per cent of those did not return to criminal activity — or at least not within five years. If all that seems good, then you’ve probably spotted the problem. It was too good.
Compared with some of Canada’s other human rights partners — like Brazil, Russia, India or China — our prisons are pretty plush. Cable TV, basketball courts and an inmate canteen are just the high notes. We also get fed three times a day. There are hot showers, mail and the ever-contentious practice of inmate pay; until recently, we even had library services and access to a daily newspaper. No armed insurrection. No mass prison rapes. If you’ve never slept a night in the crowbar hotel, it might sound like too much hotel and not enough crowbar. Until you sleep here.
A few years back, a con I knew named Mike was struggling with heroin addiction. He would do OK for a few weeks, and then fall. One time, after he’d been on a two-day bender, I went looking for him — just in case. With addiction, you just never know when a guy is ready to say “uncle.”
I found Mike barricaded in his cage — his 18-inch-wide cell window covered with cardboard. His stereo screeched out something called Cannibal Corpse while, like a hunting hyena, his eyes burned at me from the depths of hell. The only thing missing was the smell of rotting meat. I laughed.
“Are you happy, Mikey?”
The answer, while slow in coming, was sure and deliberate. “Nope,” my dope-sick friend said. “But I am f---in’ comfortable.”
For the first 100 years, Canadian prison was just like every other dungeon in the world. Convicts were whipped, worked to death, hung, starved as punishment, segregated in solitary confinement for years on end, and generally treated worse than animals. And why not? Acting like animals is what brought them here. Did they deserve any better? But in the 1970s, after an unprecedented decade of prison violence, Canadians began asking questions. Why so many murdered prison staff, hostage takings, multimillion-dollar riots? What seems to be the problem?
“There is a great deal of irony in the fact that imprisonment — the ultimate product of our system of justice — itself epitomizes injustice.” This was the salient finding of the 1977 Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada. It was that committee’s call for reform — a call supported by all political parties — that changed the Canadian penitentiary from a torture chamber into a place where you just might get your act together; a place where you could start to think about how to live life with accountability. It’s a truth that, in their quasi-religious zeal to reintroduce suffering to the house of detention, Canadians have all but forgotten. So I guess it’s time to get comfortable.
- - - - - - -
I.M GreNada is the pen name of a Canadian prisoner who has been serving life for murder since 1994. The people he writes about are real, but their names have been changed. You can read more about him at

An Anarchist Woman in Jail Reflects on the Cage: Doing Time as a G20 Political Prisoner

Every Prisoner is a Political Prisoner

I found Kelly's memoir below really impactful.  She managed to remind me of some of the details around doing time that I'm sure most of us prefer to forget.  What I really appreciated was Kelly's reflections and analysis about the oppression which the women with whom she is forcibly confined must live through and survive every single day.  Oppressions which many of us are working hard to resist and indeed to eliminate, but which few of us actually have to resist daily from the inside.

from CrimethInc.
On July 19, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back was sentenced to eleven more months in prison for her participation in the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto. She remains unapologetic about her role in the black bloc that caused so much disruption during the summit, demonstrating that the forces that impose capitalism and patriarchy are not invulnerable.
To support Kelly and the millions like her who are imprisoned for the inconveniences they pose to the powerful, we are proud to present her eloquent and thought-provoking memoir of the time she spent incarcerated after her original arrest: “Every Prisoner is a Political Prisoner.” In this account, Kelly powerfully evokes the experience of captivity and the importance of understanding all captives of the state as political prisoners.
Our friends Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness are publishing a book of Kelly’s poetry as a fundraiser to benefit her during her incarceration. Walt Whitman argued that “to have great poets there must be great audiences,” but audiences is precisely the opposite of what there must be. To have great poetry, there must be people who are willing to act on their ideals rather than just watch from the sidelines. We are deeply grateful to Kelly for finding the courage to live her poetry as well as writing it.
Interview with Kelly Rose Pflug-Back
Write to Kelly:
Kelly Pflug-Back
Vanier Centre for Women
P.O. Box 1040
655 Martin Street
Milton, Ontario
L9T 5E6 Canada

Every Prisoner is a Political Prisoner: A Memoir

June 27, 2010, was uncharacteristically overcast for mid-summer Toronto. My head pounded from the humidity as I walked alone down Queen Street, through a cityscape teeming with riot police, and still dusted with shards of broken glass from the day before. Construction crews had already set to work repairing the trail of wreckage, attempting to get everything back to normal before anyone noticed.
When I reached Jimmie Simpson Park, where people were meeting for the day’s scheduled prison solidarity rally, I saw only a small crowd of friends standing under the drooping honey locust trees: some debriefing or consoling one another, others speaking with the reporters who swarmed like gnats around the gathering. This sparse group of about thirty was all that remained after the preemptive kidnappings and mass arrests. I can’t remember if I felt any particular sense of foreboding—any eerie apprehension of why I too hadn’t been taken away.
As our diminished group walked from the park to the detention center where our friends were being held, I hoped to be able to find some news of what had happened to my partner, or to anyone for that matter.
The gray sky sprinkled rain upon us, but we were happy and smiling. We chanted, sang, played instruments and shared whatever food we’d brought. Cops surrounded us, jostling the crowd to step farther away from the chain link fence surrounding the prison. I’d been there about half an hour when the unmarked van drove into the crowd. A group of men jumped out and forced their way toward me, yelling for people to move out of the way. One of them said my name, and within seconds they had dragged me into the van.
I can’t say I felt anything when my face hit the floor, but later in my cell I noticed a deep throbbing in my teeth and gums. The front ones were loose. My mouth tasted like blood.
One of the cops who’d pulled me into the van asked me if I was on welfare. He leered at my bare legs and told me I needed a razor. Another tied my wrists with zip ties and proceeded to rifle through my purse.
Inside, the building was a massive warehouse filled with wire cages, like some industrial chicken farm. The noise of other prisoners screaming protest songs and rattling the doors of their cages echoed off the concrete walls, making our numbers seem greater even than the 992 people occupying cells. They put me in a cage and locked the door. On the wall to my left I saw a guard scribble my name on a white board alongside the words “do not release.” I sat down on the concrete and anticipated the worst.
The following day I was hospitalized after losing consciousness from low blood sugar. All we were given to eat was a cheese sandwich every 12 to 24 hours with no alternatives for those who were vegan or had an allergy. I was unable to walk to the medical trailer; the guards informed me that this constituted refusing medical attention. Another prisoner who overheard this screamed at a guard who was busy amusing himself doing tricks in an unused wheelchair, and they brought it to my cell shortly after.
A female guard snarled at me to “close my fucking legs” while I sat sprawled inside the medical trailer with an intravenous glucose drip in my arm. I’d been arrested in a short skirt and tank top, and they had refused me, numerous times, pants or a blanket. It was freezing inside the detention center. There was no way to get off the bare concrete. My teeth chattered constantly, and I never stopped shaking. It was too cold to sleep.
After they took me back to my cell, I could hear a man nearby screaming that he needed his medication. He screamed for hours before stopping abruptly; I pressed my face to the cage door and I could see him convulsing on the floor of his cell with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. “Get up,” the guards told him, repeatedly, before finally acknowledging his unconsciousness. Then they dragged him away.
Countless people were processed and released, many of them with bruises, cuts and abrasions on their arms and faces from being slammed into the concrete. A number of the guards passed the time by spewing racist, homophobic, classist, and sexist harassment at prisoners, or threatening them with further brutalization. A number of women were threatened with rape.
Hours and hours passed, and it became increasingly clear that I would not be allowed to call my lawyer or let my family know where I was. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t yet been informed of my charges. I spent over two days in my cell, curled in a ball on the concrete or pacing the small vicinity of my cage, sometimes yelling to other prisoners or joining them in hysterical, sleep-deprived bouts of laughter.
I was unsurprised to see a few old friends from Toronto’s street community pass through the detention center. Were it not for the unfortunate situation, it would have been a welcome reunion. When an acquaintance of mine ended up in the cell beside me, we started talking about the circumstances that had brought us there. Only seventeen, he had spent the majority of his life being transferred from group home to group home. Since he had finally been appointed as his own legal guardian, his life had been plagued by poverty, class profiling, and prejudice in the court system. Although he didn’t consider himself an “activist,” he was obviously more steeped in the realities of social struggle than a large portion of the other detainees. We talked about our mutual experiences with police, shelters, group homes, and homelessness. We talked about how these experiences had politicized us, and how a person doesn’t need to understand party politics to be political. Every poor person is political, we agreed, just by nature of their experiences.
I realized at that point that I probably had more in common with him than I did with most of the other protesters. Unfortunate as it was, life had already acclimatized us to be treated like shit by the authorities. None of this surprised us. We were used to being beaten, having our rights stripped away.
After most of the detention center had been emptied, I was transferred to the general population at the women’s prison in Milton. While we waited to be processed in the holding cells, the other women and I laughed and joked, trading stories about how we’d ended up where we were. A lot of them were arrested and presumed guilty for unequivocal bullshit; for being homeless, poor, non-white, using drugs, working in the sex trade, or any combination of these factors. Others were arrested for crimes of necessity: for stealing food because they were hungry, or robbing a store to feed their young kids, for needing a way to pay rent. A few had been charged with assault after having fought back against abusive spouses. I told them my charges, and got a lot of hugs, high-fives, and congratulations. “Fucking right,” people said, slapping me on the back. “Fuck the rich bastards! Fuck the G20!”
Some people had been unclear as to what the summit had been all about, and we got into a long conversation about it. We all laughed, ranted, waited, and laughed some more. If these were the women with whom I’d be surrounded, I thought to myself, maybe prison won’t be all that bad.
My first days inside were largely spent adjusting to the prison environment, and as time went on, my new setting reminded me increasingly of the years I spent living on the street when I was a teenager.
On the streets, as in prison, you never get a decent night’s sleep or a meal that resembles real food. There are always a few arrogant people who think they run everything because they’ve been there the longest, and people in uniforms can do whatever they want to you and get away with it. In both situations, your status as a human being is revoked. Humanity is a privilege awarded to those who help perpetuate capitalism, and once you cease to do that, you’re a burden. You’re expected to express gratitude to the system that ghettoizes you, doling out a few table scraps and a thin blanket.
The first range I was sent to was renowned for being the least hospitable. We were locked in our cells for most of the day. Each had one bed, though the high volume of prisoners meant that two people usually shared a cell. The only windows were thin slats of frosted glass too opaque to see through, and we were allowed outside only once a week. “Outside” was a small walled concrete enclosure with metal grating for a ceiling. Through a small crack underneath the heavy steel door, I could see grass. It depressed me to look at it. I tried not to.
This was the range to which people were sent as punishment, for getting into fights, mouthing off to guards, being caught with contraband or generally failing to comply with prison regulations. If you were “good” you qualified for transfer to a medium-security unit, where you could go to a real outdoor exercise yard, have your own cell, and see visitors without a thick pane of Plexiglas separating you.
A lot of the women on maximum security had been on the same range for over a year. I met one woman who had been there for almost two; she’d never had a misconduct, but there was a note in her file stating that she would have to serve her entire sentence on maximum security. She came from a mafia family, she explained. Putting her on a medium security unit would have been an open invitation for any of her high-up friends to come break her out.
After visiting the classification office, I learned of a similar note in my file. “Apparently I’m a terrorist,” I shrugged, when people asked why I hadn’t been transferred yet.
I won’t say that I instantly got along with everyone on my range, or that I was the most popular prisoner. I didn’t pay attention to the hierarchies that existed between other prisoners, and some people had a problem with that. I wouldn’t join in when others ridiculed or ganged up on the less popular women. It was a total pecking order, and it reminded me too much of a schoolyard.
I became close friends with a woman named Rachel* whom I met in the common area during breakfast on a rare day when we weren’t on 24-hour lock down. She was violently ill from drug withdrawal, and the nurse hadn’t filled her methadone prescription. Apparently, her cellmate was a complete asshole, so we snuck her into my cell after the doors were buzzed open. The next guard that came by on her rounds started yelling at us, but we assured her that the other staff had transferred Rachel and forgotten to do the paperwork. I don’t think the guard believed us, but she didn’t seem to care enough to do anything about it.
When Rachel wasn’t too sick to make conversation, we passed the long hours of our confinement playing cards, singing tuneless renditions of R&B hits, washing our dirty uniforms in the sink and talking about life in general. She lived near Niagara with her partner, their four-year-old son, and their newborn daughter. She struggled with addiction, but still managed to keep her life together and be there for her kids. Her dad had been in and out of prison most of her life, and her mom had been drunk all the time. She’d spent her early teenage years working as a prostitute, and the crown attorney at her bail hearing had used this to argue that she was unfit to reenter society. It seems that when 13-year-old girls end up hooking on the streets it’s because they possess some moral defect, and not because life has given them no other choices.
Our cells looked out onto the common area, an oval-shaped concrete room. It contained five bolted-down tables, four showers at one end, a shelf with a few bad paperback romance novels, and three phones, only two of which functioned. When allowed into the common area, I went straight to waiting in line for the phones. Some women didn’t have anybody to call or only had relatives outside of the country; the phones only transmitted collect calls within North America. Other women gripped the phone receivers with white knuckles, trying to explain to their young children why mommy wasn’t coming home. Rachel said she had told her partner not to bring the kids when coming to visit her. “They’re just too young. They would only be confused by the Plexiglas in the visitor’s cubicle. Being able to see their mother, but not reach out and touch her.”
I thought of an article I’d read once about animal testing laboratories. One method the lab technicians used to create symptoms of stress and depression in mammals involved removing newborn babies from their mother, then placing the mother in isolation. I looked up at the florescent ceiling lights within their shatterproof wire cages. Soon, the nurse came and people lined up to receive their daily doses of sedatives and anti-psychotics—a precautionary measure, prescribed to virtually everyone, like cutting off the beaks of factory-farmed chickens to prevent them from pecking themselves, or each other, to death from the stress of confinement and isolation.
My views of the prison system solidified: prisons are little more than warehouses for concentrating the poor. Rather than being populated by the people most harmful to society, they are crowded with those who have been the most harmedby society.
Rather than being “correctional” facilities, they are a method of ridding the streets of those who act as living reminders of the crisis of poverty, the widening income gap, the future of hardship which may very well await many more in the coming years if something does not change. Prisons are a way of sweeping people under the rug. They are a way of pretending that nothing is wrong.
Very few of the women on my range had been imprisoned for any kind of violent crime, and most of those who did have violent charges had been defending themselves against abusive partners or assailants. Most of these women’s attackers had walked away without charges, free to roam the streets at their leisure.
The small portion of women facing violent charges not involving self-defense were often the survivors of past traumas; a history rarely taken into consideration by the courts that sentenced them. Much like the homeless community, a large portion of the women with whom I spoke were survivors of the lifelong onslaught of abuse perpetrated against poor and disenfranchised women by our society, particularly women of color. Many had been arrested for not having full citizenship, while others had been in the process of applying for refugee status. A disturbingly high number also lived with (dis)abilities like Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Narcotic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, and ADD/ADHD.
These are women who have been bounced between abusive foster homes and youth detention facilities, graduating at 16 as wards of the Children’s Aid Society only to become wards of the State, criminalized for doing what it takes to survive the minefield of poverty.
As the days turned into weeks, I began to erase from my mind the hope of being released. The health problems with which I’ve been living the last few years became increasingly severe, and I often found it difficult to stand up or walk around without fainting. My ribs stuck out. My stomach became concave. I became depressed.
Was it stress, overly-processed food, or a general lack of fresh air and exercise that made me unhealthy? Probably some combination of all these things. Without even examining me, the doctor put me on a liquid diet, which in jail consists largely of juice crystals, water, and MSG-filled soup powder. When I was finally sent to the examination room I was told that nothing seemed to be wrong with me, regardless of the fact that I’d lost close to 20 pounds, felt tired constantly, and was in serious pain and discomfort.
I talked to my partner on the phone, but his voice sounded distant and crackly through the receiver. He came to visit me, and we pressed our hands to the inch-thick Plexiglas between us. It was almost harder than not seeing him. My mom sounded stressed whenever I called her, and I could hear my dog howling in the background at the sound of my voice through the receiver.
I needed to talk to somebody, but the prospect of being force-fed Thorazine dissuaded me from applying to see the psychiatrist. So I went to the prison Chaplain, for the sheer novelty. He was a square-jawed man in a gray suit, with the bearing of a Televangelist. He told me I was in prison because I had sinned, and that I had to repent for these sins. I was in my current situation because the Devil had led me astray.
“But Jesus was a political prisoner!” I said. “The Devil didn’t tell me to do anything; I’m a political prisoner like Jesus!” He thought I was crazy.
I was released after about a month on conditions of strict house arrest and non-association with some of my closest friends. All I felt was numb. I walked into the parking lot with my family and my partner, squinting under the bright sunlight. We drove back to the house where I lived as a kid and I slept for days. At first I felt fine. I could leave the house, if I was with my parents, to take the dogs for walks in the last of summer’s warm weather. I drank coffee, read a lot. People I’d never met sent me stickers and zines and nice letters in the mail.
Two months later I started having panic attacks, insomnia, and nervous breakdowns on an almost daily basis. When I did sleep, I had awful nightmares. It seemed as though every past instance of trauma and violence I’d seen or experienced had been consolidated into a heavy, poisonous lump, slowly turning my insides black and rotten. I felt like the world was just too ugly to live in. I was suffocating under the weight of clear-cut forests and floundering, tar-drowned shore birds. When I closed my eyes all I could see was torture and war, droughts and chemical spills, napalm.
All I wanted was to move past the negative experiences I’d had and work towards piecing my life back together. But I realized that the pain I felt was trying to tell me something: I would not be able to forget and move on as though none of this had happened. In a way, I think the disgust and pain we feel when we see or experience something horrific can be the greatest catalyst for creating positive change. When we experience something firsthand we are better equipped to understand it—and with that understanding we can educate others and give real support to those who are also experiencing it. We can see its flaws and weak points, and we can use this knowledge to criticize, discredit, and eventually destroy it.
Although I never heard this said firsthand, others told me they overheard quite a few young people say they’d never go to another protest again after their experiences at the detention center. I felt not only disappointed that everyone hadn’t been able to see the ways to reclaim these experiences and use them as further motivation, but profoundly confused by this perspective. What we went through during the mass arrests at the G20 was only a small window into the everyday experiences of countless minorities in this country who suffer police profiling, brutality, and prejudice within the legal system on a horrifyingly regular basis. As hard as I try, I simply can’t understand the notion that anyone could propose to be an ally of any marginalized group, then give up and turn away when faced with a tiny microcosm of what that group puts up with everyday.
My experience in prison and the women with whom I shared it have reminded me of the reasons I became politically active in the first place. They’ve reminded me of the sorrow, the desperation, the heartbreak, the trauma, the unlivable realities of poverty that first spurred me to get my life together and dedicate myself to helping others rather than accepting the conditions in which I lived. Being in prison reminded me of the core of my politics. At the bottom of it, we were all inside that prison for the exact same reason. We were dangerous only in the sense that our existence discredited Canada’s status as a place of liberty and equality. We were a glaring reminder that this country doesn’t offer equal status and opportunity to everyone.
Some political prisoners are arrested for staging public demonstrations that address poverty, and some are arrested for living in poverty. Some actively protest social inequality, while others turn to drugs or alcohol because they can no longer bear the brunt of this inequality. Some choose to publicly draw attention to injustice by their words and actions, while others are swept off the streets because their very presence is a public exposure of this injustice. Now is the time for everyone in our community to think about what it really means to say that every prisoner is a political prisoner. The next time we’re shocked and outraged by an experience of being targeted, harassed, or otherwise mistreated by law enforcement or society in general, we should stop to recognize how much respect we owe to the people all around us who face much more than that every day of their lives. Every prisoner is a political prisoner.
*All names have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.

August 18 Update: Prison News - Canada

I've been thinking about doing a regular post on current news in our prison system for awhile.  But havn't done so because I figured much of it would be coming from the mainstream media and I didn't want to take part in spreading the neo-liberal judgment based, hate mongering, propaganda machine any further than it sadly already gets spread!  Because I don't have time to give each of these issues the full analysis they deserve in order to counter the mainstream's take on them, I have decided to use the following strategy.  I will go ahead and include links to some mainstream news sources, but will balance those with progressive links to organisations providing a human rights based analysis of the issues.

Issues such as the increasing calamity of prison overcrowding.  This has always been a problem in Canada, but of late with the elimination in 2010 of 2 for 1 credit for time served in pre-trial prison, we have seen an explosion in the numbers of people held in prison for longer periods, resulting in severe overcrowding, and directly related to overcrowding, has been an increase in staff and prisoner violence.

Treatment of Prisoners in Crowded Facilities

Barton Street jail still in lockdown
Published: 08/16/2012

Toronto, ON, Canada -- The Barton Street jail is still in lockdown and corrections officer are off the job Thursday morning. The officers are not working while they negotiate a health and safety concern.

The lockdown began Monday after it was discovered a piece of metal was missing from a light fixture. Management and officers were concerned it could be used as a weapon.

Dan Sidsworth, Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) corrections division chair, said jail guards wanted to search the entire prison and wear protective vests but management wanted a smaller section of the prison searched without the vests.

"Our concern," Sidsworth said, "is that the weapon has migrated to another part of the institution." He added, officers "searched the immediate area and came up empty."

The Minstry of Labour was called to investigate the work stoppage Wednesday.

Matt Blajer, a spokesman for the ministry, told CBC Hamilton that the jail guards do not have the right to refuse work in this situation.
The corrections officers have since been ordered by the employer to return to work. The officers are members of the Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU). Sidsworth said the union is still in contact with the ministry and made a proposal Tuesday that could lead to an end of the lockdown.
As a result of the lockdown, inmates have reported they haven't had clean clothes or clean sheets for a week. OPSEU said its members will only return to work if allowed to complete a jail search wearing a protective safety vests.
"Our concerns," Sidsworth said, "are the same as those of the inmates. We want a safe working environment for the officers. And our working conditions are their living conditions. We don't want to see anyone get hurt."

Union boss says overcrowding at London, Ont., jail could lead to more unrest 

A photograph obtained by the London Free Press shows the aftermath of a recent melee at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre on Exeter Road in London. July 20, 2012

LONDON, ONT. — The head of the union representing guards at a southwestern Ontario jail says he’s concerned a near-riot could occur there again, and pressure is mounting on the province to make the facility safer for staff and inmates.
Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren Thomas toured the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., on Tuesday morning.
Violence flared there last month, just before the start of the July 28 weekend, when inmates began to flood toilets, light fires and run amok.
Tactical squads quelled the unrest and a five-day lockdown was imposed.
“Five-hundred pound iron doors were bent ... It was a very, very dangerous situation,” said Thomas, whose union represents more than 260 correctional officers and staff at the provincial jail.
Complaints and lawsuits over treatment of inmates at the facility stretch back years, but are getting increased attention after numerous security incidents over the past several months.
Overcrowding at the jail needs to be addressed or there may be more violence, Thomas said, alleging jail cells meant for two people are holding three to five inmates in some cases.
The cheek-by-jowl living conditions were a catalyst in last month’s skirmish and increase the chances of inmate-on-inmate attacks, he said.
“If you’re an inmate in there and you’re in a cell of five people then you can get hurt quite badly” by violent cellmates, Thomas said.
Things are calm now, but that could change unless more inmates are transferred elsewhere and staffing numbers increased, he said.
“It’s like the eye of the hurricane. It’s not over. It could spark and blow,” he said, adding the facility is short 15 full-time employees.
The jail was initially designed for 200 beds but was retrofitted to hold its current load of more than 400 inmates, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson Brent Ross said.
Ross denied claims there are up to five inmates in a cell, saying the ministry does not house more than three people in a single cell.
Corrections Minister Madeleine Meilleur was set to discuss conditions at the jail on Tuesday night with local Progressive Conservative member Jeff Yurek and Bob Bailey, the party’s corrections critic.
Lawyer Kevin Egan says he has about 50 lawsuits in various stages from inmates who allege understaffing and safety gaps, such as a lack of security cameras that would let guards easily monitor inmates, have led to attacks.
Egan said he’s so busy he’s had to hire a new clerk to help handle new cases.
Egan alleges staffing shortages mean some prisoners are exercising control over their fellow inmates, such as demanding they hand over medications before receiving food from the delivery cart.
“There’s a culture where ... they allow the toughest, meanest inmates to set conditions inside the cellblock,” he alleged.
Egan said he is “very hopeful” the ministry will take steps such as hiring more staff and installing security cameras as called for last year by a pair of inquests, one of which found the April 2009 death of Kenneth Drysdale was a homicide.
“If they don’t, somebody else is going to die,” said Egan, who is representing Drysdale’s family in a suit against the province over his death.
Egan is also representing former inmate Robert Broley in a $1.25-million lawsuit stemming from an attack on Broley at the jail in 2004.
Broley says he received a 30-day sentence for fraudulently depositing a blank cheque envelope at an ATM.
He says that once inside the jail he was assaulted by five other inmates for refusing to give them the home address of a jail guard he knew through his home maintenance business, and suffered three cranial fractures when hit on the head with a plastic mug.
He claims the attack occurred in a section of the facility guards could not see directly or monitor, since there were no security cameras.
Now disabled for life and receiving disability payments, he hopes the mounting number of inmate lawsuits will force change at the facility.
“This is not a Third World country. This is Canada. When people break the law, yes they should pay, but they should not be shoved into cruel and unusual punishment,” Broley said.

Prisoners Push Back

Prison hunger strike: inmates say they’re mistreated, locked up all day
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Inmates on a hunger strike at a northern Saskatchewan prison say they’re being mistreated and locked up all day.
The hunger strikers, believed to be as many as 16, say they won’t eat until things change at the medium-security Prince Albert correctional facility.
They say they’re supposed to be out six hours a day and they’re not allowed to go outside at all.
A spokeswoman for Corrections, Public Safety and Policing says the inmates are unhappy with a lockdown after a serious incident last Friday.
Judy Orthner says prisoners on the unit are being confined during the investigation into what happened, but it is not considered a lockdown.
She says the current situation should end Thursday.
Corrections will look at the concerns and decide what steps might be appropriate in the future, Orthner says.
“These inmates who are on a hunger strike are saying, ‘It’s not fair that we should be kept in our cells with no routine and no programming going on while this investigation is going on.”’

Left of Road (Politically); Response to Tough on Crime Agenda

Crime and punishment by Leo Singer

Interviews with prisoner advocates in Canada to talk about the history of the prisoner human rights movement in the context of the current conservative "crime" agenda.

Prison farm supporters continue action

I had no idea some of these supporters had been holding a weekly vigil at Collins Bay Institution since August 2010!  Read on
Posted Aug 16, 2012
Click to Enlarge
 Supporters of the now defunct federal prison farms held a special vigil at the entrance of Frontenac Institution on Bath Road last week to mark the second anniversary of their closure.

Kenneth Jackson, Frontenac EMC
Supporters of the now defunct federal prison farms held a special vigil at the entrance of Frontenac Institution on Bath Road last week to mark the second anniversary of their closure.
EMC News - It's been just over two years since the federal government shut down the prison farm at Frontenac Institution.

Those who tried, in vain, to save the farm returned to the entrance of the prison to hold an evening vigil last Thursday.

"We just want to remind the federal government...we think it was a mistake to close the prison farms. It provided rehabilitation. It provided job training and provided food for the system," said Dianne Dowling, a member of the Save Our Prison Farms (SOPF) committee.

Even as Dowling was speaking, honks from cars going by nearly drowned her out.

Dowling said members of SOPF, along with hundreds of people, campaigned for 18 months asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider the decision to close the farms.

She said people came to rallies, meetings and signed petitions. They also wrote letters to the government.

This all lead to a quasi-blockade at the entrance of the prison by some of the most adamant supporters. It also led to some of their eventual arrests. A few were convicted earlier this year of mischief.

"We believed we were right. We still believe we are right. The program should have been saved and the decision was wrong," said Dowling. "We feel we need to keep repeating that comment. It was very frustrating to the people in the campaign. It made no sense to close the prison farms."

Canada had six prison farms before their closure.

About 250 cattle at Frontenac were sold by auction in Waterloo.

Dowling said removing the cattle was the death of the farm.

Twenty-four people, aged 14 to 87, in total were arrested and charged with mischief two years ago in hopes of stopping cattle trucks.

Supporter Daniel Beals was at the vigil.

"I am here to mourn and pay tribute to what we went through a couple years ago. I have a lot of good friends here that I made specifically through the Save Our Prison Farms campaign," said Beals.

He feels the prison farms could return one day.

"I believe if we had a different government there's a possibly it could come back. I wouldn't go out making promises but I think that certainly if there is an NDP government we would look at something like that again," said Beals, who has been a federal NDP candidate in the area since 2009.

He claimed rehabilitation is not the No. 1 concern for the Conservative government.

Supporters will continue to fight for prison farms. In fact, every Monday night since Aug. 9, 2010, SOPF supporters have been holding a vigil at the entrance to Frontenac.

Corrections Canada to push ahead with electronic anklets for parolees 

 The below article by Anna Mehler Paperny at the Globe talks about ankle bracelet monitoring for people out of prison on passes or parole.  It also mentions that the government's own pilot study of ankle monitoring effectiveness showed the devices to be unreliable, and more expensive than traditional monitoring.  So if the devices are such crap what other reason could the CSC have for "pushing ahead" with use of them?  See this post from 2011:

Correctional Service Canada plans to roll out electronic anklets to monitor parolees – even though its own pilot project found the devices did not work as hoped.
The idea is to ensure that offenders follow the conditions of their release. A tiny proportion of parolees breach those conditions or reoffend, although the number has been getting smaller for four years.
A Correctional Service Canada study found the GPS anklets do not change offenders’ behaviour, create more work for parole officers and have numerous technical problems – including false alarms and a tendency to show people to be somewhere they are not.
“You’re doing more intervention unnecessarily, catching people in the corrections net who perhaps don’t require it,” James Bonta, director of Public Safety’s research unit, told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security earlier this year.
Proponents say monitoring keeps the public safe by ensuring convicts toe the line. Others say that while the anklets are effective in some circumstances for high-risk offenders, they don’t alter a parolee’s behaviour; also, by the time officers are notified of a violation, it may be too late to apprehend the person in the act.
“We sometimes think of technology as being perfect. It is not perfect,” Mr. Bonta said. “Overall, if I look at the whole body of evidence, I don’t think” the anklets make communities safer.
The federal Conservatives’ Safe Streets and Communities Act, Bill C-10, allows Correctional Service Canada to impose electronic monitoring on an offender with geographic restrictions on temporary absence, work release, parole, statutory release or long-term supervision. Correctional Service Canada intends to begin the program in the fall of 2013.
Electronic monitoring for offenders has been around since the mid-1960s. Seven provinces use anklets for offenders on probation. Studies so far are inconclusive on whether and when they’re worth it.
Monitoring methods vary. Some programs are actively watched from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with activity logged overnight. In Saskatchewan, radio frequencies are sent to a server, and notices of violations or alerts go to officers’ cellphones or a community correctional centre.
In a choice between electronic monitoring or a stint behind bars, studies suggest the former saves money and keeps the offender out of an environment that often contributes to recidivism. The benefits of putting a parolee on a monitoring device during a conditional release are murkier: There’s no demonstrated effect on recidivism and, especially in the case of low-risk offenders, a GPS anklet can actually make reintegration harder.
Between 2008 and 2009, Correctional Service Canada conducted an $856,096 pilot project of anklets for parolees. An evaluation found basic technological challenges: Batteries drained quickly; false tamper alerts were frequent; the GPS system had a tendency to “drift” – to show a person in the wrong location.
While the system “may benefit some offenders,” the report states, “the benefits could not be demonstrated in the current evaluation.”
In 2010-11, 88 per cent of those on day parole and 76.5 per cent of those on full parole completed the program with no problems. Only 2.4 per cent of day parolees and 6.7 per cent of full parolees reoffended. Both breaches and reoffences have dropped steadily since 2007.
The anklets provide “an opportunity to verify compliance with release conditions and provide additional information for the ongoing assessment of risk to enhance public safety,” Correctional Service Canada said in an e-mailed statement this week. “CSC’s procurement of new technology will address some of the limitations noted in the first pilot (for example battery life).”
The cost of the anklets and software is $15 per offender per day, although they can be cheaper. Training and staffing can get pricey. Almost all U.S. agencies that use electronic monitoring increased staff faster than those that did not, said Marc Renzema, a criminal justice professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
Correctional Service Canada Commissioner Don Head and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews declined to be interviewed. Addressing the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in February, Mr. Head argued the anklets’ benefits outweighed their drawbacks.
“This will ultimately contribute to strengthening public safety,” he said. “The report indicated that there were some deficiencies, but that through amendments to practices and procedures we could address these deficiencies.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cross Border Lobbying and the Reality Behind Conservative Enthusiasm for Bill C10

Prison Expansion: Canada
There is plenty to know about prison expansion in general and specifically about what is taking place in Canada as we speak.  Below I've included a link to "End the Prison Industrial Complex's" information regarding the companies which are profiting from prison expansion in Canada.

I've also included a link to a short piece by Rittenhouse on the same issue which relates to the complexities around prison building, human suffering, and the need for fair income opportunites.

Then you will find a link by the California Prison Moratorium project to a handbook entitled, "How to Stop a Prison in Your Town".  A timely resource for everyone living with a future prison overshadowing your town and potentially your own freedomWhether contractors have broken ground in your community yet or not this booklet provides some real insight into all of the many impacts which prisons are apt to bring with them and provides strategy ideas, as well as responses to some of the most widely used misinformation intended to soften opposition to prison building.

And finally you can read a copy of an article I've written on prison expansion and prison profiteer lobbying for the same on both sides of the Canada/US border, chock full of information on expansion plans across Canada and resources where you can learn more. 

Cross Border Lobbying and the Reality Behind Conservative Enthusiasm for Bill C10
by sheryl jarvis, July, 2012

Is Bill C10 really about "Safe Streets and Communities" as its name implies or are there ulterior motives.  Many suspect Bill C10 really lays the groundwork for generating new sources of revenue, a warped vision of economic repair, by opening our prisons to private markets.  This allows corporations here in Canada to rake in the big bucks which capitalists to the south have been enjoying for years.  Rapacious capitalists have finally found a way to transform those they consider burdens to the state, into profit for the rich.  The bodies of the poor, those who use drugs, and the mentally ill are sourced out to third parties for profit through privatized prisons.   

  Christian Parenti, author of Lockdown America describes how imprisonment is a windfall to capitalists; three ways in which incarceration bolsters capitalism: government economic stimulus for stagnant communities the privatization of prisons and prison-related services, and the exploitation of prison labor by private firms.”  

The mainstream media has only recently begun discussing the profit motive (i.e.: privatization) behind conservative support of Bill C10.  When plans to privatize imprisonment (a function of class war)  have been in the works for years, and visibly on the books since at least November of last year. 
Critics opposing the Bill have focused on the direct impacts that C10 sanctions will likely have on those to be targeted by the Bill, such as longer prison terms and criminal records.  While these issues are important, critical even, they only scratch the service and fail to look at the ideology beneath increased calls for the use of criminalising tactics.  Ideology which includes the isolating effects of blaming only the individual and failing to look at lawbreaking within the larger context of the surrounding social structures.  Structures such as poverty, inequality, violence against women, colonization, and ableism (think neo-liberal push for lower wages, fewer worker protections, drug war, and the defunding of womens orgs.....and for that matter, everyone else who speaks out), much of which has long been institutionalized through policy, practice, and belief. 

Day of action to support workers on strike at Electro-Motive facility in London, On.  Employers threatened to pull the plant out of Canada if workers did not accept a 50% wage cut.  Workers refused, Electro left, and the neo-liberal Canadian government which had gifted the company millions of dollars in tax deductions and other forms of corporate welfare did nothing.
If public safety and accountability of individuals were the true motive in these massive policy changes, the conservatives would be going at this from a completely different direction.  After all expert after expert have pointed to provisions of safe, affordable housing, and childcare, access to opportunity, jobs, education, and substance use treatment as being far more likely to increase public safety than the biased and exclusionary practice of criminalisation has ever been or will ever be.
Profit and not public safety is more likely the true conservative motivation behind the crime agenda. 
Exploitation of our most vulnerable people by turning individual bodies into sources of revenue - profit for private hands, through imprisonment and forced prisoner labour is the most egregious form of bullying practices, and a terrifying stance for any nation leader to be implementing.  The belief systems driving these forms of classist, and racist policy change are so socially entrenched,  that the effects are invisible to all but the vulnerable people targeted.  People begin to believe that retribution, hate, and exclusion are not only warranted and deserved, but a natural consequence to lawbreaking or for that matter, any breach of the current "moral" order.  Only through decades of struggle has the face of such deep seated intolerance ever been up rooted, and shown for what it really is – hatred, fear, and ignorance.  Think of the centuries long struggles of aboriginal, African, and female bodied peoples.  The fact is, that we are nowhere near close to exposing the truth behind the true causes of community harm – that which we refer to as crime.  We are simply not ready to talk about it in a wide spread and critical way.  Because of this, prisons are likely to be a part of the social landscape for a very long time to come.
Private Prison Profiteers in the USA

Private interest groups have 3 means for influencing and convincing government to support their efforts.  Lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and networking.  Networking includes revolving door techniques such as moving private prison owners between prison ownership and government jobs in corrections.
One journalist had this to report on the lobbying efforts of private prison profiteers in the US, “For one thing, they’ve forked over a fair share on lobbying Congress. While netting $133 million in income between 2006 and 2008, the CCA spent nearly $3 million lobbying; during that decade, the number of dollars spent in Washington amounted to around $17.6 million.  Corrections Corporation of America officers have been linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has in turn lobbied for increased sentencing for inmates convicted of non-violent crimes across the country and helped pass the controversial immigration law in Arizona. Corrections Corp. themselves have lobbied for Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, and the reasoning is simple: an more stringent immigrant laws means more arrests and, thus, more jam-packed for-profit prisons.”  (
 Journalists at the online “404 System Error”, a relatively new and completely cool independent news source, report a system which encourages the increase of prison populations through a per head funding system which benefits players all down the criminal legal system line.  “In 2009 reports obtained by National Public Radio found that the Corrections Corporation of America conceded in a report that they expected  “a significant portion of our revenues” to come  from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays around $90 every day for each detainee that their work helps land behind bars.”
So not only do those working in the criminal legal field benefit financially through the work they do – criminalising mostly working class people, but they have designed the system in such a way that it pays out “bonus’” per arrestee.  
US Prison Profiteers Seek Capitalist Expansion in Canada
2 of the largest privatized prison profiteers in the US, Geo Group Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have been busy lobbying our Canadian government around Bill C10, firearms, and other criminal law issues.  And more recently US based Management and Training Corp has joined the tough on crime fray, looking to Canada to replace the bucks they are currently losing in the states where they have virtually been pushed including Mississippi, due to multiple court actions suing MTC for sexual misconduct, failing to maintain safety for prisoners, assault, and even wrongful death.  In fact this track record is hardly individual to MTC, all of the private prison profiteers mentioned here have similar histories.  These are the players currently laying the ground work for expansion of this dirtiest form of capitalist profit onto Canadian soil.
CCA's record of hiring untrained guards who brutalize prisoners is notorious.   In fact these histories are rampant throughout the prison system period.  However the conditions (poor salaries and training for staff which lead to constant staffing shortages, which in turn ensures a near constant state of lockdown. Compounding these issues are the limited access to healthcare, insufficient food, tampons, and other toiletries for prisoners) at private institutions are conducive to higher tension and stress levels for both prisoners and guards, ensuring the number of violent incidents within privately owned/managed facilities are through the roof, over and above any numbers at publically run facilities.
 Geo reported income of 61 million in 2008, increasing to over 98 million in 2011.  They imprisoned 80,000 people in state, federal, and international prisons, immigration holds, and mental health facilities in the US, the UK, Australia, and South Africa last year.  And have several expansion projects in the works this year.  If those impressive records didn’t stir you maybe their human rights record will.  Geo has managed to rack up substantial numbers here too. Charges of negligence, civil rights violations, abuse, and even death. 
Civil Rights lawyer, Scott Medlock had this to say, “GEO cuts corners by hiring poorly trained guards, providing inmates with cut rate medical care, and running their facility in a grossly unprofessional manner.”  (Rosa, E., 2009) This is perhaps the number one criticism in regards to for profit prison profiteers generally.  Cutting corners, and risking prisoner health all in the name of the bottom line.  
Canada – US Lobbying
This idea of cross border lobbying is actually far more common than many of us might be aware.  Canadian markets lobby the US congress and US markets lobby the Canadian parliament, often pushing for changes to policy, and law, with profit being a top motive.  According to The Centre for Responsive Politics (2012), Canadian corporations have contributed about 2.5 million to candidates in the congressional elections so far this year.  “Big hitters” are Microsoft and the Royal Bank of Canada.
US to Canada Lobbying – Prison Privatization
Conversely, when American capitalists detect the possibility of profit this side of the border, they lobby our government intensely with the hopes of influencing policy decisions.  A contradiction of capitalism is its need to seek out and expand into new markets, to find ever new profits outside of itself.  One method for achieving ever greater market shares is to look to new lands, to convince new people (governments, corporations, the public, the media) that we need a particular product or service that we don’t yet have – private, for profit prisons are what’s missing from the Canadian landscape.  Thus an opportunity for American bread capitalism and corporatists to expand outside of their own borders, into Canada and elsewhere.                                  

The GEO Group for instance is a registered lobbyist with active dealings among the following branches of the Canadian Federal Government:
  • Correctional Service of Canada (CSC)
  • Public Safety Canada (PS)
  • Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)
  • Public-Private Partnerships Canada, Solicitor General Canada (SGC)
The news of USA based prison profiteers lobbying here in Canada has remained pretty hushed within the mainstream media and most reporting has been through online independents.
So what did consultants employed by Geo have to talk about with the Canadian government?  In fact there were 2 separate consultants, Ronald Bilodeau and Patrick Gagnon hired by Ronald Champion, Vice President of Geo, from March 2011 – Currently for similar purposes Notes made by Ronald and Patrick on the Government of Canada web page state the following, Assist the client about the possibilities of public markets for the operation of institutions of correctional services, Discuss the possibility to establish a public-private partnership for the operating of correctional institutions in Canada, contracts to modernize correctional facilities in Canada.”  “We are assisting the client regarding procurement opportunities pertaining to the operation of correctional services institutions”

Prison Privatization in Canada

 MTC, sent packing with Mike Harris
Canada has attempted prison privatization twice.  Currently with a youth facility in New Brunswick, privately managed by U.S. prison firm, Management and Training Corp (MTC), and once previously in Ontario under the conservative Harris regime of the time.  Management and security was provided by MTC for that facility as well.  The Ontario facility was a horror to those imprisoned there, to their families, and it was a dismal failure for the tax payer who footed the bill for inferior management outcomes, and human rights abuses.
Law firm, Fasken Marineau, provided services to the then provincial Ministry of Correctional Services on Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) in 1998. They are “experts” in Public/Private or P3 advising.  They were also responsible for advising and structuring the 407 highway privatization agreement a decade ago and which is set to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands, if not millions more than it need have.  

Fasken Marineau posted this comment on their webpage in regards to expectations of the private CNCC facility at the time, “This public-private partnership is part of the Government's commitment to transform the Province's correctional system to one that is more safe, secure, effective, efficient and accountable.”  
Unfortunately the CNCC under Utah based Management & Training Corp. was less safe for prisoners and staff alike with chronic staff shortages,  contributing to an increase in violence,  a decrease in security both cause and effect of increased violence, prisoner healthcare services were decimated, and recidivism increased.  
One of the claims around privatisation of public services is that private entities will be more accountable.  My understanding is that when the money is coming out of their own pockets, one is likely to be more responsible with it.  But the truth is that the upfront operating costs are paid for by the tax payer via the government.  The question for the prison operator then, is, how much money can I rake back for my own pockets, not how much must I pay out from my own pockets. 
According to a John Howard Society staffer, “Any decision to continue or even expand privatization initiatives would be based on the results of the comparison of CNCC, the privately-operated facility and CECC which would continue to be publicly-operated.”

On Sept. 19, 2002 corrections guards at CNCC voted to unionize in response to terrible working conditions.  Staff number was 350 and they were to receive the same training as those in the publicly-operated facilities.  After unionization (represented by OPSEU), their salaries and benefits were similar to public employees.  Most staff were new to corrections, having just been hired by MTC since its opening. (John Howard, 2006)

Specific Incidents at CNCC:
·        In September 2002, a riot occurred Around 100 prisoners using a battering ram were prevented from escaping and a cordon of armed Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) including the tactical rescue and canine units had to be stationed around the perimeter.
·        The death in August 2003 of former CNCC prisoner Jeffrey Elliot.  Mr. Elliot died of blood poisoning after being forced to wait three weeks to be transferred from the prison to hospital after being wounded. An incident at CNCC on 4 September left two prisoners with stab wounds.
·        Dr Martin McNamara of Midland says a patient was in agony for three weeks, waiting for medical attention for his broken jaw.

After having to fight for her son Ryan’s well-being during his eight month incarceration at CNCC, Sharon Storring-Skillen formed Families Against Private Prison Abuse, (FAPPA).
Ontario and indeed Canada have never again pursued the idea of privatization.  Until now that is.  The current federal conservative government are determined to steer Canadians back down the dark road to prisons for profit.
Conservative Bill C10 Laying the groundwork for Prison Expansion and privatization
John W. Whitehead, author of Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex, and published by the Huffington Post, April10, 2012 had this to say; “Among the laws aimed at increasing the prison population and growing the profit margins of special interest corporations like CCA are three-strike laws (mandating sentences of 25 years to life for multiple felony convictions) and "truth-in-sentencing" legislation (mandating that those sentenced to prison serve most or all of their time).” th of these – mandatory minimums and so called truth in sentencing provisions have been enacted in Canada under the conservatives despite conservative warnings from the US not to take the failed road that they have.

Prison related P3’s US
Giant Wall St. firms such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch write between two and three billion dollars in prison construction bonds every year. Swimming along- side the big fish of incarceration are schools of for-profit caterers, prison HMOs, private transport companies, architecture firms and other subcontractors that feed at the margins of the prison industrial complex.

Prison Related P3’s Canada

As of April 1, Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls will take over property management services from the B.C. Building Corp., the real-estate wing of the provincial government. The contract, awarded last December, covers almost half of the B.C. government's real estate arm and includes 10 correctional facilities.  Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls, values the deal at $90 million annually.  The Crown corporation expects to realize savings of up to $40 million per year.  The new re-build of the Surrey Detention Centre is expected to be one of the facilities under private building management.

The Toronto South Detention Centre, to replace the Don Jail, carries a price tag of over $1 billion and is being built as a “Public-Private-Partnership” (P3) with a private company to build, design and operate the 1650 bed facility for 30 years.  Retrieved from:

Prison Labour US

Microsoft, Starbucks, Victoria's Secret and TWA, Unicor, Dell are all known to use or have used prisoner labour in the past for penny’s a day and sometimes prisoners are not paid anything at all.  Most of these are strictly private profiteers, save Unicor which is a government corporation which profits from prisoner labour.  One particularly disgusting example of the US government using forced prisoner labour was the cleanup of the BP oil spill in Louisianna.  BP was provided tax exemptions for charitably providing work experience to these untrained prisoners to clean up a dangerous, toxic, waste dump for pennies a day. Meanwhile, practically the entire fishing economy in the area was put out of work thanks to the oil contaminated ocean.

Prison Labour Canada

To my knowledge there is no central database keeping track of the multiple human misery profiteers in Canada.  I know of two explicit prison labour contractors.  One, Corcan is operated by the federal government with a mandate to provide prisoners with paid work experience while on day passes and parole.  I have no idea how much prisoners are paid in that programme.  Though prisoners working on correctional grounds within the few industries located inside are typically paid a few dollars a day.  The federal government has recently cancelled a special incentive programme intended to provide bonuses to some workers. 

Located on Ontario government property, adjacent to the Maplehurst prison in Milton, ON is the Cook-Chill Food Preparation Centre.  It’s operated as a P3 using prisoner labour, and run by private contractor, Eurest Dining Services which is owned by Compass Group Canada Ltd.  Cook-Chill has the contract to provide 3 meals a day for prisoners at all 3 super jails in Ontario.

Fasken Martineau posted the following information about this P3 contract on their web page:
“The agreement also requires the contractor to provide skills training opportunities for inmates as part of an industrial work program during times when meals are prepared for Ontario's correctional system. Qualified inmates involved in a temporary absence program will also be able to work at the CCFPC as part of an employment initiative. All inmates involved with the CCFPC will be low risk and carefully screened. The Ministry expects that its demands will not fully use the CCFPC's production capacity. Subject to meeting the Ministry's requirements as its first priority, the contractor will be permitted to use the CCFPC's excess capacity for the production of third party sales and the province will receive a share of the revenues.”  Retrieved from
Profiting From Our Misery

In considering the ideology which allows public responsibilities such as the operation of prisons to be privatized for profit we must also consider the larger capitalist system which gave birth to it.  Consider the many ways in which poverty is criminalised for instance.  Anti panhandling laws, welfare fraud, and anti-sex work law.  All of these can be considered survival income – or survival “crime”.  And perhaps none of them would be necessary if the capitalist system wasn’t set up to intentionally maintain some substantial rate of unemployment, thus keeping some people in a constant state of desperation and in survival mode, keeping others afraid to ask for more money at work, or better benefits, lest they be forced into the criminalised workforce too.  Of course these factors keep wages low, at poverty levels, allowing more people fewer choices, leading to wide spread desperation, depression, and trauma which in turn leads people to seek out means for coping, which in turn can lead to substance use issues, and to a greater use of criminalised survival strategies, which of course leads to criminalization and imprisonment. And there we have it class war, providing profits for the owning class at our expense. 
How do they get away with it?  And why do we let them?  I believe that intelligent propaganda through corporate media is key.  There are many means and methods within the misinformation campaign strategy.  The most successful tactics are perhaps those which seek to turn people from the same classes against each other by playing on fear and hate.  Turn friend against friend and neighbour against neighbour.  Lies which set the working poor against those on welfare, judgment against those who engage in survival crime by those who do not and blaming those who use drugs for all that is wrong in the lives of those who don’t.  This is a huge part of how they get away with it.  How we let them has much to do with limited access by the poor, to progressive ideas and challenges of conservative myths and ideology.  Limitations in both time and money keep many people from ever attaining access to the ideas which would set us free.


Canada to us lobbying

Us to Canada lobbying

Petition sponsored by 404systemerror 

Rosa, E., (2009). Retrieved April 8, 2012 from:
Parenti, Christian, (1999).  Retrieved April 12, 2012 from:

Prison Privatization Report International (PPRI)
Report #64 detailed concerns about CNCC  (John Howard, 2006 appendex)