Friday, August 17, 2012

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.”

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