Institutionalization

Posted: April 25, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , ,

prison“I just don’t think I can make it on the outside,” the forty-four year old man said. “Except for a few years in my teens, I’ve been in prison all my life. I got out once in my twenties, but two months later I was back in.”

Try to picture who would say these words – a mass murderer, a hardened identity thief or a conscience-less drug dealer?

No, a gentle person, gets along with everyone, loves to read, and struggles with gaining weight.

Remember the old man in Shawshank Redemption who got out of prison after many years, couldn’t adapt, and hung himself?

While people going back to prison is in the self-interest of prison staff, it’s not in the self-interest of taxpayers. A conservative figure is $100 a day to keep a man in prison.

De-institutionalization is not even one of the goals of the prison system.

In my experience the first weeks out of prison are the roughest for a man. For years his life has been on a rigid schedule. He doesn’t have to think for himself, he just has to follow orders.

Much could be done, for example day visits along with a guard in civies. As the man nears getting out, he could have weekends with his family. Another idea is a special, month-long exit program taught by experts in de-institutionalization, social workers, community parole officers and ordinary citizens.

If more people from the community were involved with prisons, it would help a lot. Right now few community people are welcome in prisons

When a man or woman enters prison, officials teach them how to live in prison. They should teach them as well how not to live in prison.

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Comments
  1. Joanne says:

    Institutionalization has many layers and, like many other things, can take many different forms depending on the individual. Individual reactions are so hard to predict. One thing that can help though, as you wrote, is contact with the outside and especially regular, frequent contact. Not only does it help to keep long term offenders more grounded and focused on an important goal, it also maintains a connection with the outside world. That is why regular visits, private family visits, and community contact passes are so important.

    Phone calls can also be useful, especially when the person on the outside is using a cell phone and is engaged in daily activities while talking, such as grocery shopping, getting gas, getting an oil change at one of those places where you stay in the car for the whole thing, or even going through an automated car wash.

    In addition to letters, a lot of valuable information can be exchanged in the mail. For example, copies of grocery receipts or other bills can be sent in, as can community newsletters or recreation centre schedules (to show the types of classes that are offered). Information about things of interest off websites can also be sent in. Things that may seem mundane to us, would not be regarded that way by people who have no access to it otherwise.

    The more that the person getting out is connected with what is happening in the community he or she will join, the better. Many times, family and friends are really the only true connection for a prisoner to the outside world and an important antidote to one aspect of institutionalization. For these reasons, regular contact with prosocial community connections needs to be encouraged, not hindered, like it currently is in many institutions. Nevertheless, despite the difficulties, inconveniences, costs, arbitrary rules, stress, etc., regular contact is so important to the person on the inside and we on the outside need to do whatever we can to continue/increase this contact.

    • chrisgeraldvogel says:

      Hi Joanne,
      I’ve encountered another form of institutionalisation: among institutional Parole Officers and other “helping” staff. Because their clients can’t complain, and nobody who counts cares about whether they do their job or not, they mostly don’t. They shuffle people and papers–the neurotic focus on form-filling in the Commissioner’s Directives is likely observed because somebody notices that–but doing anything useful or constructive, accepting any kind of responsibility for carrying our all the other parts of the Directives, is abandoned. Too much like work and may even constitute a risk (for the Officer, I mean). Otherwise, they love terms like “risk” nowhere defined, and with no mechanisms for measurement, quantification, or comparison (except the fictional ones referred to in the Directives) that they always apply to their clients, making them mysterious, menacing, and not worth making any effort for. Despite the fact that they shrink their responsibilites to accomodate what is convenient for them, they are much more expansive to the point of fantasy when they “assess” their clients; reality is left behind, too. This is only possible in the correctional system and they would find that no other employer would stand for it.

      • Ed Griffin says:

        Hi Chris
        Thank you for your opinion on Parole Officers. I don’t have a lot of experience in this area. As I told you, I sat in for an hour with a terrible parole officer, but I also have a good friend, a writer, who does his job with caring and concern.
        Ed
        http://edgriffin.net/

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,
        I am very happy to have your comments here! We need more people to discover and contribute to this site.

        I wholeheartedly agree with you about the current state of parole officers. It is not that some if not most do not set out to do a good job, but the atmosphere they work in robs most of them of the motivation they may have started with. This is most certainly a form of institutionalization. Having said this, I also agree with Ed that there does exist the rare person who sets out to do well in spite of the system. Sadly, such people often end up burning out and moving onto new positions once they realize it is, for the most part, a losing battle.

        And there is more going on now that exaccerbates the problem. The reason for this is unclear to me (could be a lack of interested candidates; could be that no one can stay in the position for very long) but there is a worsening trend of CSC employees who are not qualified parole officers to be placed in “acting” positions for a short time. These are usually correctional officers or program officers or even “behavioural techs” (whatever those are supposed to be). They generally stay in the position for under a year and then move off, making room for another “actor”. This has the effect of making a mockery of the position of parole officer and it also results in little to no progress for the offenders on their caseload, as no parole officer ever really gets to know them.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,

        It certainly is a puzzle. I have attributed the pervasive attitude of disinterest and neglect of duties (comparing what the Commissioner’s Directives say P.O.s are to do with what they actually do, that is, ignoring everything that might be useful to the inmate) to:
        – clients can’t complain, and nobody who counts cares about them. This is utterly different, in my experience and observation from all other public services that deal with the public, as most do.
        – incapability from lack of skills and tools. The Directives prescribe use of a lot of things that are, apparently, imaginary, plues there does not seem to be any training. This obliges them to “use their discretion” which, under these circumstances causes most of them to spend their time shufflling paper and people, but avoiding any real effort that would be required to be useful or constructive.
        – in may observation, P.O.s are former Correctional Officers, particularly those who remain in office for very long. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect that their attitudes largely prefer the security (for the Officer) of putting everyone in a cell.
        – perhaps the pervasive experience of failure further encourages them to be defeatist and defensive.

        All of this explains why, in the words of the papers on their websites, that they have “no empircally validated theory”, and even “no general agreement” as to how they are to carry out their responsibilities so, apart from the huge amount of elaborate form-filling required by the Directives, they don’t.

        There is, for example, apparently no means to determine whether, or to what extent, an inmate has been rehabilitated. Satisfactorily completing programs in prison doesn’t count as the institutional P.O.s say that “programs don’t work”. The “sophisiticated” and “objective” “actuarial and clinical tests” for “risk” (to re-offend, apparently, since this is never defined) and “manageability” evidently exist only in the mind of the Directives’ author(s), since they are never referred to in application, such as Assessments. One such which exists, at least on paper, is the S.I.R. Scale (whatever that is, starts with “Statistical”, suggesting inability for use with an individual) which must have shortcomings, since the Parole Board says it is not to be used with Aboriginals or women.

        It also means they are frequently use words like vaguely menacing terms like “risk” and “mangeability” when (frequenlty) suspending paroles and releases without defining their meaning, or providing any quantification or other measure (because they can’t) or even knowing whether there is any actual connection between breaching parole conditions and committing a crime (they can’t do that, either) in what they fancifully call “the offense cycle” (again having no definition or factual basis). To make all this seem legitimate in their Assessments, they just lie.

        Perhaps there is something else going on here, too. Is it that there is an energetic association or union of P.O.s that obstructs every effort to get them to do their jobs?

      • Joanne says:

        The truly sad part is that most newer POs nowadays don’t really know the CDs, nor do they understand the risk assessment instruments they are supposed to be using (people in acting positions do not need to pass the requisite exams to do the job). And few are on the job long enough to learn about these things, even if there was some merit in any of it. No wonder the parole board pays little attention to their recommendations.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,
        I think you are being much too charitable.
        As for the risk assessment instruments, I think the plain truth (a rare commodity in this bazarre environment) is that they don’t exist apart, perhaps, from the SIR which is, in any case by policy not to be applied to Aboriginals and women. This suspcicion arises from the facts that they (the instruments) are never named–unheard of in behavioural testing–nor is any specification ever given as to the means of application (much less other sociological and psychological normalities of levels-of-confidence, etc.). Given the intense level of detail in the CDs about form-filling, this is very strange. P.O. Assessments (these never actually assess anything, but report, more or less dishonestly, on inmate behaviour) never cite them, including when made to Parole Board “hearings”. No result a use of these “instruments” is ever mentioned, anywhere. The instruments are, I think, a fiction of the CD-writer’s imagination or maybe wishful thinking. And, this is absolutely typical of everything that goes on here. At base is the chilling realisation that the two things that the Parole process, that is, the Officers, are supposed to do are 1) facilitate rehabilitation, and 2) determine whether or to what extent it has occurred. Apparently, for lack of training, knowledge, skills and tools, and plain old disinclination, they can’t, don’t, won’t do either. Instead they pretend, pretend, pretend. No one else in this business minds that the result is that more people spend more time in prison, except the inmates, and they can do nothing about it. Their only means of complaint is to file a grievance with the “Grievance Co-ordinator” on their range, that is, another inmate. Anyone familiar with judgement systems in large organizations knows that a process that begins by complaining to another inmate in a federal penitentiary is essentially non-functional. What does happen, though, this that the complaining inmate is later “Assessed”, ominously, as having “institutional problems” whenever an occasion arises.
        As for the CDs it is typical of the Parole Service, and utterly disgraceful, and inheard of elsewhere, that they should ignore–commonly violate–them. I was a civil servant for nearly thirty years and we paid close attention–because we had to–to our Act, Regulations, Policies and Procedures, and Field Manuals, particularly in enforcement. In any case, this ignorance and violation is as evident among P.O.s who have been on the job for decades–length of service makes no difference at all. The Plain truth is that they don’t pay any attention to them (except, probably for the form filling) because they don’t have to, and to do so would require work and responsibility.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        I hesitate to respond because we seem to be coming at this from two different perspectives. I have been told before that I tend to be too charitable, but then I like to think that I give all people the benefit of the doubt. This is in part why I am able to have such an open mind when it comes to offenders.

        Here are some facts: There are indeed risk assessment instruments other than the SIR. The SIR and the SARA are the only ones that can be completed by P.O.s, however. The others are completed by psychologists and not all are used in all the regions. I do not believe they are generally used in the Prairies Region, for example.

        The grievence system is a 3-level system (soon to be 2-level due to budget cuts). The process is as follows. A complaint is sent to the department in question on an inmate request form. If the response is not satisfactory then a grievance can be started. The prisoner can obtain help from the grievance person to start the process, but this is not necessary. The form can be handed right to the grievance clerk, who is a staff member. From there it goes to the warden (1st level), then if not settled to region (second level–this is the level that will be eliminated), then if not settled to national headquarters (third level). If after all this process (or really at any time) the inmate is still not happy with the result, then he can engage the services of the Correctional Investigator (although there is really not much the CI’s office can do except shame CSC into acting in accordance with the CDs or common decency, as the case may be).

        Finally I do agree that at times CDs are flagrantly disregarded or twisted to suit the needs of the correctional official in question. And I also agree that this is not acceptable.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanna,
        Thanks for this. This is very interesting. In my observation, no mention or use is made of either of the SIR and SARA by P.O.s to justify sending someone back to prison (which is their whole point surely, to “assess” “risk”), even when the grounds for doing so, otherwise, are flimsy. Partly, of course, this is because the P.O. can say whatever they want and do not have to justify their “Assessment” to anyone. For example, sharing a single joint is reported as “using drugs on at least a few occasions”. In this case, it was one drug (what was the other one?–never stated) on one occasion. Similarly with alcohol, and reporting that the inmate was “beginning to slip” earlier in the Release on the basis of no information whatever. The “Assessment” is a constructed fabrication, intended to paint as black a picture of the inmate as possible, having the purpose of reducing the P.O.s caseload. On that note (caseload), it has not seemed to me that they are short of staff; in fact, they seem to have a lot of spare time. Among other things, an inmate on release may be visited by as many as three of them, even though requrements for “tandem” do not apply and the work location where the visit occurred was out of town. A nice day for a drive? A good way to kill time?
        Suspension of the Release is followed by a Parole Board “hearing” that is unlike no hearing I have ever observed, in which the Board members engage in a vicious, intense, uninterrupted inquisition and the inmate is interrupted and overruled if anything he says in response–he is not allowed to speak in the normal sense, apart from his initial presentation–is not in agreement with the accusations against him (again, sometimes sheer fabrications). The Parole Board members are paid breathtakingly large salaries and obviously get a big kick out of these interrogations. Their decision can be appealed, which will, the Board says, will take an indefinite number of months, perhaps after the inmate’s warrant has expired. Appeals sent to the Board, like correspondence sent to Parole Officers, are never acknowleged and, the latter case at least, never responded to. (I can’t say for the Appeal, since the indefinite number of months may not have passed–who knows?).
        SIR begins with “Statistical…” which, if it is, would normally–not that anything is normal in the Parole Service–have any relevance in assessing a particular individual. That, too, is a characteristic problem with Parole Officers and the process as a whole. Due to their lack of interest or inclination, and their unlimited power, they treat all inmates as the same, which makes their claims to be facilitating and measuring rehabilitation (since these will vary necessarily with the individual), as usual, a joke but has the huge advantage for them that they are not obliged to do any real work or take responsibility for their actions. What is it about SIR that causes the Parole Board to say, as a matter of policy, that it is not to be used with Aboriginals or women?
        What is SARA? What are these other “instruments” and why are they never used in the field? Since, apparently they are not, why bother having, or pretending to have them, at all, except to further bolster the illusion that something useful and constructive is being done?
        As for the grievance procedure, what I said is what staff at Stony Mountain told me: give it to another inmate who is the Grievance Co-ordinator. In any case, it is generally accepted by inmates after many years of experience that making a grievance is a totally useless procedure except that it gets the inmate in trouble; thereafter they are “Assessed” as having “Institutional Problems” whenever the opportunity arises.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        I can see that you are very passionate about this topic and I respect your views. I too have seen some of all that you describe and believe strongly that none of it is acceptable. We do have a broken system that is low on accountability. My hope is that by making some of this known to the greater society we may eventually be able to effect some change in the right direction.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        I guess my interest in this sorry business begins with knowing individuals who are victims of it, but as a life-long civil servant (and having had tremendous respect for my father, who was too) it amazes me that it can be like this. I’ve tried to puzzle this out–for all that people complain about government, this is far from normal–and supposed some possible explanations (public disinterest and contempt, the victims are criminals, the often neglectful federal government), but that doesn’t begin to explain, and certainly not excuse, the almost criminally irresponsible misconduct of their duties by Parole Officers (I hope you will challange me on that, as I am delighted to supply more examples). I am prepared to allowed the prisons to be prisons, but the Act and all that follow place huge, and utterly legitimate, emphasis on the desirability of rehabilitation, the objective of conditional releases. It would be nice if these thousands of released persons did not commit more crimes but, far more often than not, they do, to the expense of all of us and, not least, them. Persuading them, or causing them to persuade themselves, to not do that is worth the effort. No doubt this is difficult, but my observation of POs is that they seldom even try (violating their mandate and the law), and often do more harm than good. It’s not that parole and statutory release are bad ideas, but that public servants are screwing it up, almost deliberately or, at least because that is easier. (It is certainly not the case that they are not well enough paid.) Not to mention that they do enormous damage to the lives of citizens who have every right (not that their rights are ever really respected) to expect better. I made a study of administrative and enforcement systems and this is the worst–very badly founded and directed (not really a system since it lacks the essential internal coherence and connections) and most irresponsibly and illegally conducted–that I have ever encountered. It occurs to me that there is sorting among staff: the police have been sieving out order nuts for two generations since they proved to be just too embarassing, troublesome and expensive in the 1960’s, and, more recently, correctional systems sort out pathological sadists among COs for the same reasons, so maybe the rejects have proceeded to being POs and Parole Board Members. This is not inconsequential: ironically, the lives and freedoms of some citizens are completely controlled by it and, to the extent that this contributes to more crime (demonstrating that justice is blind and completely arbitrary, that no good deed goes unpunished, and that only power–however acquired–is all that matters) it is destructive.
        On the matter of risk testing, you had mentioned the SIR Scale and SARA, but since the former applies only to white males, and the latter only to those with a proclivity for domestic violence, both cannot be used with the majority of inmates, at least on the Prairies, which would explain why they are not (except, of course, that the Parole Officers don’t like using tests and what they like is all that matters, evidently). Is there nothing else? Are the CD references therefore fictions? Is it, most likely, that the Parole Officers cannot be bothered with any of them? “Personal discretion” rules. I won’t say “professional” since the essential characteristic of a profession is that it has rules as to how its responsibilities to its clients are carried out, and these rules are enforced. Neither is true of Parole Officers and they seem to prefer it that way.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        Because you keep asking, which means you really want to know, there are two categories of risk assessment tools – actualrial tools that measure static risk and those that measure dynamic risk and managability (you can Google Risk Assessment Tools Offenders for more details). The actuarial measures are proven to improve the prediction of recidivism significantly over simple observation of clinical factors but they do have the problem of not being particularly good at assessing each individual (as you have pointed out) and of measuring risk at a static level, meaning that they are not sensitive to positive changes in risk level as a result of programs or other growth of offenders. Static measures that have been used for violent offenders include the PCL-R, and the VRAG. For sex offenders, the RRASOR and STATIC 2002R are also available. Measures that take manageabity into account include the LSI-R and the STABLE. All these instruments are allowed to be administered by psychologists only and unlike what you say about parole officers being well-paid and available, there has historiacally been a crunch in the system for qualified psychologists (see my post under Personal Attention for more details). I believe this is in part why these measures are not being used across the country, that and perhaps laziness on the part of some of the psychologists in some regions. In conclusion, there is a lot out there in terms of risk assessment tools that are backed by sound research. They are not perfect, but they do improve prediction over and above nothing at all. Having said that, I must also add, that used or interpreted by the wrong people (i.e., those who do not have a sound grasp of statistics), they can be very harmful!

        And once again, I will say that I do agree with you that parole officers and other prison administrators have become adept at what many call “case-buidling” to justify refusal of parole or other priviledges to prisoners or to yank them back to higher security, often without just cause.

        I doubt that we can solve this problem using this forum; therefore, I suggest we move on and find more productive ways to use the energy that frustration over the current system has provided us with.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,

        Thanks for this. It is refreshing to know that the CD references were not total fabrications, but, on the other hand, the reality evidently exists only on paper, that is, these resources are seldom or never used. Actuarial, “static”–I presume that this means that they use historical data for the inmate–measures obviously suffer from being static, the opposite to the whole purpose and thrust of this program and the legislation and the reason for existence of Parole Officers. Why bother with any attempt at rehabilitation when critical decisions are based on, and only on, the past? The others you mention seem focussed on violent offenders, no doubt prudent, but irrelevant for all other kinds of offenses. I gather that the “clinical” tests (could you advise which of these have any chance of being employed in the Canadian penal system) measure current status but these are, in any case, not used in the field for lack or disinclination of the staff. Am I old fashioned, or is it not wrong for the CDs and the CSC to boast of “sophisticated” and “objective” mesures for risk and manageability if these measure are irrelevant or not used (or, it seems, both). Is every inmate seeking parole or release at the mercy of the “personal discretion” of an Officer of questional competence and inclination? This is not nothing. One case with which I am familiar (for example) was an inmate on release who, by himself got an excellent job and a great place to stay immediately after release. Let us pause to reflect that these are very scarce commodities, particularly for someone just out of prison and not having a previous address or bank account, or telephone number or anything. And let us remember that the Parole Officers, although required by the CDs to assist finding these things, did not and were, as usual, useless. Then this inmate admits trivial breaches that did not lead to crime or any other bad thing (is it simply an assumption, that is, another fabrication, that they do?) he is chucked back in prison, loses everything, spends ten weeks in Temporary Detention (in the cell all day, no property, cannot work, etc. etc.) and is subjected to a Parole Board hearing that is not a hearing at all (the Members cannot be bothered to listen and already know, the Parole Officer tells me, what their decision will be, but clearly enjoy the vicious medieval inquisition that they inflict on the inmate, for which they are paid enormous amounts of money).
        I have worked myself into such a lather about this utterly disgraceful abuse of power that, of course, I want to do something about it. What do you suggest? Everything I have tried so far has disappeared, without a ripple, into the swamp that is the Parole Service. Frankly, this forum is a good as what is else available. If you think it is inadequate, then you have an accurate understanding of the alternatives.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        I was not trying to dis this forum. I happen to really like it! The point I was making is that, well frankly, it is a fairly new forum and does not yet have many followers, but the really important point is that most of those following these posts already think like you do to some extent. In other words, you are preaching to the converted.

        To effect change, I would think you would need to reach the people that matter. The policy makers or the government ministry that oversees CSC. Of course, we both know that doesn’t get you very far these days so the other option is to find ways to let larger and larger segments of the population know. Letters to the editor and posts following news articles about crimes, I find, are good places to start. The point is the that more people who know the truth, the more people will follow the cause and as we well know, in politics it is numbers that count. The more people who express dissatisfaction about something, the more likely change will follow.

        So write those letters to Vic Toews and to Don Head but also get others to write them as well–as many others as you can find. It won’t be easy, because apathy reigns in Canada and because if people are going to rally for a cause, let’s face it, this is unlikely to be top of their list.

        Another approach would be to get inmates to complain en masse but if you believe that there is less apathy in that sector, you’re in for a shock! For some this may have to do with institutionalization, for others it is related to illiteracy or a lack of education. Many others are short-timers and simply want to do their time and get out. Then there are those who fear it will affect their chances at early release, as you have alluded to. The only thing that I know for certain though, is, if the current way that CSC is doing things remains unchallenged by all for some reason or another, then things will not change and perhaps even get worse.

        I do believe that complaints from federal inmates may be taken more seriously than those from the general public in this case, as there is the perception that inmates have the capacity for violence and they may decide to use it at any time, if they become frustrated enough.

        By the way, thanks for the challenge, Chris. I am not saying I have an “accurate” understanding of alternatives, as you put it, but this is my understanding of them for what it’s worth.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,

        Thanks for this. I don’t disagree that what you have suggested are the conventional–and only–ways of dealing with this problem, and I have used them for four decades of (gay) activism. Although that was completely successful, I find the matter of prisons and the parole apparatus to be more daunting because I do not know as much enough about them as I would like. (Finding out about complicated stuff is what I did; my employment consisted mostly of consulting professionals in a number of mutually exclusive disciplines and consolidating their opinions; easier said than done without subsequent complaint) This is a far worse set of problems than I have ever encountered, being conducted by individuals with, apparently, no sense of responsibility or even common decency, with no effective oversight, who have the more-or-less complete, if thoughtless, support of the vast majority of Canadians. Not just a much tougher nut to crack, but one where the nut will fight back, at public expense.
        But, you are right. When I can satisfy myself that I am not half-baked, I will try. I’ve already begun ‘commenting’ on news stories. One thing that is possible is an appeal I’ve made to a Parole Board decision, that contains quite a lot of this stuff. After six months or so (the Board cautions me not to expect much), regardless of whether I hear from them again or not, I can use that material more widely. I will also ask around at such places as John Howard, but my impression from initial chats with them is that they consider they have to be as cautious, are as fearful as everybody insisted on being when we started with gay liberation. As for the inmates, they seem to be to be largely pissed off but, having had a fair amount of experience, know that nothing they can do will have anything other than harmful effects for themselves. They are not stupid. “Get worse” How could it? At least I have the comfort of knowing that what I have said and done can’t affect them deleteriously, since the P.O.s have already done the worst things they can, out of sheer force of habit.

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        I would like to applaud your efforts! Please do not give up. I am sure that at the beginning of the gay movement people were saying similar things about how hopeless it all was.

        As for things getting worse, I have unfortunately already experienced it and some of what I have experienced I have posted elsewhere on this site. I have been involved in the system for just over 10 years and in that time I have seen the deterioration of rehabilitative programs, educational and vocational opportunities, the calibre of staff that is hired, the food that is offered, the conditions that inmates are housed in (i.e., increased double-bunking), the treatment of visitors to institutions, the reduction in the number of organizations that will even dare to visit (John Howard among them), a huge reduction in opportunities for inmates to occupy themselves productively during the day, a significant reduction in services for the mentally ill, and, I am certain, much more that I cannot think of at this moment.

        Unfortunately, I do see room for things getting much, much worse. I see Canadian prisons turning into holding tanks for those who do not quite fit with societal expectations. The changes that I have seen take place all had to do with cost reductions and not with creating programs that would achieve successful reintegration. Very soon, prison inmates will be allowed out of their cells to eat, work their two-hour job, and have their hour of yard time. Other than that they will be locked up in their tiny cells (many two to a cell) where they will not cause problems so that fewer guards have to be present to watch over them (this is not far from the present reality in many institutions right now). And we think institutionalization is bad now…

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,

        Thanks for this. Now that you mention it, things are getting, and can get, worse. My concern is with rehabilitation. Loss of institutional programs, work opportunties, education and other self-improvement, and other return-to-normal-life activities will undoubtedly make that all the more difficult. There still seems to be lots of money for Parole Officers, in and out of the institution, It could just be that they are so good at minimizing their workloads that that surplus would not be so if they did what they were supposed to. Still, if there is any positive potential to inmate outrage, there is where it lies (in the getting worse, that is).
        And, if the Parole Officers did what the Act, the Regs, policies and procedures and the CDs said they were doing, a great deal more could be accomplished, perhaps building on–is this heresy?–the increasingly unmitigated unpleasantness of being in prison. In the meantime, therefore, something needs to be done to insure that they actually do their job (I gather that is heresy, too, at least among them).
        To return, if I can continue to try your patience, to the question of “risk” and “manageability” assessment, I gather from what you have told me that:
        There is no instrument that measures the current mental state of the inmate (as opposed to mechanically attributing values to items in his file) that is applicable to inmates who are not known for domestic violence and/or sexual predation, which would be the large majority of them, particularly when you consider that large Aboriginal populations, at least in western institutions.
        [Incidently, calling the likes of the SIR Scale a measure of “static” measure is a euphemism, that really means “previous”, since its application cannot determine whether its results are, in fact, “static”. I gather individual scores, once compiled, are rated against samples–this appears to be typical of all recidivism studies–drawn by contractors for a few years in the 1970’s and again in the 1980s, that is, there is no consistent accumulation of recidivism statistics, which explains why no two numbers for this are the same. Interestingly, the CSC website paper on SIR notes that caution must be used since file entries may be wrong. Here is a fuller quote from that paper that indicates just how silly this whole business is: “If the factual basis for those decisions is flawed -if our information about a certain factor in the offender’s past is inaccurate – he is then in a better position to respond knowledgeably While this can be time consuming and irritating for staff, it is undoubtedly a better system than the traditional “black box” of parole decision making.” Of course, in what passes for real life in the twilight world of Parole Officering, the Scale is not used, and if it is, the inmate would be given no opportunity to “respond knowledgably” and, even if he did, he would be ignored, and the Parole Officer would, as usual, be able to screw him around but now “scientifically”. Of course, this would be “time consuming and irritating for staff”, which is the real reason why they don’t do it. Awfully polite of them to describe the manner in which Parole Officers make decisions: “traditional ‘black box'”.]
        Hokay, to return to risk and manageability measurement: If there is a measure that does, in fact, apply to the majority of inmates and measures him at the present, it is not done. That is, it is done, if at all, only by psychologists who may be totally absent in a Region, or unwilling or able to perform the test. Is there such a measure even available for use in CSC?
        Bottom line, then: there is, in practice, and therefore in reality, no instrument to measure most inmates’ rehabilitation or risk or manageability apart from, sometimes, looking in their records? (Actually, Parole Officers never tire of citing an inmate’s history, although they are inclined to generalization, exaggeration, obscure but ominous hinting, deliberate misunderstanding, and other expressions of their wonderfully fanciful natures.)

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,

        I guess I was not totally clear in my previous post about this and it turns out I was partially wrong. The LSI-R (which measures non-static as well as static risk factors) can, in fact, be administered by parole officers. The Stable (which also measures dynamic risk factors is only administered by psychologists) and the Acute (which is designed to be used by POs) are for sex offenders and the Level of Service Inventory- Revised (LSI-R) is for the general inmate population. So yes, these instruments do exist. And no, I do not believe that most POs use them–certainly not institutional POs. I do know that the Acute — which is a very simple two question instrument is used by some community-based POs. The LSI-R as far as I know is only used in Ontario and I am uncertain by whom. In fact, there has been an Ontario revision which may be more accurate for use in Ontario.

        Now let me explain something else. When it comes to accuracy in prediction, you do want the instruments to be as specific as possible for the person you are using them on. So in fact, using instruments designed for domestic, versus general violence, vs sex offending is better than having one instrument for all offenders. Plus the reason that the actuarial instruments have revisions is precisely to update the normative sample that is used to derive the risk levels. So no, we are not looking at numbers from the 70’s and 80’s, but rather from the most recent revision date, most of which happened within the past decade. By the way, the SIR scale predicts general recidivism best and is a rather poor predictor of sexual or violent recidivism. The reason the SIR scale cannot be used for Aboriginal offenders is that there were no Aboriginal offenders in the normative sample used to create it.

        I did laugh out loud when I read the excerpt from the CSC website about the SIR scale. Thanks for that.

        Oh, and one other thing. The dymanic risk measures (Stable/ Acute/ SARA and parts of the LSI-R) simply organize for the assessor the factors that have been associated in the literature with risk to reoffend. So they are not tests in the formal sense, but rather tools to make the “black box” or “clinical” approches less arbitrary.

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,
        Thanks for this. I have got enough information now that I can (and have to) organize it. With what you have told me and found on the internet–I won’t get at the journals until next week–I’ve put it together (3 pages and a bit) which is too long to put on this site (whose hospitality I have abused enough already). I very much appreciate your taking the time and patience to discuss this with me. Getting an insight into what is really going on is indispenble to doing something constructive about it–that is, without just being foolish–and that is not easy. I have spoken to some Parole Officers, of course, and while I was not dishonest or manipulative (I didn’t tell them my obnoxious opinions which, at first, I didn’t have) but my questions were obviously so probing and focussed on topics about which they might have reason to be sensitive, they were guarded and, eventually, clammed up). Anyhoo, if I had an address for you, I would send you this paper on risk/manageabilty assessment tools in the hope you (or anyone else) would have a chance to look at it and comment. Of course, the problem is that they (the tools) are not much used in practice, but it looks to me that they could be a considerable benefit if they were, in almost every aspect of the Conditional release process. Also, the nature of these and the manner (or lack thereof) of use says a great deal that is useful and helpful in understanding this institutional culture (not a pun).
        Best wishes,
        Chris Vogel

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Chris,
        Glad to be of help to anyone who is willing to do anything constructive to move things in the right direction.
        Joanne

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        Hi Joanne,
        Thanks for this. I think I should send this to you more directly, so I would need an email address. It is rather long (3 pages and a bit) and technical, and veering even further away from the focus of this blog, whose space and patience I have been consuming a lot of, lately. I am happy, that is, to send it to anyone who could help me by commenting on it.
        Best,
        Chris

      • Ed Griffin says:

        Thanks to you, Chris and you, Joanne for your discussion.
        Ed
        http://edgriffin.net/

      • Joanne says:

        Please get my email address from Ed by emailing him at ed@edgriffin.net

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Joanne. My friend and fellow writer Mike Oulton reports in Dystopia how things were in Mexican prisons. Certainly the physical conditions were much worse, but families often came into the prison to eat with their inmate father. Mike was often invited to join a family. Children played in the prison. Despite the poor conditions, I know Mike felt Mexican prisons were better because they were more human.
      Thank you for your insights. As always, you are one hundred percent
      Ed
      http://edgriffin.net/

  2. Too true, Ed. The young man whose manuscript I’m assessing talks about this in depth. The lack of training and support in those critical weeks on the outside produces repeat offenders – sometimes just so the person can get back to somewhere they feel secure in, with regular hours and regular meals. And, as Joanne says, contact with the community before release is important in helping the person to adjust afterwards. A complex problem; sadly, the authorities seem little interested in solving it.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thanks, Danielle. Do you happen to know the recidivism rate in Australia? In Canada it’s 50 percent. They tell me it used to be worse, but fifty percent is nothing to brag about.
      Ed
      http://edgriffin.net/

      • chrisgeraldvogel says:

        The question frequency of recidivism surely has a number of parts.
        My impressions is that 50% is actually too low; some of the papers on the CSC, National Parole Board/Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety, and John Howard websites suggest numbers (varying with the type of crime previously committed) beyond 75% if a reasonably long time-after-release is used (three years is often a maximum for these infrequent studies, but it could just as easly argued that it is a minimum for a realistic understanding).
        One part is persistence of whatever was the motivation for the previous crime.
        Circumstances as mundane as boredom and poverty, particularly among men, must be strongly influential, if not before release, then after, particularly given the difficulty in finding work or a decent place to stay and the lack of support for either of these actually provided in most cases (for example, use of halfway houses and other rehabilitative community residential facilities is denied to the large majority not designated with “residency”).
        Some people have committed so many crimes, so persistently and so foolishly–that is, in ways that almost guarantee apprehension/conviction/incarceration–that makes me wonder if committing crimes is, for some, a form of additiction. I can’t find a reference to Criminals Anonymous, but it seems to me that the combination of immediate gratification (material gain, adrenalin rush, temporarly relief from other problems) despite the eventual losses (freedom, property, family, friendships) is similar to the compulsive and ultimately destructive pattern associated with addictive drugs and gambling.
        The provisons of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the (inadequate, but present neverthless) Commissioner’s (of Corrections) Directives intended to overcome these during the last-third-of-the-sentence Statuatory Release, as well as the various kinds of Parole, are an excellent start to overcome these things, if they were actually implemented. My observation is that this implementation is dependent on Parole Officers doing what the Act the Directives prescribe, but, for reasons of incompetence, incapability, and laziness, those provisions are functionally dead letters (that is, they are violated or ignored). What really happens is that offenders are pushed out the door with no real support or assistance from the institutional P.O.s, hounded by the community P.O.s, and dumped back in their cells are the very slightest sign of a slip, however trivial and inconsequential. Nothing useful or constructive is ever done for the released/paroled offender, before or after release, despite the fine language of law and policy, leaving him to fend as best he can in a hostile environment, starting from nothing.

      • Ed Griffin says:

        I wish you were wrong, Chris, but you’re not. My friend’s (Mike Oulton) parole officer was on the verge of sending him back to prison three times. Each time her supervisor overruled her.
        Thank you for your well-informed comments
        Ed
        http://edgriffin.net/

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