A Closed System

Posted: August 5, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Open Closed signPrison is a closed system. We, the tax-paying public, don’t know what’s going on behind those walls and prison authorities don’t want us to know. It’s a great system for them – as long as they keep inmates inside the walls, they can do what they want.

If a teacher does something wrong, children tell their parents and the parents go to the school board. If a nurse or doctor mistreats a patient, the next day the family of the patient are on TV or pounding on the door of the hospital administration.

But what happens if a guard mistreats an inmate or a staff person punishes someone beyond the reasonable? What happens? Nothing. As long as no one escapes, the public is quiet. Who cares if an inmate closed systemobjects to something?

Yes, there is an office of correctional investigators (ombudsmen) in Ottawa which issues reports from time to time, good reports about abuses in the system. They have 34 employees for this vast prison system. Why isn’t there an ombudsman in every prison? In my twenty-three years of teaching in prison, I have never met anyone whom the ombudsman helped.

And there are procedures inside the prison to deal with complaints (for those who are courageous enough to complain). Isn’t that like the foxes investigating the other foxes to see who raided the chicken coup?

The tax-paying public is kept out of prison. No cameras are allowed, no cell phones, and no recording devices. Naturally some situations in prison demand restrictions, just as the public can’t waltz into the Operating Room and watch an operation.

But why can’t the taxpayer come into prison and see what they’re open closedpaying for? Why can’t they see the dirty walls, observe staff sitting around chatting or playing solitaire on their computers? Why can’t they talk to the staff and to inmates? They’re paying for this place.

“Sorry, folks, it’s a closed system,” the prison says. “We’re warehousing these people, not changing them, and that’s all the system demands. We’re doing our job. Stay out.”

Should prisons be closed to the public?

Images courtesy of:

  • buzzient.com
  • clipartsfree.net
  • answers.com
  1. Joanne says:

    What a great post! Well said! Yes it is a closed system and true, there is very little that most prisoners can do about it. There are two other avenues open to people on the inside who wish to complain about their treatment, but one falls on deaf ears and the other is quite costly and often does not achieve much in the end.

    Prisoners can write letters to the commissioner (presently Don Head) and other prison officials or they can write politicians responsible for making or commenting on prison policy. Usually though, the response is “Use the official avenues available”, meaning the grievance system and the Correctional Investigator’s Office.

    The other option (in Canada) is going to federal court if the complaint is regarding a contravention of law, in this case either the Correctional and Conditional Realease Act or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Unfortunately, CSC hires good lawyers and often, even though it is clear that the judge is often disgusted at their conduct, they win on a technicality. If the prisoner does manage to win, then CSC often finds a way to get around it. The most that will often happen is the complainant is awarded a settlement and business goes on as usual. Very rarely do court cases actually result in changes in the way things are done. I have seen numerous examples of this in case law.

    It is all very frustrating and disheartening!

    • Ed Griffin says:

      I hear a lot of bitching about things in prison, but I’ve seldom heard of anyone writing a letter. Inmates must know there is not much point. I did have a student in my class in the USA who taught himself law. He won case after case, but, as you might expect, they kept him longer than others with a similar crime.

  2. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” He believed that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” I agree.

    I also believe that The Authorities would like it if “we”, the family of loved ones inside our governments institutions would just go away. I am here to tell them that they can do last minute lockdowns, deny mail, phone calls and access to spiritual services, strip search inmates after EVERY visit, invasively oversee visits, personal telephone and written communications between inmates and their loved ones but it will never dampen our resolve to reach into the gates of hell on earth to support our loved ones and shine the light into the realities of prison life.

    Our prisons are run and paid for by “our” tax dollars. Dont you want to know what really goes on inside the institution “we” are paying for.

    It takes a strong stomach to illuminate the dark places of humanity but it is essential that we open our eyes and see.

  3. The grievance process is generally accepted as a joke. At Stony Mountain, at least, any grievance must be presented to the “Grievance Co-ordinator” on the prisoner’s range, that is, another inmate. To anyone familiar with institutional cultures, this is a clear signal that the process is considered trivial. It is the same as if, in a hospital, when a patient awakes, discovers that the wrong limb has been amputated and wants to complain, is told: “file your complaint with Mr. Driddle, Room 309. second last bed from the back, when he is awake and coherent”. Anyway, the position of “Grievance Co-ordinator” is usually vacant, since no one wants to do it. The investigators for the Office of the Congressional Investigator go in about quarterly, and by looking at the prison’s electronic record system, always find numbers of errrors in placement, treatment, classification, etc., always to the prisoners’ disadvantage, that curdle the blood. Supposedly, they are corrected, but, as usualy, you can never be sure that the prison administration will, or is even capable, of doing anything right.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Chris. Any institution that does not accept criticism is not a healthy institution and is headed for big trouble. Politicians and business leaders finally have learned how to say, “I’m sorry.” They know that if they don’t, they just make things worse.

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