Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Government’

Often it takes a long time for an inmate to get his blog to me. Here is one he intended for the end of the year. He is our frequent guest blogger, an inmate in a Fraser Valley Prison

2013 Happy New Year

 The end of another year approaches so would seem that now is the time to take the opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year. It’s been a big year for the CSC as they carry out the orders of the Conservative government.

Here in prison things have not gotten any better for the inmate population as Mr. Harper, acting through Vic Toews, has

Prime Minster Haper

Prime Minister Harper

enacted tough on crime legislation to “make the streets safer” along with a host of other changes to make the lives of inmates more difficult. We have seen bill C-I 0 passed into law and with it we are witnessing the death of compassion and opportunities for rehabilitation within the CSC. We have also seen funding cuts to the various community agencies and groups that help offenders with their transition to the community. Somehow all these measures are going to make everything better.

Our conservative government has also taken away funding for religious groups other than Christians in an effort to save money. Before the government looks at saving nickels and dimes in the prison system perhaps they should look at how much money is wasted by other government departments, maybe our Defense Minister could not waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

pizza partyMr. Toews went so far as to put an end to inmates being able to order food from places in the community. “No more pizza parties” says Mr. Toews but he didn’t mention that inmates were actually paying for these food orders out of the meagre stipend that they are paid for working within the institution. The media has to bear some responsibility for that as they misrepresent the facts when they are given information. Most of the mainstream media is just looking for sensationalism and not the truth when it comes to the prison system and what goes on within our pnsons.

Sadly, just this week a memo was posted on the units in the prison about more changes that will affect people who have had their parole suspended. No longer will these people get a hearing in front of the parole board to present their case. Instead the duty of deciding if these prisoners will be reinstated will fall on the shoulders of a single board member to decide these cases from a review of the file. So much for procedural fairness, or even the appearance of procedural fairness, from the Parole Board of Canada as the board follows along with the conservative agenda. Maybe next year the Conservative government can enact legislation to just keep inmates locked up for twenty four hours a day and feed us bread and water. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Tough on crime and tough on inmates is the order of business for the government as they sell their conservative ideology to the public. It’s a sad state of affairs when even the Americans, with more of their citizens incarcerated than any other developed nation, are looking at what we are doing here and saying it’s a bad idea.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews

I’ve already run on too much so I’ll save some comments for next year. I wish I could say that it can’t get any worse but I’m pretty sure that it can and that Mr. Toews and Mr. Harper are looking at ways to make prison worse. On a positive note if you are reading this it means that the world didn’t end on December 21 st so Happy N ew Year.

What advice would you give our guest blogger?

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Prime Minster HaperOur prime minister, Mr. Harper, has once again pretended to help victims by going after the mentally incompetent. Ignoring the fact that few of these people re-offend, Mr. Harper wants them kept in prison for three years no matter what the experts say.

As with other legislation, he plays to his arch-conservative base. The victims? Harper really doesn’t care. Does he pay them to come to hearings if they want to come? No. Does he offer them long-term counseling if they have been traumatized? No. Does he provide financial help, if they have suffered loss of income or loss of the ability to earn income? Does he help? NO.

Soon a new punishment will come down on inmates. Harper wants them to pay for their room and board. The maximum an inmate can make in a day is $6.90. I had a latte this morning on my way to teach in prison that almost cost that much, $6.10.

I asked one inmate if he plans to pay room and board. “Me? Pay room and board to be in jail? Come on, Ed. Get real. What will I say if they come after me? I’ll say, ‘Go ahead, throw me in prison. I ain’t payin.’”

It seems that Mr. Harper and his conservative government are all about punishment and nothing about rehabilitation. They pretend to help the victims, but they just play off of them. What concrete thing have they ever done for victims? What money have they offered them? Have they applied the principles of restorative justice? NO.

The media, of course, are just as guilty. They run around asking people if they are happy with a ten-year sentence or whatever it is. Naturally, there’s only one answer to that question – “No, I’m not satisfied.”

And the media do not seek alternative sources of news and opinion. They take Mr. Harper’s press releases and print them without doing any investigative journalism.

And the public – The public elected Mr. Harper and gave him a majority government. We should send him back to Texas or wherever he came from. (Actually the Americans are moving away from some of the prison ideas that Mr. Harper is implementing.)

And me? I would have never voted for him or his party, but I certainly didn’t work very hard to defeat him. I’m just as responsible as others for his policies.

What is your opinion? Do you think Harper cares about victims? Do you think he wants to punish inmates or rehabilitate them? Do you think punishment works?

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This Blog

Posted: January 5, 2013 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , ,

My apologies. A little illness has knocked me down for the holidays. Illness always knows when to strike.

blog I’m enjoying writing this blog. I’ve found that the people who participate in this blog often carry it for me. They know more than I do about some situations (many situations). I only wish it would be easier for inmates to have blogs of their own. We would learn a lot. But as it is now, they can barely get time on the few house computers. And despite the fact that some US prisons now have email, Canada is still in the stone age of communication. (That just struck me – hammering out a message in stone. Not far off for the Harper government.)

My New Years’ Resolution for this blog is to change it every week

Please keep your suggestions and comments coming.

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Ashley SmithI was very upset this week with the story of Ashley Smith and the absolutely gruesome pictures of what the staff did to her. The young woman’s crime? Throwing crabapples at a postal worker. Prison officials kept adding on to her short sentence for misconduct. She was moved from prison to prison seventeen times.

I worry that the problem is more widespread than just those few officers and the warden and deputy warden who were fired over this incident.

Most would admit that there is a clear US and THEM in prison. How can one group help another change when there is almost us/thema war going on between them? Are prison staff required to learn psychology?  Are they given sensitivity training? When a parole officer spends an hour telling a newly-released inmate that he’s going to fail, what is that? When the officer brings up every bad thing the inmate’s ever done and no mention of his abilities, is that a form of abuse? If a psychologist in prison ignores an inmate’s greeting and walks right by him, what is that? When guards openly imitate a hearing/speaking challenged man behind his back, is that abuse? And when an inmate tries to report this, he is told to forget it for his own health.

What’s going on in our prisons? Those who resist change cry that people will lose their jobs. No, they won’t, not if they’re willing to take courses, to take on sensitivity training. It’s up to the staff to change first.

For those not from Canada, the articles and videos are here:

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Vic ToewsCan things get worse in our federal prison system? Of course they can – Vic Toews is in charge. He’s done two things recently to make things worse.

He laid off all part-time chaplains, thus eliminating all non-Christian chaplains from the prison system. The full-time chaplains represent Catholic and Protestant denominations. What about rabbis? What about the spiritual leaders of first nations people? What about the Wicca religion?

Toews claims that volunteers can do that.

I hope someone takes him to court over this. Does it make any sense to eliminate men and women inmates prison chaplainconfide in? The prison system needs MORE chaplains, not fewer and in some cases, BETTER chaplains. My experience of chaplains is limited, but I’ve only met one man who knew what he was doing.

The other thing he’s done is stop federal inmates from ordering in food for special special mealoccasions. Currently there are strict limits on how much money they can spend on food orders and these activities have to be linked to increasing pro-social activity.  This means that they need to eat in a communal setting to increase positive social interaction.  It is meant to reduce isolation and break down “toughness” barriers that might exist.

My good friend Joanne, a frequent commentator on this blog, wrote to Mr. Toews about this issue:

Mr. Toews,

 I am writing in response to stories in today’s news regarding the ability of federal inmates to order in food for specific special occasions.  I believe  there  are better ways to score political points than to announce that you wish to take away even very minor rays of hope for prisoners, such as being able to order out for food with their own money once in a blue moon.

Let me explain my position, based on knowledge I have gained over the years through extensive education and experience.  First, punishment does not work over the long term—for anyone.  Period.  Second, when you tell someone that they are a “scumbag”, “dirt”, “worthless”, all you are doing is telling them that you expect them to go on behaving in ways inconsistent with societal standards.  By treating people like animals, you are sending the same message.  “You don’t deserve to be part of society, we don’t want you back, and we expect you to fail.”  These messages, not surprisingly, often lead to failure.  Some people see them as permission to give up and lead a marginal lifestyle.  They begin to believe they can do no better.  Alternatively, the messages spark anger and a thirst for retribution, in others.  Either way, society loses.

What we need, instead, is to send offenders an invitation to rejoin society as whole, contributing human beings.  We need to send the message, “You are one of us and we want you back but when you do come back, we have a number of expectations that you need to follow, as we all do.  What is more, we know you are capable of following them”.  People serving time need opportunities to prove to themselves, and to others, that they are indeed capable of the behavioural expectations that society lays out for us all.  This is truly what personal responsibility is about.  We all need to be responsible for our own behaviour.

Currently, our criminal justice system takes away personal responsibility instead of stressing its importance.  If we gave it back, we would also be making things better for the victims of crime.  They are largely ignored in the current way we deal with offenders.  Some ways that offenders can demonstrate personal responsibility is by being given opportunities for restitution.  They will not be able to bring anyone back to life, but they can do things that will make life better for many people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.  They can become examples for all others of how to live harmoniously in society.

Some ideas of how offenders can give back include allowing volunteer work that can be performed within prisons (e.g., making things that can be used by others in need), fundraising drives in which offenders solicit each other, staff members, family, etc. in exchange for something they do (e.g., run, sports tournament, matching donations, etc.), having special community groups attend to learn special skills (e.g., art, trades) from offenders, or providing entertainment for community members.  Such programs allow offenders to feel useful and worthwhile and teach them that they can continue to contribute to society in meaningful ways upon release.  Offenders need to learn the intrinsic value of giving to others.  Stop treating them as invalids, who can do no right and allow them the opportunity to show all of us what they are capable of.  We may all benefit hugely both over the short and long term.

Consider this an opportunity to look beyond your current views and see other possibilities you may have missed.  Consider this an opportunity to take personal responsibility to search for policies that will actually create positive change, rather than perpetuate the status quo.  At the same time you would silence the voices of many detractors who say that the Conservative Party agenda is to create and maintain employment opportunities on the backs of offenders.

I thank-you for taking the time to read this.


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statisticsWe have another comment from our prolific inmate in a local federal prison. (Apologies for scanning his work instead of retyping it.)





recidivismOur correspondent asks why more effort isn’t put into rehabilitating those with lower scores. Do you think our current government in Ottawa cares at all about rehabilitation?



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Carol looked up when the inmate entered the office. I was there getting my class list for the day from another secretary. Carol had what people of my ancient generation call ‘a motherly figure.’ She had a round, soft face that also was motherly.

“How can I help you, Sam?” she asked of the tough looking inmate, tattooed from head to the tip of his hands.

“I didn’t get the right pay last month,” he said. “This place screwed me again.”

The secretary who was dealing with my class list, shook her head, like this was an outrageous comment from an inmate.

But not Carol. “Let me look it up, Sam,” she said.

“Tsk, tsk,” my secretary said. She always put the word ‘Inmate’ before anyone’s last name. Like if Sam’s last name was Schmansky, she would have said, “I’ll check it, Inmate Schmansky.” No, more than likely, she would have said, “We don’t make mistakes here. File a complaint if you want.”

Carol looked up from her report, “No, Sam, it looks right.”

“What the hell. I got screwed.”

Carol stood up, walked over to Sam and showed him the report.

“Well, I guess so,” he said. “Thanks, Carol.” And he left.

The woman was amazing. She knew inmates’ names. She knew where everything was in that office. If the director of education came into the office and asked for a report from five years previous, Carol would zip open a file drawer and hand it to him.

As I observed her, I thought to myself, if I ever open a business and need a super efficient secretary who knows how to work with people, I’d hire her away from the prison system.

That was then, before what I call the ‘Harper’ people moved into the prison administration, just a few years after Mr. Harper became prime minister.

I was there again one day when the new director of education came into the office. “Where’s the report I wanted on my desk, Ms…?” She used Carol’s last name.

Carol handed her the report. She almost snatched it from her. “Next time on my desk. And I understand you don’t use the word, ‘Inmate’ when you are addressing these…people.”

Carol said nothing. I saw she was upset, almost on the verge of tears.

“Well, is that right?’

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“From now on it’s ‘Inmate.’ Is that clear?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And what are you doing here, Mr.?” she turned her guns at me. “Are you a program instructor?”

“No. I’m a volunteer who teaches creative writing once a week. I’m turning in my attendance list for today.”

“A volunteer, huh?” It was almost a snarl. I could just hear the unspoken words, “If you volunteer to help these scumbags, you must be one yourself.”

The director got back on her high horse and rode over to her own office. I heard from others that she hammered Carol daily, why I don’t know.

Two months later, I heard that Carol had taken a leave of absence, and a month after that she resigned.

Why are good, caring people being driven from the prison system? Carol’s case is not isolated. In one prison I know of three others with similar stories.