Posts Tagged ‘Vic Toews’

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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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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