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Prisons Should be Tough on Actual Criminals

The CBC has a new article about Canadian prisons: $5.41 per inmate per day: Bad food, small portions fueling prison tensions, federal watchdog finds.

In his annual report to Parliament, Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger said spending cuts in 2014 resulted in a fixed daily food budget of $5.41 per inmate.

This seems tight. But hey, it’s prison.

That has fuelled a flood of complaints about portion size, especially protein, as well as quality and selection.

If you want good quality and selection, don’t go to prison. Got it.

The supply of food has become part of the underground economy, where it is bought, bartered and sold for other items, Zinger said.

Not surprising. Even in prison, there are bound to be entrepreneurs.

“Playing with the food of hungry and frustrated prisoners can have unintended detrimental effects,” he said. Dissatisfaction with quality and portion sizes was a “contributing factor” in the confrontation that led to a deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary on Dec. 14, 2016. More than 200 inmates caused extensive damage in the medium-security wing of the federal institution in Prince Albert. One 43-year-old prisoner died and three others were assaulted.

I hope their sentences were extended.

Guards in the medium-security unit have limited tools at their disposal. “The tools we have on us are handcuffs. We have pepper spray. We have stab-resistant vests.”

They should be armed. Fortunately, the guards were unhurt, though they were forced to let the prisoners rampage until the police arrived.

Zinger said each offender’s meals provide 2,600 calories, which is the guideline for an inactive male aged 31-50. “The problem is that the active young man under age 30 still constitutes a majority population in federal corrections,” he said.

This is what we call a lie. If you check the Canada Food Guide, you’ll see that an inactive man of 31-50 needs only 2350 calories, and 2600 is actually the amount recommended for Low Active. The recommendation for men 19-30 is 2700, on 100 calories more. If people want a fully active lifestyle, they should probably avoid prison. Corrections Canada is running a prison system, not Gold’s Gym.

As part of the Conservative cost-cutting initiative, that saved an estimated $6.4 million, a national menu was created along with regional production centres where food is prepared, cooked and chilled in a centralized kitchen.

I applaud the savings. Every dollar that is not spent on taking care of criminals can be spent on health care.

To meet the low daily ration cost along with minimum nutritional requirements, powdered milk was substituted for fresh milk, bulky meat portions replaced with more select cuts, expensive grains were removed, vegetable selection was reduced and English muffins were replaced with toast, the report reads.

Seems reasonable. All of the inmates in these facilities who are there for good reason elected to commit crimes, thereby entering prison by their own illegal actions. I truly sympathize with anyone wrongfully convicted who has to suffer through a prison sentence. We should do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

 

Zinger said the lack of progress in some key areas such as the over-representation of Indigenous people and the treatment of mentally ill offenders is “frustrating.”

Were they responsible for their actions? If so, I fail to see what else should be done. If there are native or mentally ill people who don’t deserve to be in prison, why not address that issue?

“The lack of traction I’m getting from my recommendations in this annual report is disappointing, and I would hope certainly that on the broad government priorities that there would be more take-up on those priorities,” he said.

If those priorities involve spending more money, I hope that the government examines them very critically to make sure they are necessary.

Lack of therapeutic environments for federally sentenced women: Living conditions are “harsh and inappropriate” for women struggling with serious mental illness, some of whom engage in chronic self-injurious behaviour. The practice of temporarily transferring acutely mentally ill women on an emergency basis to all-male treatment centres where they are separated and held in complete isolation is “entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and contrary to international human rights standards,” he said.

If they are a danger to others, they must be segregated. I agree that using male prisons for this is not ideal, but since they are segregated, it seems like a reasonable stop gap. Are there cases where segregation is being used for reasons other than the safety of staff and other prisoners?

Use of segregation: Admissions and lengths of stay in segregation have decreased significantly, but some problems remain. Segregation cells lack appropriate ventilation, windows and natural light and outdoor segregation “yards” are often little more than bare concrete pens topped with razor wire, Zinger said.

Well, if someone is truly a danger to others and needs to be isolated, they aren’t going to have access to the facilities that regular prisoners do. If they are dangerous, it’s no wonder they are confined with razor wire.

Prison work: Less than 10 per cent of inmates are gainfully employed at any given time, and too many are engaged in menial institutional jobs rather prison industries that will lead to viable work after they are released. Opportunities to acquire apprenticeship hours towards a trade certificate are scarce and women prisoners are most often put to work on gender stereotypical work like sewing, textiles and laundry.

Prison doesn’t lead to good job prospects. Not too surprising.

Lack of alternatives for mentally ill offenders: The use of physical restraints, clinical seclusion, suicide watch and segregation to manage people in serious psychological distress remains problematic.

If they are not a danger to others, I agree that mentally ill offenders should not be segregated. What is the alternative clinical seclusion and suicide watch for suicidal inmates? Surely Zinger isn’t suggesting we let mentally ill offenders commit suicide?

One thing we should to is to stop putting people in jail for things that shouldn’t be illegal. Legalizing and regulating prostitution and all drugs would eliminate the vast majority of people serving time for those crimes. According to Statistics Canada, 4.5% of all crimes are drug violations.

Criminals deserve to be punished, and we should spend only what is necessary to do that. Segregation (AKA solitary confinement) should only be used when a prisoner is a danger to others, but in that case, I don’t see what alternative there can be. We can’t allow violent offenders to harm staff or well behaved prisoners who are doing their best to serve their sentences without trouble.

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