by Giselle Dias
I have been into almost all the prisons across canada or at least two thirds of the prisons. For those of you who are unaware we have different prison systems. There is the federal prison system which holds people serving 2 years or more and the provincial systems that hold people for anyone serving two years less a day. We have remand and detention centers (holding over 10,000 people who have not been found guilty of an offense. By all intents and purposes they are innocent). We also have new centers that have opened to hold people on immigration detention.
I can talk about all of these prisons but to address the ‘club fed’ question I will stick to the federal prison system.
For those serving sentences of two years or more, they are governed by the Correctional Service of Canada. Prisoners are shuffled through an intake process at a maximum security prison. This has very strict rules and regulations and you are locked up for most of the day. The person will go for an assessment that will determine whether they will remain in a maximum security prison, medium security prison or a minimum federal prison. It is the minimum security prisons that are typically considered ‘club fed.’
The mission of CSC is: The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders [sic] to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.
The 5 core values of CSC are as follows:
· We respect the dignity of individuals, the rights of all members of society, and the potential for human growth and development.
· We recognize that the offender [sic] has the potential to live as a law-abiding citizen.
· We believe that our strength and our major resource in achieving our objectives is our staff and that human relationships are the cornerstone of our endeavor.
· We believe that the sharing of ideas, knowledge, values, and experience, nationally and internationally, is essential to the achievement of our Mission.
· We believe in managing the Service with openness and integrity, and we are accountable to the Minister of Public Safety Canada.
Nowhere in CSC’s mandate or values do they say that their job is ‘punishment,’ or ‘revenge’. Their mission does not state that ‘we will make the lives of prisoners a living hell.’ Yet as a society that is what we seem to be asking. It seems as if it is not enough to take away people’s liberty and freedom but we want to make them suffer even more. But if 86% of the prison population has committed a non-violent offence – who is it that we wish to ‘punish’ so much? Who is it that we want to make suffer? All people in prison? Just some people who are particularly dangerous? Can you produce names? Sure you can – Clifford Olsen, Paul Bernardo, Karla Holmoka, etc. Yet these people make up less than 1% of the prison population. So I ask again, do you want the person who uses drugs to be further ‘punished’, the person with mental health issues, the person who has been beaten, raped and abused all their life until they finally kill their abuser – is that who you want to see suffer further? When you ask for ‘tough on crime’ legislation and the closure of ‘club fed’ that is what you are saying.
Prisoners work their way down to a minimum security prison. They are put their before they are being released so that they can be better prepared to reintegrate into the community. The original goal of the system was to ensure prisoners are ready to be released from prison and succeed in the community. After a great deal of research they formulated a plan to cascade prisoners through maximum, medium and minimum security prisons and then moved people into halfway houses into the community to ensure people integrate successfully. If a golf course creates that idea of leisure in your mind – it is a dangerous evolution in thinking that we need minimum security prisons to be ‘toughened up.’ This is how we prepare prisoners for release. Teach them how to cope in daily life (go grocery shopping, find leisure activities, build a sense of self). There is nothing in maximum, medium or minimum security prisons that allows prisoners to have ‘regular lives’. Prisons are violent and dangerous places and not just because of the prisoners themselves. Prisons create deep deprivation – they deprive people access to family, loved ones, children, lovers and friends. Prisons ensure that you never are able to build your self-esteem and anyone who has accomplished this has done it despite corrections not because of corrections.
Unfortunately, society has chosen to focus all of its resources on one form of ‘justice’ despite the fact that it doesn’t work for victims, offenders or the community. It is important to realize that most people in prison have themselves been victimized throughout their lifetime. Prisoners have faced childhood abuse (physical, sexual and mental), they have faced humiliation and shame, they have been victims of rape, have had a lack of education, lack of employment, abusive relationships and the list goes on. This does not justify people’s actions but it does offer a different perspective on who is in prison and who these ‘offenders’ are.
I guess I wonder what type of world people want to live in? Do we want to solve social problems or do we just want to pay for the outcomes of these social problems? Why are we putting people with mental health issues in prison? Why are we putting people who use drugs in prison? It is a very expensive ‘solution’ that doesn’t work yet we keep marching in the same direction (towards tougher sentences) when we know that it is ineffective. If you saw someone trying to push a square peg into a round hole for decades, would you eventually tell them that it won’t ever work? That is all we are saying as prisoners rights advocates and penal abolitionists. The system is not working for anyone (except those trying to reinforce white supremacy) yet there are programs and forms of justice that have proven to work and yet we don’t support them with proper resources.