Conservatives Plan US-Style Prisons For Canada

The Conservative government plans to bring in an American-style prison system that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars and do little to improve public safety, according to a report released Thursday in Ottawa.

“It tramples human rights and human dignity,” University of British Columbia law professor Michael Jackson, co-author of the 235-page report, A Flawed Compass, told reporters.

Moreover, there is “a near total absence of evidence” in the government plan that its measures will “return people to the community better able to live law-abiding lives,” said co-author Graham Stewart, who recently retired after decades as head of the John Howard Society of Canada.

Their report provides a scathing review of a government blueprint for corrections called A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety. A panel led by Rob Sampson, a former corrections minister in Ontario’s Mike Harris Tories, drafted the plan, which is being implemented by the Correctional Service.

In addition to constructing super prisons and implementing work programs, the program will eliminate gradual release and deny inmates rights that are now entrenched in the Constitution.

Rather than enhancing public safety, the measures will undermine it by making prisons more dangerous places and constricting inmates’ reintegration into society, said Jackson.

By keeping prisoners locked up longer, the plan places an enormous financial burden on taxpayers, he added.

Perhaps worst of all, Jackson said, it “will intensify what the Supreme Court has characterized as the already staggering injustice of the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the prisons of Canada.”
A recipe for prison violence: Jackson

By stressing punishment rather than rehabilitation, the plan ignores lessons of the past, which led to the prison riots and killings that dominated Canadian news in the early 1970s, said Jackson.

“My greatest fear is with this road map’s agenda and its underlying philosophy, we will enter a new period of turmoil and violence in Canadian prisons,” he said.

“I do fear that prisons will become more abusive, prisoners will become more frustrated and that we could go back to a time not only when the rule of law was absent but a culture of violence is the dominant way in which prisoners express their frustrations.”

Stewart called the blueprint “an ideological rant, which flies in the face of the Correctional Service’s own research of what works to rehabilitate prisoners and ensure community safety.”

“The fact is that you cannot hurt a person and make them into a good citizen at the same time.”

The government has already allocated hundreds of millions to the plan, even though it has had no input from either Parliament or the public, according to the report. It has not yet responded to the report.

– Article from CBC News

Federal prison overhaul plan dismissed as amateur, alarming

by Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — Canada’s blueprint for overhauling federal prisons is an amateur and “alarming” document that ignores human rights, gives the false impression that crime is rising, and provides no costs for flawed policies that would flood penitentiaries with more inmates, says a new report.

The study by two veteran prisoner-rights advocates attacks the Harper government for its speedy, wholesale adoption of a 2007 Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety that made more than 100 recommendations, based largely on the premise that prisoners don’t have automatic rights — they earn them.

The government-appointed panel called for an end to “statutory release” after prisoners serve two-thirds of their sentences, in favour of earned parole that is tied to following a corrections plan.

The government has committed to implementing the new vision set out by the panel.

“With no public review or consultation, the plethora of recommendations — some good, some trivial, but many with draconian implications for the protection of human rights, public safety and the public purse, are being presented as the future of federal corrections in Canada,” wrote Michael Jackson, a University of British Columbia law professor, and Graham Stewart, former executive director of the John Howard Society.

Stewart and Jackson said prisoner advocacy groups estimate that ending statutory release, which would mean offenders would spend 50 per cent more time incarcerated, would cost at least $1 billion.

The panel said that repealing statutory release, which is currently followed by a period of mandatory supervision in the community, would enhance public safety because it would reduce the number of prisoners who reoffend after release.

Stewart and Jackson counter that one of the justifications for adopting statutory release in the first place was to better protect the public by ensuring prisoners would be supervised in the community for a period of time rather than leaving penitentiaries with no strings attached.

“While cost should not outweigh community safety, proposing huge expenditures of this nature without any evidence of increased community safety is irresponsible public policy especially in the context of the lost opportunities that spending in this way represents,” said their report.

They planned to release their study at a news conference Thursday, but an advance copy was provided to Canwest News Service.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said recently that the government intends to move forward with the recommendation.

Stewart and Jackson charge that commitment to human rights in federal prisons has deteriorated in recent years because of sentiment in the upper echelons that it “has no place in a get-tough-on-crime-and-criminals world.”

The Harper government has promised in each of the last three election campaigns to clamp down on prisoner rights, including a 2006 pledge to work toward a constitutional amendment to repeal prisoner voting, ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002.

The government also has adopted or proposed several new laws that would send more people to jail for longer.

Then public safety minister Stockwell Day established the prison review panel in April 2007, appointing Rob Sampson, a former Ontario Conservative cabinet minister who spearheaded that province’s short-lived move toward privately run jails, as the chairman. He presented his report six months later.

The panel called for prisoners to have only basic rights, and that any additional privileges would have to be earned.

The Sampson report also called on government to recraft federal legislation governing penitentiaries to eliminate a provision that inmates be imprisoned according to the “least restrictive measures,” wrote Stewart and Jackson.

They conclude that the panel’s report flies in the face of the Charter of Rights, regards human rights as “an expendable hindrance,” and ignores 170 years of historical perspective about successes and failures in the penitentiary system.

Also, the premise that privileges and freedom must be earned ignores barriers faced by mentally ill prisoners, drug addicts, learning disabled, illiterate and other disadvantaged groups, says Jackson’s and Stewart’s report.

– Article from Global News