As I write this it’s California prisoner hunger strike, day 10. Tens of thousands of people in prison are attempting to change the intolerable unfairness and petty restrictions that constitute life in prison. They reject the way that receiving a birthday card can be counted as “gang activity” and the limit on the number of pairs of underpants you can have when in solitary confinement. These policies may fall under the pressure from striking prisoners, but one source of suffering that can’t be readily changed is the design of the buildings holding prisoners in solitary confinement.
Of course, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may well make halfway gestures towards addressing even this level of concern, as they have done in the past two years towards the prisoners’ other demands. When I visited Pelican Bay State Prison two weeks ago—home to the most notorious solitary confinement “Security Housing Unit” (or SHU) in California—some of the men told me that painters had begun preparing their cell “pods” for a new mural that would be opposite their cell doors.
This is the kind of place where Ashley Smith died in 2007. It is also the kind of place where Julie Bilotta gave birth on a cement floor last year.
It’s the place where prisons send people to punish the already imprisoned.
I’m writing with pencil and paper from a solitary confinement cell in the segregation unit – the “Hole” – at the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC), a maximum security provincial prison in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Here we spend 23.5 hours a day or more locked in an eight-by-twelve-foot cell. We are allowed nothing but one religious book and a pencil and paper, in addition to our prison-issue clothes (but no shoes) and toiletries (disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of soap, a towel). We get access to the yard – a large caged balcony – for 20 minutes a day, and a shower every second day. On alternating days we’re allowed a 20-minute phone call.
Shoddy paperwork, poor communications and haphazard help for inmates are jeopardizing public safety and compromising the successful reintegration of prisoners back to the street, an internal audit has found.
The review of Correctional Service of Canada’s release process flags a number of problems and policy breaches when offenders — including high-profile and high-risk criminals — are released from custody, such as the proper notification of key stakeholders such as parole officers, police and victims.
While protocols are in place to ensure the “adequate and effective release” of offenders, they aren’t always followed. The audit reveals widespread problems ranging from crucial information missing from files to offenders being released without the resources or documentation that would facilitate a successful transition.
An internal audit of the federal prison system’s process for releasing inmates has found problems that jeopardize public safety and compromise successful reintegration of offenders back into society. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)
“Without proper resources such as medication supplies or proper documentation, such as identification card or health insurance card, offenders’ reintegration into the community may be jeopardized,” the audit warns.
Per capita spending on criminal justice — including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing — has climbed 23 per cent over the last decade even as the crime rate fell 23 per cent, says a new study by the Parliamentary budget office.
The report, a first-of-its kind, comprehensive look at criminal justice costs over time, put the price tag at $20.3 billion in 2011-12.
The authors looked at direct public spending on policing, courts and corrections, including parole. They excluded costs such as victims compensation, private security and non-criminal matters such as family, environmental and competition law.
A January 2012 Pew study reported that state expenditures on corrections “have quadrupled over the past two decades” with the current estimated cost average of $31,307 per inmate.
One cultural narrative suggests that the social and financial crisis of incarceration is bleak.
Another narrative – the one we are encountering in our documentary interviews – is that the faith community can play a redemptive role for the incarcerated.