• 11/09/12 - - Inmate disturbances on the rise

    - - Inmate disturbances on the rise

    By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News:

    The number of inmate disturbances in federal prisons has risen significantly on the Conservative watch, and government figures show last year's 357 incidents marked a 12-year high.


    Since the Conservatives took office there have been 840 inmate disturbances, figures reported in Public Accounts show. During the previous six years under the Liberals, there were 482. The total cost of damages, however, has gone down. Inmate disturbances cost the government more than $1.2 million over the past six years, compared with $2.8 million during the previous six. That said, nearly half the damages recorded before the Tories took office were reported in 2001-02, the same year two major riots broke out at Drumheller and Edmonton Institutions. Also, since the government began tracking "intentional fires" two years ago, there have been 26.


    Although the Correctional Service of Canada says the figures may be skewed since the government tracked "prison riots" only prior to 2005, as opposed to all disturbances, which can include major and minor disruptions involving a few or many inmates, the numbers are raising questions about the government's tough-on-criminals approach. It's ultimately led to a "harsher" prison environment, says Canada's corrections investigator, who attributes rising levels of unrest to a variety of related factors.


    "When you get crowding, when you get a lack of capacity for delivering programs, when you have inadequate institutional employment to keep inmates properly engaged, when you have double-bunking, then what you end up with is ... more tension," Howard Sapers said. "You end up with more use of force, you end up with more self-harm, more incidents of assault, and also you see things like staff overtime and staff sick leave also escalating."


    During the Harper reign, inmates have seen their cigarettes taken away from them, the prison farm program abolished and reduced access to rehabilitation and reintegration programs. More recently, inmates were told they'd be charged more for room and board and telephone calls, while incentive pay for taking on certain prison jobs was cut. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also announced recently that he wanted prison pizza parties and takeout nights abolished.


    "It would be dangerous to base a conclusion on any one single incident like the smoking ban or closure of prison farms, but when you take in combination with other capacity issues plus the profile of the offenders themselves, offenders with more mental health issues, for example, then you begin to see how this constellation of issues comes together," Sapers said.


    "We know when we've looked at daily snapshots of institutions across the country, we're not surprised to find as little as one in five inmates engaged in a corrections program on that given day. We're not surprised to see that there's less than 50 per cent of unemployable inmates actually engaged in prison work."


    Operational and legislative changes, Sapers said, have also had an impact on the Correctional Service of Canada in terms of how they handle inmates. Lockdowns, segregation, exceptional searches, use of force and pepper-spray incidents are all "trending up." Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, has also altered the principles behind incarceration. Instead of managing inmates in the "least restrictive" way possible, corrections officials can now take whatever measures are deemed "necessary and proportionate." Sapers suggested that's pretty subjective and vulnerable to abuse.


    Corrections spokeswoman Veronique Rioux said prison violence is "not tolerated" and that disciplinary action and criminal charges are pursued when incidents arise.

    © Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

    Read more: http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Prison+inmate+disturbances+rise/7522655/story.html#ixzz2Blwtm9Rw


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