Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reform-Conservatives Lie and Pave Way for Private American-Style Prisons

I've been kind of tracking a story since there were first rumblings about Stockwell Day and the Reform-Conservatives, planning to open private, for-profit penitentiaries. This is naturally part of their so-called 'law and order' agenda.

But they couldn't expect American firms to move in with our crime rate so low. Solution. Mandatory sentences and send children to jail. That will fill them up quicker. But do we really want something like the incarceration and rehabilitation of prisoners being based on profit?

Will guards be properly trained? Will they be unionized and assured fair wages and benefits?

The above video outlines why these prisons fail, and we should all fight this move. I know it's part of the dismantling of our government by Stephen Harper, a long time dream of his, but this is absolutely not the way to go.

Stockwell Day Lied

Stephen Harper opens door to prison privatization
By Alex Roslin
November 22, 2007

On April 27, 2006, the Ontario government announced the end of a bizarre venture. Canada's first large privately run prison, a 1,200-inmate maximum-security superjail in the cottage country north of Toronto, was a failure and would be taken over by the province.

The Penetanguishene-based Central North Correctional Centre was a striking attempt at getting in on the controversial private-prison craze that has swept the United States, where for-profit businesses now run approximately 150 prisons housing about 150,000 inmates.

Ontario's five-year experiment with the concept, launched with much fanfare in 2001 by Robert Sampson–at the time the law-and-order Tory correctional services minister–ended amid revelations of flawed security, inadequate prisoner health care, and higher reoffending rates once the privately housed inmates were let back out into the world.

Today, Sampson has secured a gig with the Stephen Harper Conservatives leading a federal panel reviewing Canada's prison system. Its mandate includes finding "opportunities for savings including through physical plant realignment and infrastructure renewal".

Does the choice of Sampson mean the feds want to privatize Canadian prisons? Stockwell Day, the federal public safety minister, says no. "The question of privatization is not on the table," he told journalists after Sampson's appointment last April. But some critics aren't so sure. "We have to be very vigilant to see where this review is going and how broad it gets in terms of an agenda around privatization," NDP MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) told a reporter.

Len Bush, national representative of 15,000 provincial prison guards in the National Union of Public and Government Employees, is also skeptical about Day's denial. "He's not actually come out and said, 'No, I won't privatize.' We would welcome him saying so. It looks to us that this is their direction, even though they're not in a situation where they feel they can say it publicly," he said on the phone from his Ottawa office.

Sampson submitted his report to the government on October 31, but it remains under wraps. In late October, though, news leaked from the Sampson panel suggesting that it was preparing to scrap statutory release, the virtually automatic discharge of prisoners under conditions similar to parole after they've served two-thirds of their sentences. Instead, "you'd have to show why you deserve to be released [at the two-thirds point]," a Canadian Press story quoted an unnamed source "familiar with the panel's report" as saying. "It'll put more people in [prison], so they're going to need more resources."

This has stoked the privatization fears: that the Harper government's law-and-order agenda could unleash a crisis of overcrowding in prisons, and guess what the magical solution will be? Private prisons. There is just one catch: crime experts say all this–dramatically increased prisoner numbers, possible privatization of prisons, and get-tough measures, including increased and mandatory sentences–will probably make Canadian communities less safe, not more.

At first glance, the plan may seem reasonable to some: make wrongdoers show they've changed. What could be wrong with that? It would force some to shape up, right? Wrong. Such a change would create instant havoc in already overcrowded provincial and federal prison systems by adding up to 30 or 40 percent more inmates virtually overnight, according to Neil Boyd, an SFU criminology professor who spoke to the Georgia Straight from his Bowen Island home.

The change in the statutory release rule could suddenly add another 2,200 prisoners to the federal corrections system, which currently houses 12,000 inmates–an increase of almost 20 percent, Anthony Doob, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, estimated on the phone from his office. "The math is pretty straightforward. You could create a crisis almost overnight by changing parole practices."

Combined with other tough crime measures being proposed by the Harper government, a sudden tsunami of inmates would also swamp provincial prison systems, since many of those affected are those with sentences under two years.

"It [the increase in inmates] will come as a rude surprise to the provinces," said Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, speaking on his cellphone from a conference in Toronto. "The feds will crack down on crime, but the provinces will be punished."

In October, Harper introduced his Tackling Violent Crime Act, Bill C-2, into the House of Commons, complete with a shopping list of ideas courtesy of the U.S. law-and-order lobby, including mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences and harsher penalties for gun crimes. Harper declared the bill a confidence motion and said he'd accept no amendments to it, meaning the government will fall should it be defeated by the opposition–unlikely, since the Liberals desperately want to avoid an election.

Criminologists and prison guards say the actual result of the Harper crime package will probably be not safer communities but, rather, private prisons in which the bottom line is king, not inmate rehabilitation.

With five to 10 years needed to build a new prison from conception to construction, coupled with Harper's ideological predisposition to outsourcing government programs, Jones said it's not a big leap to privatized prisons coming to Canada in a big way. "Our anxiety is they're going to grow the prison population so quickly, they will be left with few options."

Creating a crisis to push through a controversial change is straight out of the playbook of Mike Harris's Conservative government in Ontario when it privatized the Penetanguishene prison, NUPGE's Bush said. "The strategy of the Harris government was to create a crisis and bring privatization forward to deal with the crisis," he said. "You take an overcrowded situation, add more people, and you create a crisis. We were hoping the experience elsewhere would have taught them."

The U.S. experience with privatized prisons is full of cautionary tales. After federal and state authorities brought in tougher law-and-order crime laws (among them the infamous "three strikes" statutes)–like the mandatory minimum sentences now being proposed by Harper–in the 1980s and '90s, the American prison population quadrupled, from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million today. (Another 4.8 million Americans are out on parole or probation, meaning a total of one in 32 adult Americans is under the control of the justice system in one fashion or another.)

It's a myth, however, that the explosion in inmate numbers was about getting violent, hardened criminals off the street. Instead, the crackdown disproportionately targeted marginalized people and small-time drug offenders.

Authorities turned to private companies to build and run many prisons. The largest operator by far is the Nashville, Tennessee–based Corrections Corp. of America, with 65 facilities under management, including 40 it owns outright, that house 72,000 inmates. Business at CCA is booming. Since 2000, its shares have shot up from $4 to almost $29.

But an independent study of CCA in 2003 found the company had failed to: provide adequate medical care to inmates, control violence in its facilities, and prevent a rash of escapes. Civil-rights violations have also been raised in hundreds of lawsuits against CCA by prisoners and their families, including several that revolved around inmate deaths. The study, cowritten by the U.K.–based Prison Privatisation Report International and the U.S. community group Good Jobs First, also said CCA tried to keep down costs by paying staff poorly, which resulted in high turnover and mistreatment of prisoners. Substandard conditions also had resulted in prisoner protests and uprisings, while several CCA guards had been convicted of drug trafficking inside the facilities.

A low point for the company came in the late 1990s, when it agreed to a payment of $2.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by prisoners at its Youngstown, Ohio, prison who said the facility was unsafe after a rash of stabbings. "It's been a nightmare,"

The plague of scandals at CCA and other private prison operators prompted Business Week to publish a story in 2000 titled "Private Prisons Don't Work" that said "the industry's heyday may already be history."

But while U.S. authorities step back from the ailing crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, the John Howard Society's Jones sees the Harper government embracing the same troubled approach. " This government seems enthralled by the Bush administration," he said, noting that Harper's crime policies "seem to reflect a close study of the American model".

Jones said the Harper crime agenda is likely to fall heaviest on marginalized people, just as the measures did in the U.S. "Police go where the pickings are easiest. It will fall disproportionately on marginalized, mentally ill, and minority youth. You will not see more Conrad Blacks in jail," he said. "It's not about justice; it's about acting Old Testament."

"There's just no support for the idea that punishment will get the social safety we want. We should be looking at success stories," Boyd said, pointing to European countries that have promoted crime prevention and improved social housing over incarceration.

In fact, that's exactly the approach that was favoured by a crime prevention council within Canada's Public Safety Ministry when it reviewed corrections policy back in 1996. The council's study, which is posted on the ministry's Web site, doesn't mince words in its criticism of U.S. mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed model that did little to reduce crime rates while merely increasing the prison population.

"Not only is the cost of automatic incarceration brought about by this policy inordinately high, but it does little to stem the ongoing tide of new offenders," noted the study, titled Money Well Spent: Investing in Preventing Crime. "Minimum mandatory sentencing requirements rely upon the false assumption that people who are contemplating a criminal act–youths in particular–go through a rational process of planning their act and weighing the consequences of being apprehended."

As for Harper's plan to tighten parole eligibility, U of T's Doob said the notion goes against everything that's known about the importance of transitioning prisoners into society through supervised programs like parole and halfway houses. "Probably the worst thing you could do is hold a guy his whole sentence and then give him a bus ticket with no job, no program, and no controls."

Jones is also flabbergasted. "The evidence is clear that incarceration is the last resort. Most people do not benefit from it and a number of people get worse. Prison is an expensive way to make bad people worse."

Jones also is alarmed about privatized prisons making a return. "The staff [in private prisons] has less training. They employ harsher measures because they're cheaper; the conditions deteriorate. The inmates eventually get out, so it passes on the costs of dealing with them to future governments and generations. The issue is they're going to be worse when they get out."

Doob agreed, saying the evidence on privatized prisons is clear: "The data that exists in various countries suggests there are real problems in the ways that private companies run these things."

Harper apparently isn't even finding many allies within the Correctional Service of Canada, even though it is likely to enjoy a massive budget increase to accommodate the new inmates. Jones said senior corrections officials see Harper's regressive policies as reversing years of hard-won policy gains in areas like parole and crime prevention.

"When the tide turns so dramatically, they [corrections officials] see their work as being undone," he said. "It turns back the clock on 40 years of progressive corrections policy."

Well guess what folks? Harper is going to do what Harper wants to do and Harper wants an American style private prison system. Living in Kingston, I am very concerned. We are blocks from a federal prison and there are several others in the vicinity. Up to now I haven't really worried about it, but I will now.

There have been several protests recently about the Reform-Conservatives' decision to close down the farms and sell the land. These farms were a very important part of rehabilitation. I suppose though they would cut into the profit of the corporations poised to take over.

The John Howard Society is still on their case.

Tory plans for U.S.-style prisons slammed in report
September 24, 2009
CBC News

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, titled 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 ex-premier Mike Harris's Tory government, 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.

However, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the plan is not based on a U.S.-style prison system at all. "I don't know where that suggestion comes from," he told CBC News in an interview.

"We don't have a capital program for creating and building new prisons right now, so attacking the government is a little odd."

Rather, "the changes we're proposing [are] to improve our system, protect society more and make sure offenders get the help they need," particularly mental illness treatment, Van Loan said.

The government wants to create an incentive system for prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs, "because that's important for not just the safety of society, which is … the most important principle, but also for the prisoner to integrate into the community ultimately," he said.

The current practice of statutory release is the "wrong approach," he added.

"That means somebody has a nine-year sentence; at six years, even if they're not participating in their programs, they're automatically … released into society."

But Jackson said the plan undermines public safety by making prisons more dangerous places and constricting inmates' reintegration into society.

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, Jackson said.

"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," Stewart said.

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.

More Bogus Law and Order Crap:

1. Instead of Getting Tough on Crime we Need to Get Tough on Harper. OUT!

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