Monday, September 19, 2011

The Canadian Manifesto 9: Retribution and the Bottom Line

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British politician, best known for his work to abolish the slave trade. He helped to pass legislation that imposed fines of £100 on shipowners, for each slave found on board.

It backfired, because when these men saw authorities approaching, they simply threw the slaves overboard.

However, he is said to have been a hero of Abraham Lincoln's, and instrumental in putting an end to slavery in both the United States and across the pond.

Wilberforce is now a favourite of the American Religious Right for several reasons. One being the fact that he was a conservative, the second that he had devoted his life to prayer, and of course the whole anti-slavery thing suggesting that prayer and conservatism are positive influences on society.

However, much of the success of this New Right movement, has been based on their ability to rewrite history.

Wilberforce was involved in the anti-slave movement, but not because of his Christian charity, but rather that it was politically expedient. Prime Minister William Pitt was under a lot of pressure by the abolitionists, and needed a cover.
Interestingly imperialism’s ‘great saviour and hero’ Wilberforce was not amongst the original grouping. Nor did he end up joining the society of his own volition or as a matter of conscience. Instead he was ‘recruited’ and sent into the abolition movement by the then Prime Minister William Pitt. The fake cover story about his moral and religious conviction compelling him to work for the abolition of slavery was made up later. (1)
In fact, in 2010 the historian Stephen Tomkins discovered documents that suggested Wilberforce actually permitted the buying and selling of slaves, despite new regulations he helped to pass.
"After abolition, the British navy patrolled the Atlantic seizing slave ships. The crew were arrested, but what to do with the African captives? With the knowledge and consent of Wilberforce and friends, they were taken to Sierra Leone and put to slave labour in Freetown." (2)
Wilberforce really had little to do with the end of slavery in the British colonies. Most slaves freed themselves in a series of revolts.

However, there is another reason why the Republicans like Wilberforce so much. He was one of them, profiting off the misfortune of others. The Wilberforce family made their money in the wool and cotton business, so raising the possibility of slavery coming to an end, drove up the price of their commodities. (3)

Today he would be a Wall Street banker.

Chuck Colson: From Watergate to "Faith Based" Justice

Charles "Chuck" Colson, was a former member of the Nixon Administration, and one of the "plumbers" of the Watergate break-in.  For his role in the crime, he was sent to prison, serving just seven months.  For a man who had earned the reputation as Nixon's "hatchet man", and was known to keep "enemy lists" as a Washington power broker, this was a devastating blow.

Not only was he pushed out of the inner circle, but he was reduced to playing the role of a common criminal.

The story goes that a corporate buddy of his gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, and after reading it, Colson gave his life over to Jesus.  The media was not convinced, seeing it as a ploy to garner a lighter sentence.

I'll tell you his story and you can be the judge.

Using William Wilberforce as his guiding light, Colson created the Wilberforce Forum, a conservative Christian think tank, promoting the teaching of Intelligent Design (Creationism as opposed to Evolution), and established the Evangelical Prison Fellowship, to "save" his fellow man.  Or so we are told.

Please read on.

Stephen Harper and Corrections Corporation of America

After taking an interest in the Save the Prison Farm movement, I began to attend lectures and information seminars, dealing with the rise of corporate, for-profit prisons.  There is a consensus that the Harper government's new "law and order" strategy is geared toward the privatization of our prison system.

The way it works is that taxpayers fund the construction and/or expansion of jails and penitentiaries, which when completed, are then turned over to the corporate sector to operate. The government grants them so much for each prisoner they incarcerate on our behalf.

One name that comes up regularly, is the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest stakeholder in the business of Penance for Profit.

In 2007, Craig Jones of the John Howard Society, said in an interview, that he feared that Stephen Harper was moving in that direction.  He had hired Robert Sampson, former correctional minister under Mike Harris in Ontario, who opened the door to the privatization of the province's jails.  The experiment was a disaster.  His Penetanguishene "super jail" was closed after revelations of flawed security, inadequate prisoner health care, and higher reoffending rates. (4)

And the money taxpayers were supposed to save?  It cost us $80 million to build and the promised jobs were all low paying, minimum wage, that did nothing to "pay for itself", from accelerated income tax revenue. (5)

But this won't stop Stephen Harper.  Once he makes a decision, he sticks with it, come hell or high water.  He was elected to promote corporate interests and corporate interests he will promote, especially if they are  those of American corporations.

But let's take a closer look at Corrections Corporation of America, to decide whether or not we want to replicate their business here.

In June of 2000, Ken Silverstein wrote in Prison Legal News. 
What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Consider the growth of the Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader whose stock price has climbed from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today and whose revenue rose by 81 per cent in 1995 alone. Investors in Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have enjoyed an average return of 18 per cent during the past five years and the company is rated by Forbes as one of the top 200 small businesses in the country. At Esmor, another big private prison contractor, revenues have soared from $4.6 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 1995. (6)
And what of the product they are offering?
Roughly half of the industry is controlled by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs 46 penal institutions in 11 states. It took ten years for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by that same number every year ....

To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90-95 per cent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors. Prudential Securities issued a wildly bullish report on CCA a few years ago but cautioned, "It takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits." Still, said the report, company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramp(ing) up population levels in its new facilities at an acceptable rate". (6)
This explains the Harper government's horrendous crime bills, that will put people behind bars for the slightest of offenses, and keep them there.    According to the ACLU's National Prison Project:  "Private prison companies have also begun to push, even if discreetly, for the type of get-tough policies needed to ensure their continued growth. All the major firms in the field have hired big-time lobbyists."

Crime and punishment is no longer decided by criminologists or the justice system, but by corporate lobbyists, who in the United States are now also pushing for "chain gangs".  According to Rev. Edward Pinkney in Michigan:  "In many states there is a move to remove gov. administration of prisons and privatize them for corporate profit. The labor of the prisoners belongs to the state but when the state transfers their interest to a private corporation, the labor of prisoners belong to the corporation. A corporation will run the lives of prisoners and decide how they shall labor and what they shall labor at. Do you see chances for profit here?" (7)

Kind of puts Tim Hudak's meanderings into perspective, doesn't it?

Several videos reveal the way that these private prisons operate.  Many are now being investigated for promoting criminal activity behind bars, inadequate health care, high reoffending rates, and lax security.

Fight- Corrections Corporation of America

Sex abuse

Privatization of Punishment

Exposed Prison Big Business

Oh But it Gets Worse.  Back to Chuck Colson

Conditions in these prisons are deplorable, but a new scheme appears to be making an attempt to change that.  Prison Fellowship, started and run by Chuck Colson, advocates for prisoners and their families, with a faith-based alternative.

One experiment in Unit E at the state prison outside Newton, Iowa; gives a country club feel to a facility notorious for horrendous living conditions.
The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks.  More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions.  There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway.  Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms. (8)
They even have private baths with porcelain sinks.  Just like home.

But there's a catch.  You have to be "saved".
... the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress. The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the support of George W. Bush, who was governor at the time — says on its Web site that it seeks "to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems" and showing inmates "how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past." (8)
And before you light the lamps and sing Hallelujah, the program appears to be just another way to get taxpayers to pad the pockets of the corporate sector, and the Corrections Corporation of America is ready to elevate Colson to sainthood.
... the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison management company, with 65 facilities and 71,000 inmates under its control, is substantially expanding its religion-based curriculum and now has 22 institutions offering residential programs similar to the one in Iowa. And the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs at least five multifaith programs at its facilities, is preparing to seek bids for a single-faith prison program as well. (8)
What was revealed in these prison programs, was just another abuse of taxpayers money.  Using government grants to establish the InnerChange, Prison Fellowship was sued by Iowa taxpayers and inmates.
In ruling on that case, Judge Pratt noted that the born-again Christian staff was the sole judge of an inmate’s spiritual transformation. If an inmate did not join in the religious activities that were part of his "treatment," the staff could write up disciplinary reports, generating demerits the inmate’s parole board might see. Or they could expel the inmate.

And while the program was supposedly open to all, in practice its content was "a substantial disincentive" for inmates of other faiths to join, the judge noted. Although the ministry itself does not condone hostility toward Catholics, Roman Catholic inmates heard their faith criticized by staff members and volunteers from local evangelical churches, the judge found. And Jews and Muslims in the program would have been required to participate in Christian worship services even if that deeply offended their own religious beliefs. (8)
These religious organizations, operate with little or no scrutiny, despite the fact that they received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

And What Does This Have to Do With Us?

Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship has gone international, and though operating in Canada for several years, it would appear that their activities are being accelerated.  News from Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services (OARS) in South Australia:
Local media has been covering the proposal by Prison Fellowship SA to develop an overtly Christian wing in one of the South Australia prisons.   Whilst this may seem a good idea on the surface of it, OARS SA is not generally supportive of this notion.   Prison Fellowship International has been advocating this approach for many years and a number of such services have been implemented in the United States and Canada.  The evidence about the success of this approach is not strong, and some Governments appear to have used Churches and or their associated NGO's to fund services that should rightly be funded by themselves.   In advocating for such a prison wing in Canada recently, Prison Fellowship Canada, among other things, suggested that "We would not require someone to be a professing Christian to enter but we certainly would expect them to be respecting the values and principles that we would be engaged in." 
This underscores the essential dilemma for me.   It is the clear experience of OARS SA that one needs to be very careful about offering redemption to people who are incarcerated and have very few alternatives or hope.  It can be be potentially very damaging in the long term, and it is possible that false conversions happen simply to get some support.   Another potentially negative factor is the damage caused when an elite or special wing is structured in any prison that provides opportunities not available to everyone. (9)
When the Harper government closed the Prison Farms, they claimed that they had other rehabilitation programs in mind.  Is this what they meant?

In Canada, Prison Fellowship does a lot of good work, but they can't be an alternative to time tested rehabilitation programs.  And they should only be one of several other initiatives.

During the last election campaign, the Conservatives focused on Human Trafficking, even suggesting that Michael Ignatieff was in favour of the horrendous practice.  However, what Ignatieff was opposed to was the part of the bill allowing those 'rescued" to be incarcerated for up to a year, including women and children.

Researching private prisons and Chuck Colson, I discovered that even immigrant detention centres are going corporate.   Immigrants for sale, while reports of wholesale abuse, sexual and physical, in these facilities are on the rise.

And Corrections Corporation of America run several of them

All part of the Prison Industrial Complex.

So is Chuck Colson a saint or a sinner?  He has certainly wormed his way back into the halls of power.

Some have compared him to Francis Schaeffer, the unwitting architect of the Religious Right, but Schaeffer's son disagrees.  He says that Colson is nothing like his father, and is just another opportunist cashing in on religion.

We have to remember that everything Stephen Harper does is motivated by the profit margin, for those who have put him in power.  (He still refuses to tell us who financed his leadership bid to take over the Alliance Party, Now the CPC)  And the majority of his policies are not only motivated by Republican policies, but many are also written in the USA.

It shouldn't be this hard for the Canadian media to keep us informed.  Why do I  have to let my fingers travel around the world, just to try and figure out what Stephen Harper and his Christian Right is up to?

The crime of media silence.  Is there a corporate run detention centre for those guys?


1. The Story of the Caribbean People, By James Ferguson, Randle Publishers, 1998, ISBN-10: 976812377X, p. 132

2. William Wilberforce was complicit in slavery, Stephen Tomkins, The UK Guardian, August 3, 2010

3, Will the Real William Wilberforce Please Stand Up, Pan-Afrikan Society of London South Bank University, 2007

4. Stephen Harper opens door to prison privatization, By Alex Roslin, Straight Goods,

5. Experiment in private prison, Penetanguishene, By Mirko Petricevic, Kitchener Waterloo Record, September, 13, 2000

6. US: America's Private Gulag, by Ken SilversteinPrison Legal News, June 1st, 2000

7. For profit chain gangs in Michigan? Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, December 17, 2008

8. In God's Name: Religion for Captive Audience, with taxpayers Footing the Bill, By Diana B. Henriques and Andrew Lehren, New York Times, December 10, 2006

9. OARS SA, CEO Blog, December 16, 2009


  1. Prisons for profit is a particularly vile idea. Prisoners will be slaves to the corporations who own the facilities: disgusting, and a huge step back in human rights.
    I wouldn't be surprised if Canadian journalists are afraid to report such things, Emily. After seeing what happened to peaceful protesters in Toronto, all Canadians are going to be leery about taking on The Harper Government.
    Not to mention the fact that The Harper Government's cronies own a large portion of the media in Canada, either openly or hiding behind other names.
    There appears to be little or no fearless, open-minded media with a sense of justice and fair play left in our country.
    If such news outlets exist, are they perhaps afraid their people will end up in the less-than-luxurious areas of those new prisons?

  2. Excellent research. I have no idea why the media is so cowered and afraid to look into what Harper is really up to. There's always a series of "safe questions" trotted out by journalists and opposition parties. With respect to crime and prisons, it's always the "we don't understand this need given that crime has been declining for the past 10 years".

    I remember being shocked that the Feds, province and municipal government all pitched in to award Christ in Youth $3+ million to build and operate a large inner city recreation centre. The only people up in arms were community organizations and public recreation staff (latter less vocally) whose funding had been slashed if not cut. Some urban aboriginal groups tried to make noise about this being somewhat reminiscent of residential schools but the media barely covered this angle or any complaints after the first day of reporting this contract.

    Pat Martin made some noise about other groups being de-funded and a meek suggestion that it might be offensive to non-Christian families. Questioned recently about his opposition to the facility, he denied that he ever protested over the religious angle.

    It's like it's become taboo to discuss the erosion of secularism in our society.