Dear Liberal Government

Congratulations on being elected. We are writing to you as people concerned for the well being and dignity of prisoners in Canada. Some of us are currently incarcerated, some of us are not. For many years, the rights and entitlements established by the Canadian Charter of Rights Freedoms have not been upheld in Canadian prisons. Since the Conservatives took power, we have returned to system of incarceration based on retribution rather than rehabilitation. This perspective has had an enormous economic impact, with the costs of prison and prison construction rising. This money could have been better spent elsewhere. We are writing to urge you to defend the rights that all people are entitled to, regardless of whether they are in the community, or behind bars. You ran on a platform describing yourself as “real change” and hope. Here’s what we think you should change.

CRIMINALIZATION

We protest the fact that more people are doing more time. Prison sentences are getting longer and longer. More people are being brought back for parole violations. More people are facing extra years on their sentences after being refused at a Parole Board hearing. This has both economic and human costs.

We demand that all the Bills passed during the Conservative government’s era regarding prison be overturned.

We demand that the Parole Board and Parole Officers honour eligibility dates. Eligibility dates are a time set by a judge during sentencing after which a person is allowed to appear in front of a Parole Board to ask for parole.

We demand the return of the Faint Hope Clause (Criminal Code, Section 745), as it was in its original form. This allowed people to access a judicial review after serving 15 years of a sentence. If the judicial review was favourable, people were then eligible to appear in front of the Parole Board and ask for parole.

We recommend an overhaul of the parole revocation process. It is unjust that the Parole Board can give a jail sentence of four years after a parole revocation for breaking a parole condition. Parole Board members are not judges. This process is nothing like a trial. The process, as it currently works, effectively results in being locked up for four years for acts as banal as breaking curfew by one minute.

We demand shorter waiting periods for people who have received negative Parole Board decisions and would like to see the Parole Board again. The current average wait time is two years and that is too lengthy.

JUSTICE

We protest the transfer of prisoners based on unproven allegations. We protest the impunity of the prison system as a whole. Our supposed “bad attitudes” are not a reason for a transfer and increase in security level. Nowhere in our correctional plan does it say we must be happy. We protest the lack of privacy both inside prison and when on parole or probation. Many prisoners currently face double bunking, which is accompanied by a loss of both dignity and privacy.

We demand the creation of an independent group to deal with prisoners’ grievances. Allowing Correctional Services Canada to “investigate” itself is an inherent injustice and lacks transparency. We demand that prisoners’ grievances be dealt with fairly and efficiently. That is to say, in good faith, and within three months after the grievance is submitted.

We demand the establishment of paralegal services, access to up-to-date legal texts, pro bono lawyers or law students, and no disciplinary repercussions for individuals using this knowledge to help themselves and others.

We demand the end of all double-bunking practices for any length of time. Double-bunking means that two of us have to live in a 8’ by 12’ cell with a sink, desk, chair, toilet, and one shelf. Living in these conditions has resulted in an increase in incidents of sexual assault, thieving, and fights.

WORK

We protest the cuts to our wages. We should have access to real wages, not pennies. CorCan (Corrections Canada Industries) is a separate entity of CSC. Its mission was to provide meaningful employment and skills. It was a way for long-term prisoners to keep their families together and short-termers to build some money for release. In fall 2013, prisoners’ pay was cut. The bonuses/incentives that prisoners used to receive for working at CorCan have been taken away.

The cost of living has increased over the years, and funds are needed to support our families, assist them in visitation costs, and save for our eventual release.

Currently, the maximum wage we make in 10 days is $69. Of that sum, we must pay $15.18 to kitchen services, $5.52 to telephone services and maintenance, $11 to television fees and maintenance, and $3.73 to savings. Only $33.57 remains. Our pay rates have not been indexed to inflation since 1982. The cost of living has increased over the years, and funds are needed to support our families, assist them in visitation costs, and save for our eventual release.

We demand that our pay rate equal the provincial minimum wage in the province where we are imprisoned and that our pay reflect the cost of living in 2016 and increase each year according to inflation.

We demand that the pay incentive for CorCan workers be brought back.

We demand access to actual insurance for workplace injuries and illnesses. The current $2.50 we receive is insufficient.

We demand access to a Canadian Pension Plan.

Even as we protest cuts to wages, we decry the lack of job opportunities inside prison. We also protest the lack of job opportunities for prisoners who have been released and emphasize the need for job support that specializes in prisoner placement.

We demand access to trades and training while in prison that have an accreditation that is recognized outside of prisons.

PROGRAMS

We protest the closure of the prison farms, the de-funding of the Lifeline program, and the closing of countless productive and meaningful social programs.  As outlined in the Perron Report (Task Force on Long-Term Offenders) programming is essential for successful reintegration.

We recommend that the Liberal government reinstate the prison farm programs. The farm programs helped to foster practical skills, a sense of self-sufficiency, and a form of zoo-therapy through the care of animals. The farms allowed us to feed ourselves and brought in revenue through the sale of milk and eggs.

We demand that the government reinstate the Lifeline program. We further demand that people with life sentences be given a voice in the hiring process for Lifeline.

We demand a reduction in the wait time for all programming, especially for people with life and long-term sentences.

We recommend the reinstatement of all social programs closed during the Conservative Reign, including OPEX, Maison d’Arrêt, and life skills programming.

FOOD

We protest the high prices of food in prison. We decry the lack of expiration dates on all products in prison. We also protest the lack of training we receive inside prison to prepare healthy meals. Some prisoners in minimum or medium security institutions live in independent living units, where they are expected to prepare their own meals. They receive 35$ per week for food. With the high cost of food, that amount is insufficient.

We demand that kitchen and food trades training programs be reinstated and that food be prepared in the prison by inmates – not brought in frozen from elsewhere and reheated.

We demand access to better, fresher food and real milk in the prison cafeteria, where we eat three times per day.

We demand that the meals served by the cafeteria reflect the Canadian Nutritional Guidelines and that the expiration dates on the food be visible and respected.

VISITS

Though we are spending time behind bars, our family members are punished for our actions. The disrespectful, suspicious treatment of our family and friends is unacceptable. Our phone conversations are cut short without notice. Visiting hours are cancelled unexpectedly and without cause. There are insufficient phones on the prison wings. Wait times are excessive. Currently, our family and friends have to call a phone number between specific hours in order to secure a visit with us. Often no one answers the phone, or the phone is busy for the entire period during which one can call.

Keeping strong relationships with people on the outside is essential for our health and well-being. We protest the lack of support we receive in pursuing these relationships.

Even when our visitors are able to secure a visiting time and drive, often a great distance, to come see us, their visits can be cancelled at the door if the Ion Scan Machine beeps at them. Ion Scan Machines, use to detect drugs and illicit substances, are known to produce false positives. We protest the cutting of family days. Family days offer an opportunity to visit with our families from 9am to 3pm. They occur much less frequently than in years past. Keeping strong relationships with people on the outside is essential for our health and well-being. We protest the lack of support we receive in pursuing these relationships.

We demand that CSC staff show more respect to our visitors.

We demand that CSC fix the phone system so the phone doesn’t cut off anymore. We further demand reimbursement for the cost of every phone call when our calls get cut off, regardless of the length of the phone call

We demand the reinstatement of family days. We request that at least eight occur per year.

We demand more visiting hours in the evenings for families members who work during the days and are not available on weekends.

EDUCATION

We should have access to educational opportunities on the inside. In the last 20 years, Correctional Service Canada has cut almost all trades programs available to us. They have cut off our access to outside education. We should have access to education about technology. Progressive changes to technology on the outside leave us unable to function once we get out.

We reiterate our demand for the reinstatement of trades programs.

We recommend the reestablishment of educational programs, especially with regards to modern technology and media.

We recommend that libraries contain more up-to-date, educational books, especially pertaining to Canadian laws.

We demand that all education levels be accessible and bilingual.

We demand that access to personal computers be reinstated.

HEALTH

We protest the lack of accessibility of medical services inside prison. Many people inside wait years for a diagnosis and then are put on another long waiting list for any needed surgery. It can take months to see a doctor or a dentist. We protest the lack of compassionate palliative care. There is a lack of personal care assistance for older inmates, leaving many without compassion or dignity.

We demand that preventive medical services be made more accessible, that access to multivitamins and supplements be reinstated and that CSC honour prescriptions written for us by doctors on the outside.

We demand timely access to psychologists who provide follow-up care, not just evaluations, reduced wait times to see a dentist or have an optical exam, and the reinstatement of free teeth cleanings for people serving life sentences.

We demand that trained health professionals lead programming related to substance use, not prison guards.

We demand appropriate treatment for older inmates, especially for those needing painkillers and chronic disease medication. For these older inmates, we demand the lifting of restrictions on certain prescriptions in order to prioritize their health.

We demand access to trained professionals to provide palliative care and personal care assistance to those with severe chronic disease or disability.

REINTEGRATION

Correctional Service Canada, through its Corrections and Conditional Release Act, is mandated to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community. CSC is currently not fulfilling its reintegration mandate. Many people are sent back to jail for something that could have been dealt with in the community. Once inside prison, people lack opportunities for reconnecting with the outside community.

We demand that more community groups be eligible to come inside prisons as volunteers in order to run rehabilitation programs and build relationships necessary for reintegration.

We recommend that the warden regain the ability to give permissions for unescorted temporary absences and escorted temporary absences into the community. The current system of organization clogs the system with bureaucracy and limits accessibility to rehabilitative outings in the community.

We demand alternatives to re-imprisonment for parole violations. Parole violations often are instances where someone did not break the law and thus, should not be dealt with through imprisonment. This is an issue of habeas corpus, and costs the taxpayers a great deal.

We demand that the Parole Board cease imposing the non-association clause as a parole condition. The non-association clause is a parole condition that requires parolees to figure out within fifteen minutes whether or not they are speaking with someone who has a criminal record or an active police file.

MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS

Prisoners are discriminated against in the media. News articles about prisons focus only on the most high profile cases. Media attention and public service communications amplify unfounded fears. As a result, prisoners face discrimination upon release, especially with regards to employment.

We demand that rehabilitation and reintegration success stories be celebrated in order to commend the hard work of people inside and their families.

We demand transparent publication of findings that crime rates are on the decline in Canada.

We demand that the representation of prisoners in the media change. Having an open-minded, understanding community is necessary to reduce harm, decrease recidivism, and promote reintegration.

IN CONCLUSION

Prisoners deserve the right to a second chance. We urge you to heed our demands to ensure a dignified life for all prisoners, and that all prisoners successfully reintegrate into society following their release.

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