Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crowded jails create "powder keg"

Manitoba's overcrowded jails are a "powder keg" ready to explode in violence, claims the union representing correctional officers.
Provincial jails hold nearly double the number of prisoners they were built to hold, according to the Manitoba Government Employees Union.
The Winnipeg Remand Centre, built to hold 289 prisoners, currently houses 400. It's a similar situation at every Manitoba jail, from Brandon to The Pas.
"It is a powder keg that all justice employees have tried to manage to the best of their ability," said MGEU spokesman Ken Crawford.
"That ability is wearing thin."

Overcrowding blamed for riots

In October, 27 inmates rioted for four hours in the Brandon Correctional Centre, breaking several things and even starting a small fire. There was extensive damage to the jail, including an exterior wall that was smashed open.
Jail guards at the time blamed the incident on prisoners' anger about overcrowding. That facility was originally built to house 160 inmates and held 282 when the riot happened.
Four prisoners also started a fire in an overcrowded cell at the Manitoba Youth Centre in Winnipeg about a month later.
Two 17-year-olds, a 16-year-old and a 15-year-old barricaded themselves inside their unit, started banging and yelling, then lit a fire, police said.
The flames were quickly extinguished by the Winnipeg Fire Department after police and members of the emergency response unit for Manitoba Corrections quelled the disturbance.
The damage caused by the riot was estimated at $52,000.
The official capacity of the MYC is for 150 inmates. At that time, it had 203.
"You take people in real life, cram them together and tensions rise," Crawford said at that time.

Demonstration planned

Provincial jail guards plan to demonstrate at the Manitoba legislature June 9 to draw attention to working conditions and inmate overcrowding.
The union wants a stand-alone 700-bed facility built immediately.
'We've got a wide-ranging expansion.'—Attorney General Andrew Sawn
Andrew Swan, Manitoba's Attorney General, said the province is planning 200 new spaces for inmates at various facilities across the province.
"We've got a wide-ranging expansion," said Swan. "This year shovels are in the ground in Brandon, shovels are in the ground in The Pas, shovels are in the ground at Milner Ridge [between Beausejour and Lac du Bonnet]."
Swan said the province will add 80 new inmate beds at Brandon and additions are being built at the province's largest jail at Headingley as well as the women's jail at Portage la Prairie.
There are 2,023 inmates in the system as of mid-May, Manitoba Justice Department statistics show. Of those, 1,376 were being held on remand, still awaiting trial.

Prisoners on remand longer

The jails are crowded partly because criminal cases have become more complicated for the courts to handle expeditiously.
There are new rules for disclosing evidence, for example, and many of those charged simply can't afford bail.
'We need to talk about innovative ways to deal with the [prison] population.'—MGEU spokesman Ken Crawford
Crawford said prisoners on remand get little programming and they require frequent transportation for court appearances and to meet with their lawyers.
The union wants the government to get lawyers, judges, police, and corrections officials to meet and find a solution.
"We need to get together with all stakeholders within the justice system together," said Crawford.
"We need to talk about innovative ways to deal with the [prison] population."
Swan said meetings aren't the solution, but the number of Crown attorneys has been boosted to help with the court backlogs.

Hold court on weekends, evenings

Michael Weinrath, head of the University of Winnipeg's criminal justice program, said the province must try harder and move expeditiously to relieve the brewing powder keg.
"Try scheduling [court] in the evenings [and] Saturdays. Hire extra prosecutors, judges, legal aid lawyers … and commit resources," he suggested.

To reduce overcrowding, we need less reliance on prisons and more on alternative sanctions and we need to use prison as only a last resort. We also need to allow judges more discretion by abolishing mandatory minimums and the restrictions on double time credit. Imprisoning more people for longer periods does not reduce, prevent or deter crime. Overcrowding causes increased levels of violence and longer sentences have been proven to increase the rate of re-offending. Prisons are the schools of crime and will create more hardened criminals with their negative environments, influences, pro criminal attitudes and behaviours and gangs and drugs and underfunded rehab programs. The system currently is not interested in rehabilitation or reform as the negative environment does nothing to encourage or facilitate either of these goals. The government could also speed up the courts so people dont have to wait in remand so long. We also need to place more emphasis on crime prevention and rehabilitation and address the underlying causes of crime and factors contributing such as poverty, poor parenting, unemployment, low levels of education, addictions, negative peer influences, gangs, mental illness, etc. If we treat prisoners as animals in prison, where they experience deprivations, are caged and are not trusted, do we really think that will change their behaviour when they are released? Highly doubt it. We need to treat inmates with respect and dignity and build trust and communication between inmates and guards. We need to treat them justly and humanely. We need to think of what response would be in society's best interests. Spending money imprisoning people who will all be released and likely re-offend, is not the solution. We need to invest in rehabilitation, alternative sanctions and preventive programs if we truly care about reducing and preventing crime. 

Manitoba's aboriginal population is 15.5% and they accounted for 71% of admissions in 2005 (and make up 16% of the outside population) up from 58% in 1996. Aboriginals account for 4% of Canada's population yet 18% of the prison federal population. Prison is an inappropriate response to aboriginal crime and their disproportionate amounts in prison reflect a deeper problem within their communities. We need to address addictions, poverty, unemployment and low education levels and not imprison these people. Plus, prisons offer no culturally appropriate programming which integrate culture and traditions and methods or cultural events. The most effective approach to aboriginal crime is healing lodges, circles and restorative justice which involves the victim, offender and community and involves traditional aboriginal teachings. The system is biased towards aboriginals as they are more likely to be arrested, denied bail, convicted and imprisoned. We need to consider alternatives for them and stop imposing mandatory minimum sentences! 

There are too many people in remand awaiting trial or sentencing. We need to only hold those in custody who truly present a danger to society, not just anyone. These people are innocent until proven guilty yet they are treated like they are already guilty by being subject to overcrowding, no access to rehab programs and harsh conditions. If we treat people like animals they will act like animals. We need to treat prisoners with respect. Our system is not about punishment but about rehabilitation. Overcrowded conditions have adverse effects on inmates and can create psychological problems, due to the lack of privacy and increased tension and violence. 

We need to only imprison the most dangerous offenders who actually pose a threat to society not the non violent, those with substance abuse issues or mental health issues, drug offenders, property offenders, etc. as they are not violent or dangerous and only causes further overcrowding. Those in remand, should only be denied bail if they are also dangerous or have committed serious offences.

We also need to focus on assisting offenders when they are released more effectively in securing employment, education, housing, rehab programs, etc. 
Most criminals are not rational in their actions and are not deterred by the possibility or threat of punishment. They are impulsive. They do not weigh the costs and the benefits of their actions. 


Jail riot no surprise

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