The report indicates that the new units announced today to be built on the grounds of existing federal penitentiaries operated by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) are:
1) Cowansville Institution, 96 cells - 1966
(BQ MP Ouellet's riding)
2) Undisclosed institution, 50 cells
1) Pittsburgh Institution, 50 cells - 1963
(Liberal MP Milliken's riding)
2) Frontenac Institution, 50 cells - 1972
(Liberal MP Milliken's riding)
3) Beaver Creek Institution, 50 cells - 1961
(Conservative MP Clement's riding)
1) Edmonton Institution, unknown number of cells - 1978
(Conservative MP Uppal's riding)
2) Undisclosed institution in Saskatchewan
3) Undisclosed institution in Saskatchewan
* Federal penitentiaries in Saskatchewan where announcements could be made: Saskatchewan Penitentiary (est. 1911 / Conservative MP Hoback's riding); Riverbend Institution (est. 1962 /Conservative MP Hoback's riding); Regional Psychiatric Centre (est. 1978 / Conservative MP Trost's riding); Willow Cree Healing Lodge (Conservative MP Vellacott's riding); and Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge (est. 1995 / Conservative MP Anderson's riding).
As this story plays out today, here are a few questions that need to be asked about the establishment of new units that result in actual answers, rather than obfuscation, so that Canadians can make sense of on-going penal policy developments.
What is Driving the Localities of New Units?
When asked about what factors were used in the selection of locations for new units in an Order of Paper Question (Q-469) tabled by Liberal Public Safety Critic Mark Holland on 19 October 2010, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews outlined the following criteria in his 6 December 2010 response: "population projections; infrastructure capacity of available institutions; workforce availability; and the availability of space within existing perimeters".
In an e-mail written by CSC Assistant Commissioner Chris Price in 2010 obtained by Rob Tripp (read 6 August 2010 post), it was noted that new units would be built "in locations where we expect the greatest increases in offender population". To date, no documentation that evaluates prospective sites for new units have been released to the public as is the practice in a few other jurisdictions (e.g. Nova Scotia, 2010). One must question why this is the case.
Why is the Minority Government of Canada Building New Units on the Grounds of Aging Penitentiaries?
In the 2007 CSC Review Panel, the authors noted that many federal penitentiaries had outlived their life-cycles and were not equipped to meet the current needs of the agency (see page 154). The report also quoted Irving Kulik, Executive Director of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, stating that "[o]ld facilities are expensive to maintain and so when other budgetary considerations come into play, maintenance is delayed. Inevitably the organization has a huge collection of decaying buildings incorporating elements of new construction in an inefficient fashion" (ibid).
Based on these considerations and others, the panellists recommended that CSC move towards building new regional complexes (recommendation 98, page 160) and "minimize the authorization of retrofit projects" (recommendation 100, page 160). The logic behind these recommendations is that if new replacement penitentiaries are to be constructed at a later date (note: a long-term accommodation plan involving the construction of new penitentiaries is to be submitted by CSC to the federal government in March 2011), money is not invested into aging prisons that are destined to be replaced.
The Conservatives appear to be ignoring this advice as they are authorizing the construction of new units on the grounds of penitentiaries that are more than three decades old in at least five instances today. The question again is why?
Penal Pork Barreling?
As the day unfolds, the sites of new federal penitentiary units will be confirmed, many on the grounds of aging facilities located in ridings either held by the Conservatives or that will be closely contested in the upcoming federal election such as Kingston and the Islands where Liberal MP Peter Milliken will not be running.
Given that the federal government is not releasing any documentation related to the establishment of new penal infrastructure, that their decisions are in contradiction with the 'roadmap to nowhere' that is guiding their punishment agenda (read 29 September 2009 post) and that Conservative MPs, including Cabinet Ministers, have been lobbying for these projects (read 18 August 2010 post), one is left to wonder if this entire campaign is being driven by penal pork barreling.
An Investment in Public Safety?
As the Conservative penal gravy train makes stops at a town near you, we will hear a number of their tag lines. The first, is that these new units will enhance safety in our communities by keeping prisoners behind bars for longer periods of time. It should be noted, however, that most academic evidence demonstrates that incarceration has a negligible impact on the volume of complex conflicts and harms in our communities that we call 'crime'.
More importantly, in many jurisdictions where the mass incarceration has been tried, the experiment failed to reduce 'crime' and is being abandoned on mass. For instance, many American states such as Texas are gradually reducing their reliance on imprisonment because of the poor impact of incarceration on recidivism rates and exorbitant fiscal costs. Prominent Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan, who once advocated for expanding prisons, are now calling for dramatic reductions in imprisonment in favour of more effective and less costly community-based alternatives (read 7 January 2011 article in the Washingston Post).
Given the proven failure of mass incarceration, it appears as though the minority Conservative Government of Canada prefers to be guided by penal 'common sense' instead of facts as they roll-out their punishment agenda. The worst part is, if the trajectory continues we will likely arrive at the same conclusion in Canada, as Gingrich and others have arrived at in the United States, decades after we have dumped billions of dollars in prisons in the midst of a fiscal crisis and declining rates of police-reported 'crime'.
While funds are being allocated to manage penitentiary overcrowding, money is being diverted from programming that prisoners may need to safely reintegrate into society (read 8 November 2010 post). As I have previously noted, in one $155.5 million wave of unit announcements this past October, the federal government invested more money in prison construction than it had spent on programming for prisoners in 2008-2009, which reportedly still accounts for 2 percent of CSC's overall budget (read 7 October 2010 post). Does this sound like a recipe that will enhance public safety?
An Exercise in "Tangible Economic Growth"?
A second message that we will likely hear today is that the construction of new federal penitentiary units will contribute to "tangible economic growth" in host communities (read 19 August 2010 post). However, no evidence will be disclosed to Canadians that support this claim.
As noted by Toews in response to an Order of Paper Question (Q-469) from Holland, no such research took place "[s]ince the announced institutional expansions will be occurring within the existing perimeters on CSC-owned land, a review of the impacts on host communities was not undertaken".
Likely realizing that he was engaging in conjecture, Toews added: "Given the level of funding that will be expanded in the communities, there will be an increase in terms of construction jobs for the community in addition to new hiring at the facility when the units are ready to be staffed. This is an important part of ensuring tangible economic growth for the communities located around CSC's institutions".
An emerging body of evidence in the United States is showing that prisons fail to have a long-term positive impact on host communities (read 12 May 2010 post). Even if we are to accept that there may be short-term economic activity associated with the establishment of new penal infrastructure, one wonders if the Government of Canada's so-called contribution to "tangible economic growth" could be used to fund projects that address the top priorities of Canadians such as new hospitals instead of dumping money into aging facilities that may be replaced by multi-billion dollar penitentiary complexes in the years ahead.
Unfortunately, Canadians living in pentowns and pencities across the country are not even being given the opportunity to make such choices. As Minister Toews noted in his 6 December 2010 Order of Paper question response to Holland, "[s]ince the announced institutional expansions will be occurring within the existing perimeters on CSC-owned land, in-depth consultation with surrounding communities was not undertaken".
As the federal government establishes the near equivalent of a new federal penitentiary in communities such as Kingston - where additions are slated for Bath Institution (192 cells), Collins Bay Institution (96 cells), Millhaven Institution (96 cells), Pittsburgh Institution (50 cells) and Frontenac Institution (50 cells) - one must ask why constituents have yet to have the opportunity to weigh in on whether or not they want basically another such institution in their backyard. Is it their contempt for the democratic process and/or bureaucratic pragmatism that prevents them from talking to relevant stakeholders? I will leave that up to you to decide.
On the Side of Victims?
Likely accompanied by a handful of frustrated victims of 'crime', who would rather see something being done - even if its in the form of new prisons - than nothing at all, the Conservatives will tout these infrastructure initiatives as being demonstrative of their 'commitment' to the victimized. However, it should be noted that victims' advocates, including Steve Sullivan - the first Ombudsman of Victims of Crime - have publicly stated that prison expansion does not meet the complex needs of victims. Take this excerpt from a 6 April 2010 interview with Sullivan on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon where victims' expenditure, including cuts to some programs (read 6 April 2010 post 1) was discussed (read 6 April 2010 post 2):
Solomon: "Now I know this is an austerity budget, but we’ve seen statistics saying that there’s more money to be spent on putting people in prison, but it looks like, even though there is a slight increase, key programs around victims are being slashed. What does that tell you?"
Sullivan: "When you’re in government it’s about making decisions and you have to make choices. So if you spend money on this area that means you can’t spend it anywhere else. In this case, we’re spending millions of more dollars on building prisons and that’s a fairly popular position... the public seems to support that. But it also means we’re not spending money elsewhere. We can’t spend that money in two places, and victims of crime, I got to tell you, the stuff we hear from victims of crime on a daily basis – the problems they have meeting their mortgages, needing counselling, not being able to assist their children who are sexually abused. Building more prisons aren’t going to address those problems. And we could put a child treatment centre in every major city in this country. We could build shelters for kids who are selling themselves on the street to come off the streets and try to live a different kind of life. The rates of Aboriginal victimization are so high... by spending so much money on prisons we’re not spending money on those key needs for victims".
Later in the interview, Sullivan stated that the current legislative push is insufficient noting:
Sullivan: "…the needs of victims of crime are very complex. They’re not easy solutions. It’s not about a tagline about building more prisons or getting tougher on criminals. Their needs are complex and they’re very in-depth and they’re long-term. I guess what I would be telling the government is, if you have a pot of money and you have a choice to build more prisons or help more victims, to help more victims".
In response to this statement, Solomon asked: “So as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, that’s your message to the Minister... put more money into helping victims?” Sullivan then replied: “One of my last recommendations to the government will be to take the money they’re spending on prisons to helping victims”. “Away from prisons towards victims”, the host remarked as Sullivan nodded.
What this statement reveals is that the federal government's simple calculation that more prisons meets the needs of victims is not necessarily supported by all of them or their advocates. Moreover, it is becoming clear that victims themselves are suffering directly as a result of the Conservative punishment agenda as funds that should be allocated towards bolstering the ability of the penal system to meet the complex needs they may have - information, counselling, restitution and the like - are being diverted towards building more prisons.
In the year ahead, we can likely expect penal pork barreling to continue as the Conservatives scramble to absorb the influx of new prisoners resulting from their punishment agenda that aims to put more people in prison for longer periods of time with fewer chances of release into the community prior to the expiry of their sentences as has been done in the past to enhance the safe reintegration of prisoners into society.
In closing, it needs to be pointed out that a Memorandum to the Minister of Public Safety dated 1 September 2010 I obtained through an Access to Information request filed with Public Safety Canada noted that the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Cumulative Impact Working Group had yet to develop "cumulative impact costing tools" that "achieved consistency" as of June 2009.
If this continues to be the case, we must ask whether CSC's short-term accommodation plan that is currently being rolled-out based on inconsistent projections related to the Conservative punishment agenda is a responsible course of action. Given what we know about the proven failure of mass incarceration to address 'crime', a Canadian punishment legislation moratorium that will curb future prison growth ought to be seriously considered (read September 2010 article in The Monitor).