The dark side…

July 26, 2019


Hunger Strike at Edmonton Remand Centre, Alberta 

The hunger strike at the new Edmonton Remand Center may offer more than just a piece of news about discontent in prison.  The additional flavour is that the center is for remand – people charged and held in custody before trial.  It is at once a commentary on conditions and atmosphere – especially on the comparative length of time outside vs inside the cells – and on the delays in the criminal justice system.  The center has also experienced multiple overdose incidents and guard misconduct.  (Readers interested in resistance, injuries and deaths in jail may want to connect with this new website which describes itself as “A chronicle of prisoner unrest across the US and Canada, 2010-present.)  Related article: CBC News – Janice Johnston   Criminal charges withdrawn against former Edmonton prison guard  

The Marshall Project (US) – Maurice Chammah
“Cooking Them to Death”: The Lethal Toll of Hot Prisons – As the climate changes, inmates without air-conditioning have no escape from extreme heat.

While the article addresses the heat wave the concern is also around any extra-ordinary weather event such as flood that brings added threat to those locked up in the squalid heat and without cooling mechanisms.  This is not a new concern but one that has a severe impact on older inmates (seniors are defined as 50 in Canada, 55 in the US).  “Certain medications, health conditions, and even old age can make incarcerated people more vulnerable to heat.”  There are no national statistics for the numbers who suffer heat prostration or death but some states have breakdowns.

Pew Foundation (US) – Lee Rainie, Scott Keeter and Andrew Perrin
Trust and Distrust in America – Many Americans think declining trust in the government and in each other makes it harder to solve key problems. They have a wealth of ideas about what’s gone wrong and how to fix it

“Trust is an essential elixir for public life and neighborly relations, and when Americans think about trust these days, they worry.”  The Pew Research Center asked over 10,000 Americans who formed a relatively accurate national profile (a nationally representative American Trends Panel) what they thought about trust in both the federal government and in one another.   The results will puzzle you and immediately invite application to the divisive and partisan political picture.

Blogger Russell Webster (UK) – Guest Blogger Martin Jones, Chief Exec of the Parole Board
New Rules – new challenges

The UK rules around parole in the UK are changing and the CEO of the Parole Board explains the new challenges found in the new regulations in the face of 25,000 decisions annually.  One major part is the reconsideration application by either government or by the inmate.  The new regs put a 21 day limit for the app and have the same standards as judicial review.  The process of the parole hearing and the reasons for the decision are also publicly available to victims.   Related article: The Parole Board Rules 2019

National Post – Brian Platt
Ontario judge strikes down mandatory minimum sentence for first-time impaired driving in case of Indigenous woman

The evidence from the MMIWG commission seems to suggest that the Gladue ruling requiring the courts in sentencing to consider the personal history of the defendant has been ignored as much as honoured.  This decision by Justice Paul Burstein “concluded that the requirement for a criminal conviction (including a $1,000 mandatory fine) for being found guilty of a first impaired driving offence violates the Charter’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.”  The judge, ruling in the case of a 22-year-old Indigenous woman caught with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, ignored the sentencing guidelines and gave two years of probation, also ignoring the consequence of a criminal record and the mandatory $1,000 fine.

Criminological Highlights – University of Toronto (July 2019) – Anthony Doob and Rosemary Gartner

As usual the Highlights contain eight issues and commentaries:  1) Does the expungement of criminal records make sense? 2) What predicts immigrants’ assessments of the police?  3) Can policing affect the offending rate of young boys?  4) What is the effect of police stops on school performance? 5) Did a reduction in active policing cause an increase in homicides in the US?  6) How can penitentiaries avoid the use of administrative segregation?  7) Does adolescent victimization have similar effects for all types of youths?  8) Are sex offender registration and notification laws based on good evidence?  There may be a slight delay in the UofT posting due to summer holidays – please be patient!   (You may wish to have your own subscription: e-mail Professor Doob at  or Rosemary Gartner at )

Toronto Star Editorial (July 24, 2019)
Doug Ford should get facts straight on ‘not criminally responsible’

The Star takes issue with Doug Ford’s approach to the legal classification of Not-criminally-responsible (NCR) that are coming from the escape of man committed to CAMH for treatment after the NCR finding by the courts.  “But Ford’s misguided remarks show a lack of understanding of how the law has evolved to take into account the impact of mental illness. Worse, he appears to be ignorant of some core principles of the criminal justice system… For one thing, the system is set up to rarely “throw away the key.” Even the worst offenders are usually given a chance for parole.”

CNBC News – Tucker Higgins
Attorney General William Barr Orders First Federal Executions in Nearly Two Decades

No federal death row inmate has been executed since 2003 but US Attorney General William Barr is promising to resume the practice, halted for a review of the lethal drugs used to execute.  “Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five inmates convicted of murder and other crimes. The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.” (US) – Michael German and Emmanuel Mauleón
Restorative justice for white supremacists: How criminal justice reform can combat far-right terror

It’s all in how you label the crime.  Once you do, the label determines the response and the statistical recording of the crime.  A crime labelled terrorist gets the highest priority, a hate crime is #5.  If a domestic terrorist crime is labeled a hate crime, it also gets less attention and less resources.  “Our new report argues for exploring new approaches to the problem of far-right violence, not only to address the present policy failures but to determine whether our traditional legislative approach to hate crimes — increasing criminal penalties — is effective in reducing the harms these crimes inflict.”   Full Report:  Brennan Center:  Fighting Far-Right Violence and Hate Crimes (19 page report with appendices on statistical labelling crimes.)

Blogger Russell Webster (UK) –
Prison Safety Report to June 2019

The report is waiting for the appointment of a new justice minister but shows that deaths in custody have remained about the same (309), self-harm up marginally at 1%, assaults up 11%, assaults on staff up 15%, serious assaults on staff up 12%.  “The scale of violence in our prisons is disturbing to say the least; the number of assaults have doubled in the ten years from 2008 to 2018.”

 University of Ottawa –Brendyn Johnson (Master’s thesis in Criminology)
Making Sense of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System: A Study on Crown Attorneys

Increasingly the role of the Crown or the prosecuting attorney is getting examination in the issues around criminal justice and incarceration.  The 156 page thesis touches on the history and practice of RJ and its impact on criminal procedure decisions.  “It was hypothesized then that Restorative Justice is used in a seemingly appropriate manner due to the ways in which it can respond to issues which are important to the prosecution. Other potential positive consequences are simply viewed as beneficial but not offering strong justification for the use of such programs on their own. Indeed, through Restorative Justice, Crowns stay in some measure of control over proceedings while it may also help bolster the legitimacy criminal justice system by responding to certain criticisms levelled against it. Thus, to a certain degree, Crowns are able to reconcile the two different approaches by highlighting the benefits it brings to the criminal justice system while not drawing attention to the ways it does not.”