How long?

April 24, 2020

Policy Options – Pamela Palmater and Senator Kim Pate
Prisoners’ death toll will mount without releasing the most vulnerable – Prisoners’ lives are at risk as the virus has the potential to spread like “wildfire.” The Public Safety minister must act decisively.

The warnings are becoming more and direr.  The authors – both well versed in federal prison matters – first draw attention to the presence of the Coronavirus in various prisons and then offer this assessment:  “What is clear is that the number of releases has not increased beyond ordinary rates of about 600 prisoners released each month last year and the Minister’s office has acknowledged that the slight downward trend in the prison population during this pandemic is at least in part a function of the reduced numbers of prisoners being admitted to federal penitentiaries.”  Others, including the Correctional Investigator have voiced much the same conclusion, also without any adequate response from the federal government.

 The Guardian (UK) – US Desk – Ed Pilkington
Mass incarceration could add 100,000 deaths to US coronavirus toll, study finds

A study by the US American Civil Liberties Union and researchers is identifying the prisons as a potential source for a significant portion of deaths from Covid-19 and has voiced a warning that the prisons are ideal incubators for the virus.  Further, the study says:  “The findings indicate that — even if communities across the United States continue practicing social distancing and following public health guidance — we will still experience much higher death rates if no substantial action is taken to reduce jail populations.”     ACLU Study:  Flattening the Curve: Why Reducing Jail Populations is Key to Beating COVID-19   Related article:  VOX (US) – German Lopez    Why US jails and prisons became coronavirus epicenters – Jails and prisons in the US are reporting coronavirus outbreaks. That’s bad for everyone.

 Justin Piché: Dear Government:

There is always controversy around how best to persuade government to act in crisis and pandemics.  The link is to a tweet in which the approach to viable solutions may be swamped before the solution gets a breath of fresh air.  Piché is a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and poses some considerations that may help to explain why the federal government is so slow about confronting the virus in the prisons.   Related article: The – Victoria Law   Louisiana’s Longest-Serving Incarcerated Woman, Recommended for Clemency Last July, Hospitalized with COVID-19

The Intercept (US) -Akela Lacy, Alice Speri, Jordan Smith, Sam Biddle
 Prisons Launch “Absurd” Attempt to Detect Coronavirus in Inmate Phone Calls

Coronavirus and prison policy can make for some bizarre stories but none quite like this one.  Three US states – Alabama, California and Georgia – have purchased and are using software to monitor telephone conversations with prisoners and their families to determine if the virus is a part of the conversation.  No one appears quite sure what happens once discovered.  Called Verus, the program zeros in on certain key words.  “It automatically downloads, analyzes, and transcribes all recorded inmate calls, proactively flagging them for review,” explains a Verus product brochure, which also claims this “near real-time intelligence” can be used to identify sick inmates, help allocate personnel in understaffed prisons, and even prevent “COVID-19 related murder.”  Though in use of 11 states at 26 facilities, the purpose of use of the software is not always virus talk monitoring.

Toronto Star – Louise Montsebraaten
Ontario to allow people on social assistance to keep part of emergency benefits

The notion seems counter-productive.  Why would you claw back money given to people on the edge trying to survive, especially when you acknowledge they are the same people delivering us from virus peril doing minimum wage work?  The Ontario government is focused on those on EI and disability and is among most provinces that claw back federal top up.  The federal government is advocating that the provinces ignore the federal CERB payments – about $30 million a month to the targeted groups. Federal Minister for Employment Carla Qualtrough  “urged all provinces April 13 to exempt CERB payments from social assistance claw backs “to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind.””  Recipients under Ontario’s decision will be able to keep about $1100 of the $2,000 per month federal payment.  Time to re-assess claw back policies across the country?   Related article: Senator René Cormier – Improve CERB payments and look to universal basic income:  Letter from a group of senators to government

BBC4 (UK) – Poet Brenda Birungi

The link is to a 28 minute audio reflection / commentary and poetry around the increasing practice of putting women in jail for short term sentences.  The audio goes through a number of cases describing the circumstances around some women who were sent to jail for a short sentences for relatively minor crime.  A good reminder that women are often on the discriminatory end of the criminal justice system and both in the UK, Canada and the US the numbers incarcerated are rising.

Lawyer’s Daily – Amanda Jerome
Ontario not immune from negligence liability in administrative segregation class action, court rules

Earlier this week the Federal government decided not to further appeal the limitations on solitary confinement in the nation’s jails.  A second and related issue is whether the government is protected from liability for imposing extended solitary confinement.  The answer is that the government and correctional services can be sued for wrong doing and are not protected from any liability from negligence in the administration of solitary. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Paul) Perell “determined that the class members, made up of approximately 11,000 prisoners, are “entitled to an aggregate damages award of $30 million.”

CBC News – John Paul Tasker
Trudeau is talking about more gun control — but he hasn’t enacted the last round of firearms changes – More than 30 amendments to the Firearms Act are still pending, including background check reforms

The political intent to improve firearm control in Canada continues to be puzzling in the light of the status of Canada’s most recent legislative and regulatory changes that remain on the shelf.  While the announcement seems to veer towards military assault rifles, much of the controversy with the elements on the shelf reflects a reluctance to tackle hand guns.  “The legislation (Bill C-71) enhances background checks, forces retailers to keep records of firearms sales and tweaks the authorization to transport (ATT) rules — but many of those changes have been in limbo because the prime minister’s cabinet hasn’t issued the necessary orders to implement the new regulations. They are listed on the government’s website as “amendments not in force.”

National Post – Chris Selley
Trudeau was wrong to tell reporters to anonymize the Nova Scotia mass killer – Interestingly, everyone demanding that news outlets not name the Nova Scotia killer … already knows his name

This article is close enough to actual and very painful events to sting a little in its question:  what do we get from not naming the Nova Scotia mass murderer or, as Selley suggests, anonymizing him?  Does the refusal to give the murderer his name and life help in the effort to resolve victimization?  “And no one, surely, would suggest not naming the biggest inspiration of all to these wastrels: a certain former Chancellor of Germany. Surely that would seem more like an act of erasure than of condemnation. There is power in naming someone, I think, and it works just as well in condemning as in does in valorizing.”   Related article: Globe and Mail – Robin Urback   Refusing to name the Nova Scotia mass shooter avoids one problem – but creates another

Blogger Russell Webster (UK)
The voluntary sector and Muslim prisoners – A commentary by Raheel  Mohammed, Director of Maslaha

Webster, on the eve of the Muslim Ramadan (starting April 23), asks the head of a Muslim agency for challenging and changing conditions that lend themselves to inequalities, especially in the UK prison system.  The report from Maslaha is called  Time to End the Silence and “shows in stark detail how Muslims in prison face racism which obstructs them from practising their religion and prevents them from accessing vital services such as mental health programmes.”   Full report: