Getting old in jail…

July 20, 2018

Globe and Mail – Sandra Martin
Even behind bars, aging prisoners deserve proper health care

Martin says that 25% of federal inmates are aged 50 or more and most of them serving lengthy sentences.   She also suggests that health care for them is frightfully neglected, hard to get and slow in coming if at all.  Only four or five a year are granted compassionate leave from jail.  The spectrum of a large number of elderly inmates requesting Medical Assist in Dying (MAID) is serving to draw attention to the poor level of medical services that could lead to such requests.  Related article:  CTV News –
Gemma Karstens-Smith, Canadian Press    Lack of strategy for senior prisoners raises human rights issues: advocates  

Globe and Mail – Sean Fine
INSIDE OUT: The decline of parole and the fundamentals of Canada’s penal system

The article is somewhat dated (updated in November 2017) but Fine offers first a success story about a convicted drug dealer who has been in and out of prison for close on 20 years, then serving an 8 year sentence.  Jason David sought assistance to enroll in college and pursue a business administration and marketing course.  Some in the system helped, but the success also points to a scarce event in federal prisons.  Some 68% of federal inmates are held until statutory release – two thirds sentence completion; the various mechanisms calculated to assist in rehabilitation and re-entry are increasingly untried.  “We’ve gone from a system based on the principle of the ‘earliest possible release’ to one based on the ‘latest possible release,'” says Howard Sapers, who, as the country’s Correctional Investigator, acts as ombudsman of the federal prison system. (Sapers has since retired from the federal job and now works as advisor for the Ontario provincial system.)

Prison Policy Initiative (US) – Emily Widra

Incarceration shortens life expectancy

This is an aspect of mass incarceration that is both astounding and totally unexpected.  Widra cites two US studies that look at the life expectation in the light of mass incarceration.  One study, by Professor Christopher Wildeman of Yale, says:  “Each year in prison takes 2 years off an individual’s life expectancy. With over 2.3 million people locked up, mass incarceration has shortened the overall U.S. life expectancy by 5 years.”  A second study, by Professor Evelyn Patterson of Vanderbilt, establishes a direct linear relationship between the number of years in jail with years of life expectation lost.    Related article: CBC Radio (Ottawa) Ottawa Morning with Robyn Bresnahan: Sapers Segregation  (Former Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers talks about segregation.)  Cf also Globe and Mail:  Howard Sapers: The man tasked to solve Canada’s corrections problem  Related article:  The Atlantic (US) – Olga Khazan   The Prison-Health Paradox – Incarceration can sometimes reduce mortality—but only when life on the outside is worse.

Toronto Star – Nicholas Keung
Audit of immigration detention review system reveals culture that favours incarceration

Critics have long suggested that one of the problems with rising numbers in prison is the absolute faith in jail as a default sentence in any conviction.  Now, it seems, the default to prison is overflowing into how Canada treats some of its refugees.  Denial of bail, community or family sponsorship in favour of detention for fear of flight or crime, or for lack of ability to provide satisfactory identification, are prompting the over-frequent detention but even then, says Keung, the detention and required periodic review fall into abuse as well:  3557 people were detained last year but at least 80 of that number are in detention for more than a year.  The lack of available lawyers is compounding the problem and creating obstacles to assuring human rights are honoured.

PEW Foundation (US) – Adam Gelb, Jake Horowitz,  Dana Shoenberg
Public Safety Performance Report

The Pew Foundation is a well-known and highly respected independent commentator on controversial social matters.  The performance report is a summary of steps and results taken to confront the mass incarceration.  Broken into the component parts there are commentaries on most of the factors and elements involved and offers critical insight into progress in justice reform at the state level.   Related article: Pew Foundation – Adam Gelb and Elizabeth Compa   Louisiana No Longer Leads Nation in Imprisonment Rate – New data show impact of 2017 criminal justice reforms

CTV News – Nicole Thompson, Canadian Press
Toronto board of health to urge federal government to decriminalize drug use

“Dr. Eileen de Villa, the medical officer of health, urged the city to call on the feds to treat drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one.”  De Villa publicly endorsed the position last week and sought the support of the Toronto Board of Health to advocate for the policy with the federal government.  One of the movers for the resolution, Councillor Joe Mihevc, suggested that for success the Board was going to need support from all quarters to engage a national conversation.  The Toronto Board appears to be the first to make drug use a public health and not a criminal matter.

Global News – Maham Abedi
Food banks, bills and constant stress: What living in poverty really means in Canada

First, the survey establishes income levels for poverty; then the numbers of Canadians within the grasp of poverty (including the notion of ‘periodic poverty’); then the discussion turns to the management of an income-depressed life situation and its resulting anxiety.  The study presented a list of 16 items that those experiencing the stress had skipped.  Those with four items skipped made up 16% of the population; three items a further 11%; there were also, at the other end of the chart, 36% who were always comfortable.

HM Prisons and Probation Services (UK) – Flora Fitzalan Howard
The experience of electronic monitoring and implications for practice: A qualitative research synthesis

We have heard a lot about “tagging” and its use in prison reform and probation.  The use of the practice, an electronic ankle bracelet that reveals one geographic location using either Radio Frequency (RF) signals or GPS signals, is often regarded as an alternative to incarceration, specifically post-sentence release probation.  Howard offers an analysis of how electronic monitoring is used in a variety of countries; the study is described, limitations acknowledged, and results offered.

Homeless Hub – Anita Desai, St Leonard’s Society
Unpacking ‘Bold’ Changes: What it really means to Create Opportunities for All Canadians

Desai raises an important concern that has found some relief in the proposed federal government’s new housing plan.  Recognizing that housing is the key to raising people out of poverty, Desai adds the suggestion that those coming out of prison are most needful for housing, often also addicted or suffering mental illness, and on the lowest place of any ‘deserving’ housing scale or list.  What brightens the picture for former inmates is the elevation of housing to level of a human right for all Canadians.  Desai thinks the human right to housing for all is a bold idea!  She’s right!   St. Leonard’s Society Link: