Aging and dying in prison…

Mar 4, 2019

Office of the Correctional Investigator
Aging and Dying in Prison: An Investigation into the Experiences of Older Individuals in Federal Custody

Here is a scathing indictment about how Correctional Services Canada is treating older and dying inmates through a joint investigation of the Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, with the Human Rights Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry : “The findings of this investigative report show that CSC’s treatment of older individuals in federal custody does not respect their human rights; is not justified in terms of institutional security or public safety; is inconsistent with the administration of lawful sentences imposed by courts, and; is unnecessarily costly to Canadians. CSC is falling short of ensuring that correctional interventions and services meet its obligations to respect and protect the inherent dignity, characteristics, needs and rights of older individuals in federal custody.”  The report, detailed and extensive and including both physical and mental health notes, delivers eight findings to support its claim.  There are just over 3500 inmates over 50 years of age in the system.  Related article: Ontario Ombudsman Statement:  Statement by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé on segregation of inmates and Adam Capay case   Related article: CBC News – Blair Rhodes   ‘I finally proved my innocence:’ N.S. man who spent nearly 17 years in prison for murder is freed

American Civil Liberties Union (US) – Anderson Curtis
A Connecticut Bill Would Help Ensure That Re-Entry Doesn’t Last a Lifetime for the Formerly Incarcerated

Re-entry from prison to a normal life is not an easy task for many recently released inmates of the justice system.  Even after prolonged periods post release, jobs and housing can be adversely impacted by a criminal record because of “the isolation, stigma, and legal discrimination.”  The link offers the plan the “second chance state” of Connecticut is pursuing to address the obstacles.   Related article: The Florida Sun Times (Jacksonville) Editorial:  Feb. 28, 2019: Florida must wise up on smart justice

CBC News – Ioanna Roumeliotis
‘And then he was raping me’: Victim goes public about shocking attack to reveal justice system flaws

This is an unusual tactic for an under aged rape victim: a minor at the time and frustrated by the publication ban on her own case, Sam Fazio asked the court to remove the ban so she could then address the harm done to her after the rape by the justice system.  Says Fazio:  “”I don’t feel like I can confidently tell anyone to go report it to the police, because it’s been such a terrible process.”

Toronto Star – Alyshah Hasham
Why justice can look wildly different the second or third time around — especially if a jury is deciding

Hasham, a court reporter, says that in a retrial with substantially the same allegations and  evidence, the verdicts can be different, especially if there is a jury involved.  Retrials can follow a mistrial, a hung jury or an appeal.  ““The result in any trial is a complex combination of the evidence and the way it comes out, what evidence is available, what evidence the lawyers choose to put forward, how witnesses testify,” said Lisa Dufraimont, a criminal law professor at Osgoode Hall.”

Toronto Star – Danielle Edwards
Federal legislation for cannabis-possession pardon not enough, critics say

The federal government has decided to introduce legislation that will grant a fee free and wait-free pardon to anyone convicted of simple possession during the illegal age of marijuana.  The pardon will bury the conviction until there is another criminal conviction.  Not enough, say the critics.  Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociologist who specializes in crime, policing and race. “Pardons are not enough to try to repair the harms.”  One particular harm lies in the racism in the convictions:  “Black Canadians and Indigenous people were much more likely than white people to be charged with cannabis possession before it was legalized last year. Separate data on drug use indicates that rates of cannabis use differ little among those groups.”

BC Tyee – Tyee Staff
On the Record: Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Devastating Testimony on the SNC-Lavalin Scandal

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before the Parliamentary Committee has raised considerable controversy.  “The former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before a parliamentary committee Wednesday was unprecedented in its revelations about attempted political interference in the legal system.”  Wilson-Raybould’s explanation of the why is equally striking:  ‘I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House – this is who I am and who I will always be.’  The article quotes selected portions of her testimony.   Related article: Globe and Mail – Katheryn Blaise Baum, Tavia Grant, and Wendy Stueck    A closer look: The 11 people Wilson-Raybould said were involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair 

Editor’s read and suggested sources for current penal issues:

There are two new books that are serious contributions to the US criminal justice reform, both by very formidable scholars and advocates.  The first is Punishment without Crime by Alexandra Natapoff (December 2018: Basic Books, N.Y.).  The issue is the initial encounter between the citizen – 13 million a year in the US – and agencies of the criminal justice system.  The book examines the impact of cash bail, the practice of fees, fines, parole charges and other related criminal justice costs for poor and vulnerable people.  It is a comprehensive assessment of the currents practices and the connection to mass incarceration.  The second is The Meaning of Life: The case for Abolishing Life Sentences by Marc Maurer and Ashley Nellis (2018, The New Press N.Y.).  The book is comprehensive of the contributing factors in life and long term sentences (including the increasing demise of the death penalty and the more recent introduction of restorative justice practices) and offers a number of solutions to the imposition of life sentences on 206,000 inmates.  Having exposed the statistical realities of life sentences, including aging out, the influence of better re-entry, the end of extensions through denial of parole, extension of eligibility for parole, periods between application for parole, etc., the authors suggest as a sure fire resolution of the mass incarceration the use of 20 year maximum sentences with the possibility of civil confinement for those shown too dangerous to release.  One clever idea offered is that of a comprehensive and retroactive review or “second look” of those already under life sentence but ineligible to apply for parole. The suggested cost saving in caring for aging inmates would need to be re-directed to re-entry improvements.  Both are available through Amazon Books.  (Canada’s Lifeline ended by the Harper Conservatives comes in for serious praise.)

Also a worthwhile read on the growth of RJ in the US and public assessment of alternate solutions to jail:  Michelle Alexander’s op-ed in the N.Y. Times:  Reckoning With Violence