Penology

Showing 1-8 of 51 books
Sort by:
View Mode:
Beyond Incarceration

Beyond Incarceration

Safety and True Criminal Justice
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Kingston Penitentiary (KP) was convulsed by a four-day riot in the spring of 1971. The event captured headlines across the country and caught the attention of Kingstonians, who normally went about their daily lives without thinking at all about the institution within their city limits. Yet the prison was hard to ignore. It squatted directly beside the sidewalk of a busy thoroughfare, abutting one of the tonier developments in the city, and commanding a spectacular view of Lake Ontario and Wolfe Island — a view that the prisoners would never see. Its heavy oak gate boasted a massive brass ring. To gain entrance, you had to reach through the iron bars and thump the brass ring against the door — not a high-tech system, but effective. There were gun towers at every corner. A relic from the past, KP was notorious for containing some of the most dangerous men in the country.
During the KP riot, prisoners took six guards hostage, trashed much of the prison, and severely beat a number of fellow prisoners, two of whom died. It was a pivotal moment in the history of incarceration in Canada. What happened then demonstrates why it is urgent that we rethink the way we deal with those who break the law today.
The problems that precipitated the riot in 1971 continue to persist in 2017. Many prisons are old and crumbling. With inadequate facilities, they are not decent places for people to live. There is serious overcrowding, leading to unhygienic and dangerous living conditions. A shortage of professional staff and curtailed rehabilitation programs result in frustration among prisoners since they are unable to complete their release programs and qualify for parole. Far too many people whose crimes could be dealt with by other means are instead imprisoned in high-security institutions. Making matters worse, those in prison are spending too much of their time in their cells with little to do, while extreme polarization between guards and prisoners produces deterioration in the life of the institution. There is a system of grievances, but it is slow and frustrating.
An inquiry determined that these were the conditions that caused the KP riot. We will see that, although things improved somewhat in the ensuing decades, conditions in the Canadian prison system have recently regressed, because of an ideology that advocates being “tough on crime.” This approach shows a preference for long prison sentences and harsh conditions of imprisonment. The concerns expressed in the inquiry are still concerns today.
In 1971, the riot ended with no physical harm to the prison staff who were taken hostage. Their personal belongings were even returned to them. The prisoners surrendered, but did so without having achieved any of their demands. However, a good part of the prison was destroyed and two prisoners died.
The response of the prison system was brutal. Hundreds of prisoners were transferred immediately to the new, unfinished, but already much-feared Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security penitentiary. There they were met by a gauntlet of prison staff who beat them as they entered the prison for the first time. One prisoner talked about being kept in segregation (the “Chinese cell”) in Millhaven after the KP riot. He said he was chained up for long periods of time with no clothes on. Guards would dump buckets of cold water on him during the night, to keep him from sleeping.

***

Perhaps this level of brutality was inevitable, given the long and tortuous history of the penitentiary system. The idea of imprisonment began centuries ago, largely as an alternative to earlier, even harsher punishments meted out to those who broke the law. It was determined that locking people up would be better than maiming, torturing, or hanging them. Mere imprisonment must have seemed a progressive development. But over the centuries prisons developed into an inhumane and counterproductive system, one complicated by many contradictory purposes.
By the nineteenth century, prisons were no longer thought of as simply an alternative to brutal corporal punishment. They were instead intended to be redemptive — a place where wrongdoers could be reformed. When Kingston Penitentiary opened in 1837, it was thought that crime was a social disease. The laziness of the poor and their lack of a moral compass were, it was believed, what led to crime. According to this doctrine, separation, obedience, strict religious instruction, and hard labour were necessary to teach people to respect order and authority. Respect for order and authority was pursued with missionary zeal, which led to extreme treatment that was more likely to break the prisoners than to reform them. Absolute silence, lengthy segregation, and repetitive and pointless labour like the treadmill — all of these were supposed to make prisoners reach a penitential state so they could be safely released back into society.
Despite the assertion that these punishments were meant to do good, an investigative report published in 1849 (the Brown Report) claimed that Kingston Penitentiary was rife with inhumane treatment. It referred to the case of an eleven-year-old boy, Peter Charbonneau, who had been committed to prison for seven years. In the space of eight and a half months, he was lashed fifty-seven times for offences like staring, winking, and laughing. Imagine expecting a small boy to refrain from this kind of behaviour, and then punishing him severely in the expectation that he would somehow thus be “reformed.”
This could never happen in the twenty-first century, you say. On the contrary, the notorious case of nineteen-year-old Ashley Smith, whose odyssey through the prison system began at age fifteen when she lobbed some crabapples at a mail carrier, is a shame to us all. Ashley could be difficult and uncooperative. She was known to have mental health problems. Treatment would have been an appropriate approach to take with Ashley. Instead, she was incarcerated and placed in solitary confinement on her first day in custody. Ashley repeatedly tried to harm herself, resulting in interventions by staff and dozens of institutional charges. During her eleven and a half months at Nova Institution in Nova Scotia, there were 150 incidents involving Ashley that staff responded to with use of force. Many of the incidents involved Ashley’s propensity for self-harm.
Ashley’s one-month sentence stretched into nearly four years in custody, served entirely in isolation. The law requires a review of any period of segregation of more than sixty days. However, in truly Machiavellian style, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) took to transferring her to different facilities, which allowed them to restart the clock and so avoid the reviews. At no time was a comprehensive mental health assessment done, although the need for one was clear. In 2007, after seventeen transfers to eight different prisons in the space of eleven months, Ashley took her own life. Guards at Grand Valley Institution watched her as she died.
This is how far we have come in over 150 years. The physical and mental torture of the twenty-first century may take a different form from that of the nineteenth, but it results just the same in severe damage to individuals and unnecessary and cruel loss of life. Ashley was not unique in her desperate response to inhumane treatment at the hands of correctional authorities. We will see that suicide and self-harm are all too common in prison.

close this panel
Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning

How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father
edition:Paperback
More Info
Down Inside

Down Inside

Thirty Years in Canada's Prison Service
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
A Good Death

A Good Death

Making the Most of Our Final Choices
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
tagged : penology
More Info
Victimology

Victimology

A Canadian Perspective
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
Show editions
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...