Problems on paper

Alisha Morrissey & James McLeod
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The legislation that governs prisons is woefully out of date, but is seen as a less-urgent issue

The substandard conditions in the province's prisons are well known, but one of the clearest signs of neglect in the correctional system is in black and white and on paper.
In the Decades of Darkness prison report published a year ago this week, five of the 77 recommendations aim at updating the dated legislation governing corrections.
Two legislative sessions later, the province has yet to make any changes to the act, but the Department of Justice said it is working on it.
"This process will ensure that consideration is given to recommendations such as those which modernize terminology to reflect a more rehabilitative approach," the Department of Justice said. "This comprehensive review will take some time as various policy options are analyzed and a new act is drafted."
Perhaps the most pressing argument for legislative reform is that the current act contains no specific inmate rights.
That doesn't just mean the act fails to spell out specific rights for prisoners - it fails to acknowledge that prisoners have any rights at all.
"To me it's also a human rights issue," said NDP Leader Lorraine Michael. "I think that people forget that people who are incarcerated still have rights; they didn't give up their rights because they broke a law. Even if they are repeat offenders, they still don't give up their rights, and I think it's important for legislation to reflect that."
Within the Prison Regulations - a document under the prisons act - there is a reference to the rights of prisoners, but it only deals with written correspondence.
According to Decades of Darkness, "there is no reference of the following in those regulations: a grievance process for inmates; search and seizure of contraband; use of force, etc."
Moreover it "does not reference rights such as religious freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor is there any reference to aboriginal offenders."
The issue of prisoner rights is especially serious in the realm of segregation - more commonly known as solitary confinement, or for prisoners, simply "the hole."
"Segregation is - well it's not supposed to be a palace or anything down there, I imagine - but the cells are not cleaned regularly," said Albert Power, a longtime inmate who has spent time at various provincial and federal facilities, including HMP.
"There's a lot of silverfish down there, and sometimes bugs, and the thing with that is, the thing is so crowded that cells down in segregation are for one person, and sometimes there's three."
A Department of Justice spokesman confirmed that with only five segregation cells, security issues sometimes require them to house inmates three to a cell.
In such a situation, one man sleeps on a cot, and two sleep on mattresses on the floor.
While it's easy to dismiss legislative reform as pure semantics, as noted in Decades of Darkness, the law is noticeably outdated.
For example, the only correctional facility specifically mentioned in the Prisons Act is the Salmonier Correctional Institute.
That minimum-security prison closed in 2004.
Liberal justice critic Kelvin Parsons said that while updating the legislation is not the gravest concern raised in the report, it's one that should have been done quickly.
"Really, in terms of the overall report, (legislative reform) is pretty minor stuff," he said.
"That should be one that's fairly straightforward."
Michael said that simply by reworking the overall tone of the document, the result can be far-reaching.
"I think it is important for that document to be changed, and that document be changed sooner than later," she said.
"Because the wording, what's in legislation, can very often shape people's mentality and attitude."
Decades of Darkness echoes that thought, pointing out that the Prisons Act still contains the term "jailer."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com
jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Justice, Canadian Charter, Rights Salmonier Correctional Institute

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  • TheNeedForChange
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Comments/attitudes like I have just read are the exact reason why there is such a need for change! People need to pull together not divide and conquer. The biggest problem with the world today is too many problems with no solutions. The HMP is a CORRECTIONAL facility. It in all the years i've known of it's existance it has not corrected much, in fact it has destroyed most who have entered and those connected to them and left a permanent scar on all. People make mistakes all the time...everyday... People are not bad...sometimes just make bad choices. Nobody can go back and make a brand new start, but anybody can start today and make a brand new beginning! Noone has the right to judge other's...that job is already taken.

  • Sailor
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    The Act contaoins NO specific prisoner rights because when they were convicted of their crimes they lost the rights to be a member of society.

    Prisoners have more rights than the rest of the population. They have access to radios, TV and all the rest of it and also get free medical, dental and all the rest including FREE hotel and board. Take it all fromk them and let them pay for it the same as everybody else.

    When I was in hospital, I had to pay $50.00 a week for a 5 sq. inch TV 10 years ago. Nobody paid for that but me.

    If they want rights, they should have thought of that before they did the crime.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Is anyone else tired of the lame, pointless jibberish continually coming out of Loraine Michael?

  • aubrey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Obviously,not much advancement since Dickens portrayals of prisoners and the Victorian public perception of inmates.Inmates are at the bottom of society's pecking order and are safe targets for venting one's personal frustrations since they are unable to defend themselves.I am sure not all inmates are incorrigible but yet all will suffer for negative generalizations .We need to live and let live because many of those commentators who cast stones have enough stones in their own back gardens for a solid rock wall,the type found in the Lake District of Northern England .

  • TaxWatch
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Yes that is bad referring to a scumbag in jail as a jailer . Let's change it to GUEST of the people of NL. Or maybe it should be CLIENT , as in a non paying client, commonly known as scumbag.

  • TheNeedForChange
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    Comments/attitudes like I have just read are the exact reason why there is such a need for change! People need to pull together not divide and conquer. The biggest problem with the world today is too many problems with no solutions. The HMP is a CORRECTIONAL facility. It in all the years i've known of it's existance it has not corrected much, in fact it has destroyed most who have entered and those connected to them and left a permanent scar on all. People make mistakes all the time...everyday... People are not bad...sometimes just make bad choices. Nobody can go back and make a brand new start, but anybody can start today and make a brand new beginning! Noone has the right to judge other's...that job is already taken.

  • Sailor
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    The Act contaoins NO specific prisoner rights because when they were convicted of their crimes they lost the rights to be a member of society.

    Prisoners have more rights than the rest of the population. They have access to radios, TV and all the rest of it and also get free medical, dental and all the rest including FREE hotel and board. Take it all fromk them and let them pay for it the same as everybody else.

    When I was in hospital, I had to pay $50.00 a week for a 5 sq. inch TV 10 years ago. Nobody paid for that but me.

    If they want rights, they should have thought of that before they did the crime.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Is anyone else tired of the lame, pointless jibberish continually coming out of Loraine Michael?

  • aubrey
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Obviously,not much advancement since Dickens portrayals of prisoners and the Victorian public perception of inmates.Inmates are at the bottom of society's pecking order and are safe targets for venting one's personal frustrations since they are unable to defend themselves.I am sure not all inmates are incorrigible but yet all will suffer for negative generalizations .We need to live and let live because many of those commentators who cast stones have enough stones in their own back gardens for a solid rock wall,the type found in the Lake District of Northern England .

  • TaxWatch
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Yes that is bad referring to a scumbag in jail as a jailer . Let's change it to GUEST of the people of NL. Or maybe it should be CLIENT , as in a non paying client, commonly known as scumbag.