Posts Tagged ‘decarceration’

“In keeping with these developments, probationers have been subject  to a growing range of penal controls. During the 1950s, probation involved the offender occasionally meeting with, and reporting to, his or her probation officer, and being bound by the general conditions of probation orders, as well as, no doubt, being subject to a variety of informal local controls. Today, however, many probationers, in addition to the purview and surveillance of a probation officer, and through the more specific and specialized community-correctional conditions of probation orders, encounter members of the Salvation Army and John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies, as well as the numerous church, business, native, and other community groups and volunteers charged with penal processing. It is difficult to conceive that the growth of the Ministry of Correctional Services’ community satellites has not entailed the evolution of increasingly pervasive models of penal control.
Ominous tendencies are…evident in the case of community service orders. They, too, increase the range and intensity of formal conditions of probation. Yet the program has ideological appeal across the political spectrum. Within corrections, it enjoys the support of judges, correctional officials, and numerous private-sector groups who have become involved in the provision of community-service-order programs in Ontario. Much of the appeal of community service orders derives from their perceived reparative effects. But, as Axon has observed in her study of community service orders in Canada, what Community [Service] is, in fact, is unpaid work done by the offender in the community. Whether or not this unpaid labour constitutes reparation is another matter entirely.’

The appeal of community service orders – as with community corrections more generally – also derives from their emphasis on community. As Stanley Cohen has observed, the word ‘community’ is not only ‘rich in symbolic power, but it lacks any negative connotations.’ Different, competing, and even contradictory assumptions can be brought together under the ambiguous concept of community. Leaving aside the problematic issue of how ‘community’ should be define, the extent to which offenders are members of the community that benefits from their own unpaid labour is doubtful. Studies of community service orders in Ontario, and in Canada more generally, suggest that those subject to the program are often young, unemployed males, who are first-time offenders, do not belong to clubs or organizations, and have had ‘poor education with few prospects of obtaining anything but ‘dead end’ jobs” (Axon). What would be the benefit to these offenders, it seems, are better opportunities to become members of the community’s paid labour force, rather than being subjected to forced labour.

At the same time, one segment of the wider community has clearly benefited from, and been remunerated through, community service orders: private-sector groups have derived financial as well as ideological benefits from the development of programs. They pressured the Ministry of Correctional Services to develop community-service-order programs and to make contracts with them for operating the programs. Following from this, community service orders have more to provide jobs for those affiliated with the John Howard Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, the Salvation Army, and other groups, than for offenders. In the process, the incomes of these groups increased. They and their quasi-civil service staff benefited from the perception that community service orders ‘helped humanize the correctional system while providing them with worthwhile jobs (Menzies). In a variety of ways, and similarly to the situation of community-service-order programs elsewhere, ‘in reality, the service which the offender gives is not to an abstract ‘community’ but rather to those agencies and individuals who are willing to be involved with offenders’. (Axon) Overall, community service orders strengthen the net of penal control not only by formally extending probation conditions, but also in expanding the range of non-state agencies becoming involved in – an financially dependent on – the exercise of control.”

– Maeve W. McMahon, The Persistent Prison? Rethinking Decarceration and Penal Reform. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992. pp. 120-122.

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British Columbia Penitentiary inmates believe controlled
maintenance of drug addicts could be at least
one tenth cheaper than the cost of incarceration. An
outline of the British Columbia inmate brief on drug
maintenance is given here – one of many outlets
the inmate group has found to air its views…

A bold approach that could help stabilize the heroin addict,
reduce black marketeering and curb the crime rate among
addicts is being aired in western Canada.

According to a group of 14 inmates at British Columbia
Penitentiary, legalized heroin maintenance is the answer.
They contend present programs are “obsolete and hopeless
failures.” All the inmates are over 30, heroin addicts for 10
years or more and with lengthy criminal records.

Most are recidivists. To them the word recidivist is the key to
understanding why they want change in their treatment.

Through a well thought out submission on why they want to
be clinically maintained as drug addicts while serving time,
they tell society “we are heroin addicts for life. We cannot
be cured, only locked up from time to time when you catch
us breaking the law.”

“Your programs cannot help us and we refuse to pretend
any more that they can. Even if it means we forfeit our
chances of early parole we are determined to draw attention
to the facts.
"But we do believe that heroin addicts can function as productive
members of society providing we are not treated as
criminals and offered rehabilitative programs that include

A year ago the B.C. inmates approached classification officer
Irene Blenkiron about forming a drug study group. Mrs.
Blenkiron listened to their reasons and agreed to become
involved. A registered psychiatric nurse and sociologist,
Irene Blenkiron has spent 13 years helping people with
emotional problems. For two years, she worked among addicts
and traffickers in downtown Vancouver where she saw
death among drug users.

With her help, the inmates brief has been exposed in newspapers,
radio, television, and various professional journals
in Canada and the U.S. They have talked to groups and
individuals, sociologists and members of parliament. Reaction
has often been favorable, understanding. But progress
is slow. The concept of their brief is thought of as being too
revolutionary to gain overnight acceptance.

After talking to the inmates, one MP remarked, “People
think only of punishing prisoners, not rehabilitating them.
The penal system is at least 30 years behind the times so it
will be a tough one to sell.” Other reactions — society
looks on the addict as a criminal deserving retribution as
much for taking drugs as for stealing to buy them. At best he
is sick, but threatening like a psychopath or child molester.
Either way he should be locked up.

The B.C. group points out the addict was seen neither as
sick nor criminal in the early 1900’s. Anti-opiate legislation

changed that and overnight transformed addicts into

“Now in an age of social understanding and enlightened
attitudes, the addict is regarded as being sick and criminal,”
says the group’s official brief. “Yet he is no different than he
was prior to the change in the law. Society, in assigning
roles, has branded the addict a criminal. The addict, through
necessity, has become a consummate actor at filling the
role. If society were to assign the role of ‘citizen’ to the
addict it would find that role filled with equal alacrity.”
They contend the British program of controlled heroin or
substitution maintenance is the only one they have come
across that is “firmly grounded in the realities of life.” Legal
and controlled doses of heroin — or its substitute
methadone supplied at designated areas — “has managed
to stabilize the addict population and allow these people to
pursue and explore life styles unrelated to crime,”
they claim.

Instead of the addict being an expense to society through
his criminal activities and incarceration, he could become
self-supporting, productive, they insist. “We accept the fact

we will always be addicts and there will always be addicts,”
their brief continues. They want an experimental drug
maintenance program started within the penitentiary.

At the moment these are only opinions, expressed sincerely
but frankly and forcefully by each inmate addict. What they
ask for is a chance to see if their program will work where
others apparently fail.

They insist “the drug study group does not intend nor desire
to use a drug maintenance program as a vehicle to provide
a form of legal drugs while incarcerated. We believe it is
essential that a program of addiction to injectable
methadone, heroin, morphine or dialudid be implemented
within the prison system.”

Their reasons for seeking this program?

• Most addicts return to the illicit use of narcotics immediately,
or a short time after release. Because of the present
sources of supply, the addict cannot escape the role of

• Addicts newly released from prison are perpetuating a
social problem already deemed acute.

• Present prison rehabilitation programs are self-defeating
because the addict is excluded from most programs,
because it is felt he will only try to obtain drugs.

What does it all add up to? Fourteen inmates at B.C.
Penitentiary have stood up and been counted. With the help
of their classification officer they have become a legitimate,
serious minded forum within the institution.
They have refused to continue playing the “cure” and
“treatment” game. Their views run counter to public opinion.
Perhaps they haven’t even a slim chance of achieving their

“We would like to participate in bringing about change,” is
how the inmates explain their adamant stand. Time will tell
whether they get the opportunity – but to the addicts time
is one commodity they can all afford.

“We Are What We Are
– Addicts,” Discussion. Vol. 2, No. 1, 1974. 

Photo caption: “Controlled maintenance of drug
addicts is the reaction of 14
inmates to many years of imprisonment
on charges emanating
from drug addiction. At
British Columbia Penitentiary
they have used various
methods to get their message
to correctional officiais and the
public. lnmates (left) D. W. Valouche
and John McKeoff, both
members of the B.C. inmate
drug group, air their views on
CKNW Vancouver. Gary Bannerman
(centre), program
moderator, took his talk-show
into British Columbia Penitentiary.
Public reaction could
have kept the show going long
into overtime.”

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“The probation service was founded in 1907. Its history can crudely be divided into three: Christian-infused charity at the start; welfare-oriented alternatives to custody in the middle of the last century; and a hard swing to managerialism and public protection since the 1990s. Any remaining social work roots had been fully severed by 2000 when the Home Office defined it as a ‘law-enforcement agency’. Ever since it has been subject to restructure after restructure. The most recent was the most radical – 70 per cent of the service was privatised in 2014, against all advice, and the public barely noticed. The Justice Committee is now conducting an inquiry into these changes. The chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, published a highly critical report in December.

Against this backdrop, the graft continues. Probation staff work with people on community orders (sentences that don’t involve custody); they work with people in prison and after; they write parole reports and guide sentencing in court; they support victims; they run approved premises (hostels) for people just out of prison; and they play a central role in the multi-agency public protection arrangements that surround those who provoke the most fear. All important work, but not uncontentious. For one thing, it adopts a model of crime that places individual (as opposed to social) pathology front and centre. For another, it combines an offer of care with surveillance and correction. This leads to such confused organisational straplines as ‘Preventing Victims, Changing Lives’.

Anecdotally, a lot of probation officers say that they’re in the job because they think it matters and, that what matters most are the relationships they try to build with the people on their books. It may sound sentimental; it isn’t. Probation officers also say that the systems they’re working in compromise their ability to offer the most basic elements of these relationships: consistency and availability. Caseloads are enormous and bureaucracy is fetishised.

The 2014 changes split the service according to risk assessment. People judged to be low or medium risk are now supervised by private ‘community rehabilitation companies’. There are 21 of these, covering different areas of the country, and they are struggling to cope. Some probation officers have as many 200 cases on their books, and are reduced to talking with people over the phone or in an open office. People who are assessed to pose a high risk of serious harm to others – around 30,000 a year – are supervised by what remains of the state probation service. Beyond the alarming implications of privatising an arm of the criminal justice system, the most obvious flaw in the model is the idea that people can be put into low, medium or high-risk categories, and stay there. As Stacey said on the Today programme recently, people aren’t like that. David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, once suggested that the phrase ‘people are not things’ be ‘emblazoned on the hearts and desks of every minister and official with any responsibility for probation’.

Our approach to justice is caught between demands for care and a focus on endemic injustices, on one side, and, on the other, reminders of the harm caused by crime and a desire to punish and control the guilty. Probation officers know that both sides are on to something: the pain someone is capable of inflicting is bound up with their need for help. The task is to negotiate this tension, not imagine it can be removed. It makes for difficult work under any circumstances. As it is, the service has been divided, officers are going without adequate supervision, and we’ve just got our fifth justice secretary in three years.”

– Eleanor Fellowes, “On Probation.” London Review of Books blog, February 1, 2018.

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