In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
BC Prison Situation Goes From Bad to Worse

Joint Effort's Statement at The Politics of Prison: From Bad to Worse
- A public forum in response to the recent cuts announced to prisons in BC

March 2, 2002.

When we look at the role of prison in our society, we see the reflection of a nation that is filled with racism, classism, sexism and poverty; in short we find a society that has not developed the social mechanisms to deal with these issues as a community. Instead we see governments legislating poverty and criminalizing dissent. When the bc government announced massive cuts that would affect many of our social programs we were told that the only possible way to reduce the deficit would be off the backs of women, children, the elderly, the sick and the poor. In amongst all these cuts it was announced that there would be a 21% reduction in operating costs to the bc correctional branch.

As prisoners' rights activists we hope to expose what these cuts and closures mean to not only the people who are already in prison in this province, but also to anyone who might find themselves in conflict with the law.

We have been told that some of the cuts will take the form of:

  • Closing prisons
  • Double bunking prisoners
  • Discontinuing community contracted drug and alcohol programs
  • reduced funding for alternative measures, community work service and violence in relationship programs
  • Reducing the number of prison employees

But the cuts don't stop there, the government is also slashing funding to Legal Aid and court services. Some of the more obvious concerns are that...

When it was announced that they would be closing 8 provincial prisons, there was no talk of reducing the number of prison beds. They are talking about consolidating the existing prisons by closing 8 open and medium security prisons so that only maximum security prisons remain. This will be done by double bunking the existing prisoner population. The problems with double bunking are personal safety and the tensions that can arise when housing two or more prisoners in a cell that was designed to hold one. Not to mention the effect of overcrowding on programs and work options available within the prison, the time and space constraints for visits with family, friends and council, even food supply can be affected.

As to the reduction in prison staff we question how will this affect programs available to prisoners? Such as education, counseling, treatment, as well as pre and post release initiatives.

BCCW - the provincial women's prison - is slated for closure. They currently have an exchange of services agreement that allows federally sentenced women to be held there. What will happen to these federally sentenced women, and what does this mean for provincially sentenced women?

Another major concern is the privatization of our prisons. This is a dangerous new trend that has taken hold in other countries and is working its way into canada with the building of our first privatized prison in ontario.

So, who is in prison? The poor, the marginalized and the dispossessed. As of ten years ago over 2.5 million canadians had a criminal record, who knows what that number is today.

I want to talk for a moment about the last reported prison year. Nationwide in that period 220,600 adults were admitted to custody. 50% of all those prisoners were remanded to custody - that means they were in prison not even having been convicted, or sentenced, another 38% were in on provincial sentences, 2% were federally sentenced, and the remaining 10% of prisoners were under temporary detention such as immigration holds.

It is important to note that 80% of provincial prisoners are serving time for non- violent offences 44% of provincial prisoners were sentenced to custody for property crime, disturbing the peace, public morals offences, or failure to appear another 19% were in for non payment of fines

The majority of prisoners were un-employed at the time of arrest the majority of prisoners have a grade 9 education or lower the majority of women in prison have histories of physical or sexual abuse first nations men, women, and youth are all highly over-represented in this country's prison population

Given the facts, it is generally agreed that the majority of prisoners do not pose a serious threat to society and do not need to be isolated from the community. Incarceration is expensive and it does not work; it is not designed to rehabilitate the offender, it does not deter crime and it does not compensate the victim. Even the justice system recognizes these truths. Over the past few years legislation around sentencing options has allowed an increase in the use of alternatives to incarceration. However these options do not go far enough, we need to examine ways of reducing the prisoner population and the over-inflated correctional budget.

Our national corrections budget has reached $2.4 billion dollars. If you add in costs of policing and courts it is over $10 billion. This was a 5% increase over the previous year despite the fact that overall crime rates and are down for seven years in a row. This is money that would have a greater impact on society if it was used to heal, rather than isolate our communities. We need to decriminalize - decarcerate - and dismantle this system.