Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace


Posted by strattof on August 9, 2013

Kinew James  and Ashley Smith  are recent victims of the Canadian prison system. Both women suffered from mental illness, and both died while in custody.

In January 2013, James died of a heart attack after guards in the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon ignored her cries  for help for over an hour, even disabling the alarm in her cell.

Smith spent 4 months in RPC and was transferred after being assaulted by a guard. She died of self-asphyxiation in a prison cell in Kitchener a year later. Guards were instructed not to intervene.

Frontline staff do not have the training to deal with inmates like James and Smith. Why are people suffering from mental illness being kept in prison in the first place?

How many more victims must prisons produce before politicians and legislators realize that prisons are not the answer!

Violence at Saskatoon’s RPC has reached unprecedented levels:  

  • Inmate on inmate violence has increased by 350% since 2001.  
  • In 2001, there were 15 self-inflicted injuries at RPC. Last year, there were 323.

Bryan Rabie, Former inmate at RPC: “I heard people screaming for help and everything. And there’s no help. There’s just a blind eye. When we ask for help and there’s no help – for me that’s a major trigger.”

Dr. Herbert Mansfield Mela, Forensic Psychiatrist at RPC: ”If these incidents are anything to go by, we’re seeing that the absence of appropriate therapeutic environment must be contributing to the problems that are at hand.  If an environment is adverse for anybody to learn and be corrected then you’re setting them up for failure. Then when they come back into the community unfortunately they’re my neighbours and they’re your neighbours.” 


 1.      Decline of the Rehabilitative Ideal

  • Reduced emphasis on rehabilitation as the goal of penal institutions
  • Programs have not necessarily disappeared, but are subordinate to retribution, confinement, and the management of risk

2.      Re-emergence of Punitive Sanctions

  • Attitude that we should condemn more and understand less
  • Ensure prison conditions are suitably austere

3.      Changes in the Emotional Tone of Crime Policy

  • Fear of crime = problem in itself. Measures aimed at reducing fear rather than crime
  • Collective anger and righteous demand for retribution rather than just, socially engineered solution

4.      Politicization

  • Political advantage and public opinion valued over views of experts
  • Branding of bills and use of sound bites (“safe streets and communities,” “tough on crime,” “truth in sentencing”) 
  • Expert voice downgraded. “Common sense” prevails
  • Legislators more hands-on (fixed sentences, take power away from judiciary, experts, administrators)

5.      The Reinvention of the Prison

  • “An institution with a long history of utopian expectations and periodic attempts to reinvent itself—first as a penitentiary, then as a reformatory, and most recently as a correctional facility – has finally seen its ambition reduced to the ground-zero of confinement and retributive punishment.” –David Garland

6.      The Commercialization of Crime Control

  • Public-private mix in penal sector. The development of a private prison industry

7.      New Management Styles and Working Practices

  • Cut drug treatment and community-based prevention in favour of  mass imprisonment and mandatory minimums: popular with public, but with doubtful impact


If even half of the money Canada spends on imprisoning people were to be invested in education, anti-poverty initiatives, affordable housing, and healthcare, all Canadians would benefit enormously.


Saturday August 10  Prisoners’ Justice Day a time to reflect on Canada’s judicial and prison systems


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