Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY

Posted by strattof on August 24, 2017

Today, Thursday August 10, is PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY. On this day in 1974, Edward Nolan died in solitary confinement in an Ontario prison.

In memory of all the men and women who have died in prison, prisoners across Canada mark the day by fasting and refusing to work. They also call for prison justice. 

Today more people than ever are dying in Canadian prisons. According to a recent Reuters report, “nearly 270 people have died in Canadian provincial jails over the past five years.” Two-thirds of them were legally innocent as they had not gone to trial.

Today conditions inside Canadian prisons are deplorable, with over-crowding and lack of programming leading to increasing levels of violence.

Making Peace Vigil stands in solidarity with Canadian prisoners. On Prisoners’ Justice Day,

  • We, too, remember all the people who have died in prison.
  • We, too, call for prison justice.

CANADIAN INJUSTICE

OVER-REPRESENTION

Indigenous people are vastly over-represented in Canada’s prisons.

  • While Indigenous people make up only 4% of Canada’s population, they constitute 25% of the federal prisoners.
  • While Indigenous people make up 17% of the population of Saskatchewan, they constitute
  • 80 – 90% of the men in Saskatchewan prisons.
  • Up to 90% of the women in Saskatchewan prisons.

SYSTEMIC RACISM

The over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons is directly linked to systemic racism against Indigenous people, which is itself rooted in settler colonialism. Almost everywhere in Canadian society, whiteness is an advantage and Indigenous identity a disadvantage. For example:

  • In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against First Nations children by providing up to 38% less child welfare funding on First Nations. The Trudeau government continues to refuse to comply with the Tribunal’s ruling.
  • According to a December 2016 report by the Parliamentary budget Officer, the federal government spends $6,500 – $9,500 less per student at schools on First Nations than the provinces spend on the education of children.

A PATTERN OF INCARCERATION

The over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons is part of an historical pattern of incarcerating Indigenous peoples.

The Pass System (1885 – 1951) made reserves into prisons, as no Indigenous person was allowed to leave the reserve without the permission of the Indian agent. 

Residential Schools (1880s–1996) incarcerated Indigenous children, who, having been forcibly removed from their families, often died at the schools from malnutrition, disease, and abuse.

TRUTH & RECONCILIATION

Recommendation #30 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on all levels of government to “Commit to eliminating the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody.”

PRISON PRIVATIZATION & CUTBACKS

Conditions inside Saskatchewan provincial prisons are particularly harsh because of Sask Party government cutbacks and privatization of prison services.

PRIVATIZATION OF PHONE SERVICES

In 2014, the Sask Party government signed a contract with Synergy/Telecom, turning prisoner-family phone contact into a for-profit enterprise. A local phone call now costs $2.50, making staying in touch with families and friends nearly impossible for prisoners.

Synergy/Telecom, a Texas-based company, makes $9 million a year from those calls.

CUTS TO PRISONERS’ WAGES

In 2017, the Sask Party government cut prisoners’ wages from $3 a day to $1 a day. Prisoners at Regina Provincial Correctional Centre held a work strike to protest the cuts. In the words of one of the striking prisoners, Kenny Morrison, “With a dollar a day, you can’t even send a letter,” which costs $1.25.

Prisoners also need to purchase personal items such as toothpaste and deodorant.

PRIVATIZATION OF FOOD SERVICES

In 2015, the Sask Party government privatized prison food services, contracting out meal preparation to Compass Group, a for-profit, multi-national corporation. Now meals for Saskatchewan’s prison population are prepared in Alberta and trucked in frozen.

Since food privatization took effect, prisoners at Regina’s Correctional Centre have held a number of hunger strikes, citing concerns about food quality and quantity.

Nutritious food is an essential part of prisoner rehabilitation and brings lasting benefits to prisoners and society.

TAKE ACTION FOR PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY

  • Let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know you want his government to implement all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Draw his attention especially to Recommendation # 30: “Commit to eliminating the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody.” trudeau@parl.gc.ca or 613-922-4211
  • Send the same message to Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale:

Jody.Wilson-Raybould@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-1416

ralph.goodale@parl.gc.ca or 613-947-1153

  • Let Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall know you want his government to begin immediately to implement recommendation # 30 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “Commit to eliminating the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody.” Also tell Premier Wall you want his government to reverse its prison privatization policies and cuts to prison wages: premier@gov.sk.ca or 306-787-9433.
  • Send the same message to Saskatchewan Minister of Justice, Gordon Wyant: minister@gove.sk.ca or 306-787-5353.

No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.—Nelson Mandela

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