Thousand Islands Meeting
Current Work on Justice Issues
Two Recent Letters:
Justice must include care of victims
The Kingston and area communities have shown huge support and passion for the continuing Save the Prison Farm campaign. There are plenty of different reasons for recognizing the value of the prison farms but they are all included in one cause - justice for all.
The Thousand Islands Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is actively engaged in justice work, especially the Alternatives to Violence Program. We believe that justice includes making things as right as possible for the victims of crime. We call for Canada to become a country where the first response is to help those affected by crime, encouraging them to embark on healing journeys. This change in focus will transform our pursuit of justice from one that emphasizes punishment to one that fosters peace in our communities.
The legal and correctional systems in Canada focus on offenders. Very little is done to help victims of crime. Based on Statistics Canada numbers for 2003, each Canadian contributes the equivalent of $365 annually to catch, try and punish offenders. (In current years the government has stopped reporting these costs in ways that are accessible to us.) Each person charged, tried and convicted costs on average about $51,751.00. Bigger jails are being planned.
By contrast, Statistics Canada estimates Victims Services in Canada in 2005/2006 cost each Canadian $3.88 to assist victims of crime. Each registered victim receives on average total services equalling about $22.51. Neglecting to treat harm and trauma affects neighbourhood safety and future crime rates. It is not justice when so much negative attention is paid to perpetrators of crime and so little to the needs of those who are directly harmed.
Our precious resources should go towards supporting the social and practical needs of those most affected by crime. The most vulnerable include the mentally ill, the poor, indigenous peoples, those who struggle with addictions and those who are less educated. The social injustices which foster criminal activity and inhibit the development of effective community support for its victims and survivors must be addressed.
Statistics Canada also reports that less than 35% of violent crime is reported to police. One good reason for this is that some victims would prefer that the harmful situation be made right rather than punish the offender. Not reporting a violent crime may well be better than spending years visiting a close relative in a distant jail. The legal system is irrelevant and possibly hurtful in addressing some crime. We believe that an appropriate response to unreported crime is to create a system that will encourage people to seek justice for all those involved, not by longer sentences.
Justice is done when those most affected by crime are satisfied that things have been made as right as possible, the affected communities learn from the past, and are confident in their ability to undertake, with compassion, expectancy, faith, and hope, the tasks of building and sustaining peace.
Thousand Islands Meeting
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Justice must include prison staff
The federal government should consider prison staff to be part of the public that the Ministry of Public Safety is supposed to protect. He must avoid conditions that increase stresses for guards and their families. The Quaker position is that prison is as destructive to the jailer as it is to the jailed.
We know that prison work is dangerous and difficult. According to the website prisonofficer.org "Correctional Officers (CO's) have the second highest mortality rate of any occupation; 33.5% of all assaults in prisons and jails are committed by inmates against staff. A CO's 58th birthday, on average, is their last. A CO will be seriously assaulted at least twice in a 20 year career. On average a CO will live only 18 months after retirement. CO's have a 39% higher suicide rate than any other occupation, and have a higher divorce and substance abuse rates then the general population.“
A Saskatchewan study done in 2003 showed that 79% of all correctional workers have witnessed a traumatic event and 100% are regularly exposed to the re-telling of such stories. Both the Saskatchewan study and another done by the Correctional Service of Canada in 1992 showed that at least 25% of corrections workers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These studies were done at a relatively peaceful time in the history of corrections when government policy sought to minimize crowding in jails. Correctional officers will tell you that in their experience, prison violence rises in relation to population.
Harper's "truth-in-sentencing" legislation (Bill C-25) ended the near-automatic two-for-one credit for pre-trial jail time, at an estimated cost of $2 billion over five years. When this came into effect earlier this year, federal prison populations soared. At Pittsburgh Institution, the numbers went up by some 60 inmates.
This rise in prison population coincided with reduced "deployment standards" (fewer security staff) and less work for the prisoners when prison farms were shut down and small employment projects, such as refurbishing military vehicles, were shifted from higher to lower-security levels.
According to the "Roadmap to Public Safety" offender employment was a concern even before the increase in population, but there is no evidence available to the public confirming that anything has been done to resolve the problem. The combination of increased crowding and reduced employment creates unrest throughout the system. This poses both physical and emotional risks for staff.
Correctional Officers face these trying conditions for up to 16 hours every working day, throughout their careers. Little wonder that a study conducted last year by the Public Service Alliance of Canada found that the Correctional Service of Canada has one of the lowest job-satisfaction rates in the public sector.
We are glad that the Correctional Service of Canada's Employee Assistance program has brought Kevin Gilmartin, author of “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement,” to Kingston to speak. Kevin Gilmartin's work provides many positive methods to help the men and women working in corrections to care for themselves.
The Harper government must take responsibility for the harmful consequences of its legislation. Real justice must include prison staff.
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