Prison Law and Human Rights
- Alyson Bear | January 17, 2021
Canada has the second-highest incarceration rates in the world next to the United States. This is according to the Federal, Provincial, Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice, Corrections Population Growth Report. The boundaries between prisons and the community have become blurred and the truth is kept out of sight, out of mind.
This does not allow the public to be informed about the harsh realities within correctional facilities. The public has a right to know, but they know little about what is going on behind the walls.
It is well known that Indigenous people are highly overrepresented in jails but it is not so well known that many incarcerated people are not dangerous. However, cruel lockups, isolation, the injustices and harassment deliberately inflicted on prisoners unable to fight back can make any individual violent. In a colonial context, early forms of punishment were based on torture and directed at the physical body in comparison to the transformation of modern forms of punishment, which is directed at the mind and soul. The mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing of those incarcerated is at risk every day.
Just because you are convicted of a charge and incarcerated does not mean all your human rights are revoked. The right to health care while in prison should be as good as the healthcare available to non-prisoners. Experiencing the pandemic in custody may be considered a “collateral consequence” currently, as the Ontario Court of Appeal found in a May 2020 decision in the case of Brandon Morgan. This means that experiencing a particular consequence, such as the pandemic, makes the impact of the sentence on an offender more strenuous.
Covid-19 is not being addressed appropriately in jails and penitentiaries. This is demonstrated through the action taken on January 4, where just over 90 inmates at provincial jails in Saskatoon and Prince Albert staged a hunger strike to protest how the province has handled COVID-19 behind bars. The inaction is both a failure of the health care system and the corrections systems.
There is a need for the evolution of how inmates are treated. The majority of the incarcerated population are imprisoned due to living a life where they have experienced trauma and are expressing that through their actions. I personally believe the work begins with decolonization and understanding ourselves and the history that has led to the way inmates are treated and dehumanized.
I want to end this column with a poem by Nicholas Dinardo. Nicholas wrote this poem while in segregation and dedicated it to his friend who took his own life in the cell next to him in the Regina correctional facility. This poem speaks to the many issues, specifically in regard to mental health, that continues to not be addressed in correctional facilities.
It is time to address the areas in our society where we are failing our people and create solutions to make a better society for everyone. My hope for 2021 is for humanity and decency to become a trend. We are in this together whether you think so or not.
Process of depression
Some of us don’t want to
talk about depression
for systemic oppression.
For, if we do, we’re stripped
thrown in a dress, then left
with the tension.
Not to mention, the other
dimension of the lens:
when two of their
and search the hems of the dress
then tell me to undress
so they can examine what’s
What’s left is a soul in
distress, a man depressed, a
body in stress, and the spirit oppressed.