Kingston Penitentiary already 32 when it became nation’s prison

Kingston PenitentiaryCanadians are celebrating 150 years of nationhood on July 1, marking the birth of the Dominion in 1867. The year also marks an origin point for Kingston Penitentiary, although the institution already was 32 years old at the time of Confederation. Built on the north shore of Lake Ontario in eastern Ontario, on a small bay adjacent to the Village of Portsmouth, the facility was known for the first three decades of its existence as the Provincial Penitentiary at Portsmouth. It received its first prisoners on June 1, 1835. It was renamed Kingston Penitentiary in 1867, becoming the new nation’s first federal prison. Confederation may have stirred joy and national pride, but it was not a happy time for prisoners of the Dominion. A repressive regime of enforced silence, punishment and hard labour persisted at Kingston Pen.

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Rate of prison escapes increases 45% in 3-year span

RazorwireCorrections Canada doesn’t seem concerned by a 45-per-cent increase in the rate of escapes from penitentiaries over the past three years. The rate in the 2015-16 fiscal year was 1.23 escapes per 1,000 inmates, up from 0.85 three years earlier, according to a departmental plan for 2017-18 recently tabled in parliament (read it in full after the jump). The prison service says that “in spite of the increase in the rate of escapes during the last three years, the results are still meeting CSC’s target.”  It demonstrates that, if you set your expectations suitably low, any achievement is acceptable. This isn’t the only non-success at the $2.5 billion a year penitentiary service. In this three-year period, the rate of “non-natural and undetermined offender deaths in custody” rose by 60 per cent.

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Infamous Kingston Pen throwing open gates to public, again

KPWhen the Conservative government shuttered 178-year-old Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s oldest prison, in the fall of 2013,  it was briefly opened for two rounds of public tours. Tickets, at $20 each with proceeds to charity, were snapped up quickly and the website selling them crashed under demand. Many people were left disappointed. Unfulfilled curiosity for what lies beyond the 10-metre high, truck-thick stone walls will be satisfied this summer, with the announcement that public tours will resume in late June 2016 and run until the end of October. The tours are possible because the 20-acre complex is mostly empty and disused. While tours may offer a fascinating view of prison conditions, did you know you could have owned a piece of the pen, for a pittance?

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Zip guns are dreaded, deadly weapons inside prison

Zip gunWhat’s a zip gun? You’ll get a detailed explanation if you go to work in Canada’s penitentiary system where a working zip gun – a homemade handgun – is a dreaded weapon behind bars. Small, lethal, easily concealed and assembled from common materials, a zip gun transforms any convict into a killer capable of murdering a prison worker, a fellow inmate or leading a riot, hostage taking or escape attempt. For these reasons, Corrections Canada offers new recruits a detailed explanation how zip guns can be manufactured and assembled by prisoners (after the jump, see the zip gun assembly photo montage that appears in a CSC training manual) and what the disassembled components look like.

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Prisons watchdog report suppressed for nine months

Prison fenceCanadians spent $2.5 billion last year to operate the country’s penitentiary system, so you’d expect they’d be entitled to timely information about how it’s functioning. They’re not getting it. A key report on the operation of Correctional Service of Canada was suppressed by the previous Conservative regime and was withheld from public release by the new Liberal government for five months. The annual report of correctional investigator Howard Sapers, an ombudsman who is mandated by law to investigate prisoner complaints, was released publicly yesterday (March 10), nine months after Sapers gave it to Conservative Public Safety Minster Steven Blaney.

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Prison service can’t contain spending or limit inmate deaths, report shows

Howard Sapers, correctional investigatorpodcast.labelDespite an enormous infusion of cash in the past decade, the agency that runs the country’s penitentiaries has failed to deliver on longstanding promises to reduce prisoner deaths and has failed to limit critical security incidents that endanger staff and inmates, a newly released report card on the operations of Correctional Service of Canada reveals. “I continue to be very frustrated that CSC continues to deal with deaths in custody as sort of one-off events and not paying enough attention to the patterns and the common issues that contribute,” says Howard Sapers (inset), the federal correctional investigator. (Hear the full interview with Sapers, after the jump, in Episode 1 of the Cancrime podcast).

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At least one prison farm should reopen, Liberal MP says

Wayne EasterA veteran Liberal MP who once oversaw Canada’s federal prison system says at least one convict-run penitentiary farm among six shuttered by the Conservatives should be reopened and he’s pushing his caucus to do it. “I’m certainly encouraging it be done and I hope the government, when they do their financial analysis, see the worth of doing that,” Wayne Easter (inset) told me, in a recent interview. Easter was Public Safety critic leading up to the October 2015 election. He was solicitor general in the Chretien government in 2003, with responsibility for the Correctional Service. Easter said he planned to meet this week with the new Liberal Public Safety minister, Ralph Goodale.

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New prisons boss can do one small thing to send big signal

thumb_goodaleRalph Goodale (inset), the Saskatchewan farm boy now in charge of Canada’s federal prison system, could swiftly do one small thing that would send a big signal that the Harper legacy of punitive correctional policies will be dismantled. Goodale should move quickly to restore convict-operated farms at penitentiaries across the country. Six pen farms in five provinces were shuttered by the Conservative government in 2010, for no justifiably good reason. Really, Goodale may have no choice. A vocal and remarkably persistent lobby group based in Ontario has a signed promise (read it after the jump) from the Liberals, obtained before the October federal election, to reopen one of the prison farms. It isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that if reopening one is a good idea, it’s worth reopening all of them.

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