What’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.
Despite 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).
The federal agency entrusted to keep 15,000 criminals safely locked behind bars in more than 50 penitentiaries across Canada apparently can’t safeguard one of its key administrative buildings from simple burglars. The facility in Kingston, Ontario – a site that, according to my sources, houses dozens of high-powered weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition – was burgled recently by a thief who made off with keys to a prison service vehicle. The bandit got away largely because, remarkably, the Correctional Service of Canada regional staff college does not have a security officer on duty at the site overnight because of cost cutting.
An investigation is underway into a “significant incident” at a federal prison in Ontario that threatens to bring Corrections Canada’s reputation into “disrepute,” the penitentiary service’s top official says, in an internal memo distributed to thousands of workers across the country. Cancrime obtained a copy of the memo from Don Head (inset), which does not provide specifics of the incident. Cancrime learned that police and Corrections Canada are investigating the allegation that an inmate from maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary was beaten by prison staff in retribution for an assault on a correctional officer.
You have to wonder if senior bosses at Corrections Canada are starting to get nervous about a looming staffing crisis. Nearly half of the recruits in the latest prison guard training program at the regional staff college in Kingston, Ontario, failed out of the program recently, Cancrime learned. Nine of 21 recruits in the program were booted last week because they could not pass the firearms testing, sources tell me. That doesn’t bode well for an organization that is scrambling to hire thousands more employees as federal penitentiaries swell with new prisoners.
Corrections Canada turfed from its recruit training program a Muslim woman who would have been the nation’s first hijab-wearing federal prison guard. Layla Matar (inset), a 23-year-old Ottawa, Ontario woman who was born in Lebanon, was cut after she failed the firearms portion of an eight-week course, Cancrime learned. She was removed from the program “due to [her] failure to achieve a qualifying score on the 9 mm,” according to a Jan. 20 email circulated among managers and staff at the corrections staff college in Kingston.
Ex-convict Pat Kincaid says a prison treatment program that helped him make sense of decades of distorted thinking was the key to going straight. “It taught me how to make decisions the proper way and go over the consequences of my actions,” said Kincaid, who was paroled from a minimum-security prison in Kingston nearly two years ago and has since lived crime free. Thousands of federal offenders are not taking intensive programs like the one Kincaid credits for his turnaround, according to figures (doc after jump) compiled by Corrections Canada and recently released.
Staff inside Canada’s five federal penitentiaries for women used force against female inmates more than twice as often last year as the previous year. An internal Corrections Canada report reveals a 140% surge in the number of use of force incidents involving female prisoners in 2009, according to the report. I obtained a copy of the confidential, six-page document. It shows 311 use of force incidents against imprisoned women last year, compared to 130 incidents in 2008 and 128 incidents in 2007.