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.
Canadians 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.
Kingston, Ontario, is Canada’s penitentiary capital, with seven federal institutions (see the map after jump) within a 20-kilometre radius of the city centre, and another three prisons just north and west of the city. It’s the biggest concentration of pens anywhere in the country. A new burger joint opening in Kingston, a chain outfit that is spreading across Ontario called the Works, is paying homage to the city’s penitentiary pedigree with a menu item called the “Conjugal Visit Burger,” a nod to the naughty notion of convict hookups with family.
At a time when Corrections Canada is under intense scrutiny over the death of a young female prisoner, the service’s top bureaucrat in Ontario is boasting to staff about how they hit their budget target in this past fiscal year. Ross Toller (inset), CSC’s deputy commissioner for Ontario, noted the accomplishment in a year-end memo to employees that was issued recently. Cancrime obtained a copy of the memo (read it after the jump) that was distributed internally.
Despite a series of critical reports in the past five years, Corrections Canada is still failing to meet legal obligations and to fix problems that might prevent the deaths of prisoners, a confidential Corrections document reveals. In more than half of the 20 inmate deaths during a recent three-month period there were “compliance issues,” according to the Deaths in Custody bulletin for July through September 2010. Cancrime obtained a copy of the internal, six-page document (read it after the jump), produced by the federal prison service’s Incident Investigations Branch.
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.
The Tories hauled away the prison cows, but prison minister Vic Toews will do an impression of a cash cow Wednesday in Kingston, Ontario. Toews will be in the eastern Ontario city – Canada’s penitentiary capital with 7 pens in the area – to make yet another election-style announcement about Tory plans to pour millions into the construction of new prison cells. Cancrime has learned that Toews will announce plans for another 96-cell unit at medium-security Collins Bay Institution, another 50 cells at minimum-security Frontenac Institution, which is adjacent to Collins Bay, and more cells at medium-security Bath Institution, just west of Kingston. Frontenac is one of six federal pens across the country where prison farms were shut down by the Tories, despite howls of protest. Toews’ Kingston visit was announced in a news release issued late Tuesday afternoon, perhaps part of a strategy to ensure that protesters don’t have time to organize and show up at or near the institution to try to spoil Toews’ prison payout party.
The union representing thousands of federal prison guards who work in penitentiaries in Kingston and across Canada says a scathing report released Wednesday by the prison ombudsman has it partly right. Correctional investigator Howard Sapers says Corrections Canada has failed to fix chronic problems that contribute to inmate deaths behind bars.