Jail as a holiday resort

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To hear Harper tell it

People who believe federal prisoners have it rosy behind bars don’t know what they are talking about.

Our federal prisons are horrible, violent places packed with 14,000 prisoners who sit around all day long, mostly watching television.

The prisons are noisy, over-crowded, double-bunked, stinking places.

For prisoners it’s all about watching sit-coms and reality shows during the day, and boxing, wrestling and extreme fighting at night. TV morning, noon and night.

Within two years after coming to power in 2006, the Stephen Harper government had cut in-prison training programs by 51 %. Since then the Conservatives have cut the rest. To save money, they said.

Prisons have become giant warehouses of humanity, with prisoners waiting to be let out or die in their cells.

Learning a trade is out of the question -- 97% of our prisoners are high school drop-outs.  And 30 % suffer from mental illness, 40 % from alcohol or drugs.

No wonder Harper cut trade school programs in federal prisons.

How do you learn a trade if you can’t read or write? So just rot in jail.

There used to be a prison farm outside Kingston where prisoners who wanted –or had trouble relating to other human beings -- could milk cows, feed chickens and grow vegetables, but the Harper government closed that down. Too expensive Harper said.

There’s a new problem. The cons are getting old. Aged prisoners are the fastest-growing segment of our federal prison population.

Twenty percent of our federal prisoners are more than 50 years old. They have the same problems as do the elderly in the rest of society.

Some use walkers to get up and down jailhouse corridors. Some of them guys in their 70s or 80s, run up and down aimlessly in wheel chairs.

Some have forgotten their own names, others can’t remember why they are here. Sometimes guards remind them. Sometimes they take pity on them and don’t tell them.

Elderly prisoners watch a lot more television. It is a link with the outside, sometimes their only link. For many, people who once cared about them have all died.

The government calls federal prisons “correctional institutions.” That is only half true.  No correction takes place here; but these places are definitely institutions, as in human storage institutions.

Canada’s “Correctional” Investigator Howard Sapers issued a report earlier this year declaring aging prisoners a major problem in our prison system.

They are often an easy target for younger more violent men, who share over-crowded cells with them.

Older prisoners are assaulted by younger inmates, ordered to share cigarettes, special food or gifts, and forced to sleep up in the less-desirable top bunks.

The problem is expected to worsen as Harper crime laws send a new younger generation of prisoners into over-crowded prisons.

Prisoners are supposed to be in jail as a punishment, not for punishment.

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