THE PEN

freedom-1125539_1280When Danny Williams was in power one of the first things he did was to close a prison farm on the Salmonier line. The folks who did their time on the farm learned the rudiments of that profession. It was some training for life outside in the real world. The premier must have thought there wouldn’t be much farming done here anymore, as he cited that reason in closing the place. The problem was that the farm convicts were of the low risk variety, older, in for nonviolent offenses. My problem with that decision was that it ignored the focus on the rehabilitation of the prisoners and left them with nothing productive to do back at the HMP in St. John’s. And that is where this story begins. If you have never had the pleasure of walking around her majesties penitentiary you really should. It is like walking into history, if history was something akin to a bad dream. Most of the structure is over a hundred years old. There is one area of ground the folks can walk around in for set periods of time. Most of the rest are little cozies where a couple of guards perch by TV screens in a central office with two to four wards facing them. Each ward has a main room with a TV and chairs, the cells circling it and that’s it. Every request made to staff is in a low pitched shout of “sir”! And most responses to inmates are equally loud shouting out the inmates’ last name. There is a trailer between the wrought iron front gates and the largest building that serves as a visiting area for family. They do their own meals and while it is better than what you see in the movies, the food is, to put it kindly, pretty basic. The ‘shoe’, aka the special handling unit, is where they put the troublemakers and what exactly that is like I could not tell you as lawyers don’t get to see in there. The guards are pleasant enough with more training than in years past. Possible problems for everyone must include tremendous boredom livened up by occasional moments of chaos.  It seems to me that the place is constantly overcrowded with nonviolent offenders standing cheek by jowl with hardened criminals. It was not supposed to be this way. The pen was due to be done away with, or at least modernized. Ten years ago there was a resolution. Nothing happened. Now more than a year into Premier Dwight Balls administration more of the same, which is nothing. It is as if both parties agree that the welfare of criminals, most of whom are minor offenders who still will contribute to society, is not worth it. Section 718 of the criminal code of Canada states that the principles of sentencing include the rehabilitation of the offender. That was what the farm was about. That is what work programs and counselling and continuing education are about. And that would be what a reasonable standard of living for the most marginalized people in our society, our offenders doing their time, in most cases with the knowledge that someday they will indeed go back into the world, is about. We need a new facility and we needed it for awhile. Or we can simply push them down until they get out anyway, hardened and ticked off and coming soon to avenue near you. It should be an easy choice.

Share