Friday, April 17, 2015

CSC's "Beyond the Fence" virtual tour is beyond belief

by Justin Piché, Assistant Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa

As reported on CBC's Power & Politics today, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has launched the "Beyond the Fence: A Virtual Tour of Canadian Penitentiary"on its website.   According to an email written to CSC employees by Commissioner Don Head yesterday the initiative is meant to provide "Canadians with an opportunity to see inside a federal institution from any device with Internet access.  It is also another tool that will assist in providing the public with objective and complete information about CSC's policies, programs and services".

So what does this "objective and complete" portrayal of a Canadian federal penitentiary look like?  For my (tax) money (and yours), the "Beyond the Fence" virtual tour is beyond belief, offering a very limited glimpse into what an ideal CSC institution would look like while paving-over many of the disturbing realities of incarceration in Canada today.

This sanitized portrayal shows us minimum, medium and maximum security ranges.  We also get a glimpse of minimum, medium and maximum security cells, none of which are double-bunked at a time when nearly 20% of federal prisoners share a space the size of an average household washroom with another prisoner.  

We are told about spaces like the program room with no mention of the fact that the Office of the Correctional Investigator has noted in their annual reports that crowding in recent years, in addition to other factors, have resulted in longer waiting lines for programs.  


We are told about the Chapel and religious services in glowing terms in the wake of cuts and enhanced privatization of Chaiplaincy services.  



We are told about institutional security, yet do not hear about how use of force, self-harm and violence have been on the rise behind bars as the Conservative punishment agenda rolls on.  

What is most telling about the tour is that the navigation does not allow us to get out of the penitentiary, which I suppose is its most realistic element in light of the Auditor General's recent findings concerning the difficulty prisoners now experience in working towards and obtaining parole federally.


Overall, this is an example of sanitization and the marketing of pain at its finest.  How much did this cost me as a Canadian taxpayer this election year?  According to CBC's Kathleen Harris the video itself costs $80,000.  How could these funds have been used differently to prevent victimization and address the growing list of inequalities that fuel the perpetual punishment machine / the prison industrial complex in Canada?