Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of May 30, 2005)

Prison System is all Squishy

  By John Martin

Some mild reforms to the prison and parole systems were announced this week.  No wonder.  Only Michael Jackson and Paul Martin have been getting worse press than corrections lately.  Consider just a sampling of what’s been going on.

More than $700,000 is being allocated to build tattoo parlours in federal prisons.

A judge rules that an inmate is justified in carrying a homemade knife for protection.  Meanwhile, staff can’t wear light Kevlar vests that may protect against knife attacks because they send a “confrontational” message to inmates.

Inmates veto a new uniform for security personnel because the design looks too “authoritative”.

The government paid compensation to an inmate who fell out of his bunk bed and to another who twisted his ankle during a squash game.  A third inmate received a cash settlement when he fell off a hay wagon.  This sounds more like Hee Haw than hard time.

Inmates are given a New Year’s Eve treat of pizza and closed circuit pornography in return for promising not to trash the joint.

Across the country inmates play golf, fish and go horseback riding – all in the name of rehabilitation.  Aromatherapy, manicures, pedicures, slumber parties and lobster barbeques have also been defended as having rehabilitative value.

It’s discovered that inmates have been smuggling extra mattresses into their cells.  (I got caught trying to sneak a Mickey of scotch into a David Bowie concert in the 70’s.  How exactly does one hide a mattress?)

An inmate who is considered too dangerous to be set free on statutory release is assigned to a halfway house in Vernon.  He goes for a walk and kills an elderly man during a home invasion.

Anyway, you get the picture.

It’s easy to blame all this on incompetent, bleeding heart, liberal prison managers.  In truth, that doesn’t describe most correctional administrators. 

The conflicting mandates of the corrections system; security versus rehabilitation, are at the root of the problem.  The system seeks to provide public safety while simultaneously reintegrating inmates back into the community as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, these contrasting objectives tend to be somewhat incompatible.

One of my students summed things up very succinctly by using an analogy from the Karate Kid movie.  There’s a scene where Sensei Miyagi is explaining to Daniel San that one must completely devote themselves to karate or not at all.  He says, “Walk on right side road, ok ...walk on left side road, ok... walk in middle of road, squish! grape.”

This is the problem.  We have a system that tries to incorporate two conflicting goals.  Inevitably, we don’t do either very well.  Moderation, balance and compromise may be at once righteous and Canadian.

But a mushy, squishy, middle of the road approach is no way to run a prison system

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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