In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Tories target drugs in prison with more surveillance

Aug, 2008
Stark Raven Media Collective

The Tories are ramping up their tough on crime announcements in advance of the looming fall federal election.

Most recently, the Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day announced that the government is spending $120 million on increased surveillance measures to tackle the issue of drugs in prison.

The plan involves a number of security-based initiatives.

Security around prisons will be beefed up and there will be a focus on intelligence gathering inside and outside the prison walls.

This "intelligence gathering" will be done by some of the 165 new special security officers and administrators that they plan to hire over the next five years.

The number of drug-sniffing dogs in the prisons will be tripled and more x-ray machines and ion scanners installed.

The ion scanning procedure looks for drug residue and it is highly controversial. It has been continually criticized for finding false positives and denying innocent people entry for visits.

Even the guards and prison administrators acknowledge that their detecting machines can pick up traces of narcotics on people who have never handled or done drugs. The traces come from things such as paper money in circulation, which sometimes is used to snort cocaine.

The government also plans on creating a national database to track visitors to prisons.

Overall, this will mean a stricter visiting policy. Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society, says this policy will make it harder for prisoners to stay in touch with families, increasing the level of tension inside prisons.

This announcement comes as part of the federal prison review panel recommendations. The prison review panel consisted of small group of people handpicked by the Tories. They spent only 6 months reviewing the system and had a focus on guards and right-wing vicitims rights ideology. The review panel was headed by Rob Sampson, who was involved in starting Canada's first private prison during Mike Harris’ government in Ontario.

Stockwell Day argues that these measures will help make it easier for prisoners to come out of prison clean.

Community groups are criticizing this decision saying the war on drugs control approach has not worked outside nor inside the prison. They say that it is more productive to support prisoners with harm reduction, detox and treatment, community support and show them the respect that the system expects them to show to others.

They also argue that the prison environment itself contributes to many people using drugs to survive the dehumanizing conditions they experience while inside.

They also point out the irony of all these resources are being put into fighting illegal drugs on the inside, that prisoners often use for self-medication , when most prisoners are prescribed high doses of strong anti-psychotic and psychiatric pharmaceutical drugs on the inside.

This focus on visitors and security also doesn't address the fact that drugs are often brought in by guards.

The BC prison guard union is praising this announcement.

The changes will be instituted at all federal maximum and medium-security prisons.

Source Articles:
Further Resources and Information:
Government Press Release