By members of EPIC
In recent years, the Conservatives have forced sweeping changes on the way that criminal law and prisons function in Canada. Even though crime rates continue to fall, the Tories have pushed through legislation, like the so-called Truth in Sentencing Act, that increases minimum prison sentences and criminalizes minor offences. At the same time, they’ve initiated major new prison construction to hold the growing number of prisoners their laws will create. They’ve also shut down many of the already limited programs and services offered to inmates (including the prison farm program).
Their agenda means the criminalization of communities of colour, immigrants, queer folks, drug users, and poor people. As they attack marginalized people, the Conservatives funnel public money into the private hands of the prison industrial complex.
End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) is an abolitionist organization that does research, educational campaigns, and demonstrations against prisons in Kingston, Ontario. Since 2010, EPIC has been fighting the Conservative government’s prison expansion agenda. Our region has the highest density of prisons in Canada; the Kingston area is at the forefront of the Conservative push toward a system of privatized, American-style super-prisons.
Most recently, the federal government has announced that the Kingston Penitentiary—the oldest active prison in Canada—is going to be closed. The official line is that the Penitentiary is out of date and needs to be shut down. As abolitionists, we don’t mind seeing prisons closed. The closure of the Kingston Penitentiary, however, is not a way of shrinking the prison industrial complex, but a way of justifying the prison expansion that has already triggered resistance and public outcry.
Blueprints for Prison Expansion
In March 2012, the U.S.-based leaks website Cryptome published blueprints for new federal prison units being built across Canada (linked at end). We have reviewed and analysed the blueprints to try to understand their goals and plans.
Our analysis has revealed troubling facts and suggests that—not surprisingly—the government lied to the public about the nature of and justification for these projects. We focused on two virtually identical buildings to be constructed at Collins Bay (medium security) and Millhaven (maximum security). Officially, each building will contain ninety six prisoners. But we found the following major concerns:
Double-bunking. Double-bunking is the practice of holding two prisoners in a small cell designed for one—a practice that is becoming more and more common. The Conservatives claim that the construction of new prisons is in part because more space is needed to accommodate prisoners without the use of double-bunking. Double-bunking is widely acknowledged, even by the government itself, to be a dangerous practice which increases the risk of violence within prisons and which is psychologically harmful to prisoners.
However, the blueprints clearly show that these new prisons are designed to use double-bunking. A typical cell is shown with two bunks, with details specified for mounting hardware in the walls. Floor plans for furniture in the common area depict seating for twice as many prisoners as cells; that is, the eating areas are also designed with double-bunking in mind.
Construction, not just expansion. Government statements about these projects have implied that the construction is minor, and the term “prison expansion” suggests that a new wing or two is being built. But entirely new buildings are being constructed, each with two stories, and each storey with four wings containing twelve double-bunked cells. With this in mind, the total occupancy for each building will be 192 prisoners, not ninety six as publicly stated. The two buildings together will hold almost 400 prisoners, which means that the new construction is something like building an entirely new prison.
Prisons within prisons. These blueprints depict buildings with maximum-level security, in which the prisoners in each range are separated both from prisoners in other ranges and from the general population. These buildings are prisons within prisons—they permit a high level of prisoner isolation and the use of maximum security prisons within medium-security institutions (like Collins Bay). This approach will allow the Conservative government to bring in super-prisons through the back door, without any public consultation or transparency.
Regardless of whether or not the government’s initial intent is to put only one prisoner in each cell, Conservative legislation like the Truth in Sentencing Act will create an increase in prison population that will make double bunking in these new buildings inevitable.
People in Kingston and across the country have been fighting back against the Tory prison agenda. Part of EPIC’s work is to expose prison profiteers—private contractors who get rich off of prison expansion. You can find a list of prison profiteers on our website, along with the contracts they’ve been awarded and how much money they’ve made.
Stopping prison expansion is a big job, but we can start small. You can organize local demonstrations where you live, and put pressure on contractors to reject profit from prison expansion. You can get in touch with us and other organizers to strategize. You can also get in touch with prisoners and prisoner groups to learn first-hand what is going on.
A noise demo—a raucous demonstration outside a prison—is a great way to show opposition to prisons and solidarity with prisoners. This May Day a successful noise demo was held outside the walls of Collins Bay, with noisemakers and fireworks visible to the prisoners.
Learn more and get in touch by visiting Our Website. There you can find a link to the prison blueprints and read our zine Superprisons in Canada: What They Are, How To Stop Them.