Prison beatings put spotlight on correction facilities

Nov 15, 2013 | News

Photo courtesy Wikimedia

Photo courtesy Wikimedia


By Charlotte Anketell

Five different videos were obtained from surveillance cameras in Ontario and Quebec prisons that show guards abusing inmates, according to a report by the CBC.

The CBC said the videos show inmates being punched, slapped and kneed and underscore the need for more widespread video surveillance in the corrections system.

Kevin Egan is an Ontario lawyer who represents prisoners who have been abused by guards. He told Humber News that there’s a problem in the prisons.

“Not only are inmates beating up other inmates, but guards are beating up other inmates,”  he said.

Egan said this revelation is just the beginning and he is working with over thirty inmate clients.

“There’s a climate of fear there, that you don’t talk about it, when you get beaten up in a jail in Ontario. There is a high recidivism rate,” he said.

“If these guys make a complaint and they go back in, they’re gonna get it worse. It happens. I’ve had clients who have been labelled a “rat”, because they complained about being beaten up, and they get beaten up worse.”

“One of the main problems is poor prison design, another is vast overcrowding. We’ve got people double bunking, sleeping on the floor, all of that leads to greater hostility and more violence,” said Egan.

“Ultimately society pays because we’re putting people in prisons who are going to come out meaner, nastier people who have less respect for the law than when they went in.”

Egan explains how within prison walls, there are politics and a vicious hierarchy.

“There’s a sort of code within the guard culture. You don’t rat on your fellow guards for beating somebody up. It requires people with a certain amount of courage to speak about the monstrosities that are occurring within the prison system,” he said.

“The prison life that’s depicted in the movies, is very much alive and well, here in Ontario. The code of conduct amongst inmates is very strictly enforced. You don’t complain or you get knocked around.”

Howard Sapers, correctional investigator for the federal government, spoke to Humber News about what he’s seen in his position over the years.

“When we discover an incident where an officer has used excess force we usually find it’s the inmate’s word, against the correctional officer. We also find that the other inmates are hesitant to get involved, and the other guards are reluctant to get involved. What we normally require is a second testimony as well as video footage.”

Sapers agrees that video cameras are the right way to go when it comes to prison security, however it can have it’s downfalls.

“Video surveillance is important, however it can always have a downside. When you begin to rely on that you loose the human aspect of delegating a situation,” Sapers said. “Technology can be tampered with, it can break. We often find that the video footage is blurry, there can be breaks and gaps, no audio and all visual.”

Egan said that guards and officers need to be trained differently, and approach the prisoners with an open mind.

“The training is huge. The inmates are not always your regular guy. They have history of abuse themselves, they come from neglected backgrounds, addiction problems. There needs to be sensitivity and training on how to deal with people with those types of issues.”

Egan suggests talking about it, distributing the information and making sure that people are aware of what is happening.

“Perhaps even more important than that is calling your MPP, and saying look – this is outrageous. Lets do something. I think part of the reason we have political inaction is that politicians don’t see votes in looking after inmates. What they see is taxpayers lamenting that their hard earned dollars are going to make some criminal’s life easier. They need to be educated that it benefits us all to have a good rehabilitation program within out prisons. Ultimately, it will save us money.”

Egan told Humber news that some inmates have simply been awaiting trail and have been subject to abuse.

“I have a number of clients who have come out of jails with permanent, serious disfigurement and disability, who have never committed a crime. They’ve had the charges withdrawn, but they’ve suffered a punishment that they’ll live with for the rest of their lives.”