‘They have a lot to teach us’: Inmates call for Canadian justice reform in journal – Manitoba

At 28 weeks pregnant, Stephanie Deschene was put in leg shackles and handcuffs as she was transferred between Canadian prisons. The day after she gave birth to her son last January, she said prison staff were directed to shackle and cuff her again.

“How was I supposed to breastfeed, hold, and cuddle my son safely? Their lack of compassion baffles me,” Deschene wrote in a recently published journal which gives Canadian inmates a voice in conversations around justice reform.

Deschene’s story is one of more than 50 included in the new double edition of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons exploring the changes to the criminal justice and penal system in Canada over the last decade from the point of view of those behind bars.

The journal, put out by the University of Ottawa Press, is most likely the only peer-reviewed prisoner-author journal in the world, said co-managing editor Kevin Walby.

Walby, who is also an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, said when it comes to criminalization and incarceration in Canada, it’s important to talk to experts about what’s going on — and in many cases that is the people who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

“Prisoners know a lot about criminalization, know a lot about imprisonment, they have experiences. They have knowledge that needs to be shared with the general public and criminal justice policy makers if we want to try to understand harm and conflict in our societies better, and deal with it more effectively and more justly in the future,” Walby said.

It’s an important time for prisoner voices to be heard because there is a “glimmer of hope” that the federal and provincial governments are paying attention — Justice Canada is doing a review of the penal system and a study about the treatment of federal prisoners is happening in the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights — Walby said.

‘Toxic for all concerned’

William Beaulieu, an inmate at Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba, watched as the culture of incarceration changed drastically after 2006, when Vic Toews became the justice minister under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In the journal, Beaulieu wrote about how, from behind bars, Toews appeared to “dislike all the federal prisoners.” He said that opinion rippled through the Canadian public and into the prisons themselves. 

Life Line, a program for prisoners sentenced to life, was dismantled and parole preparation and parole…

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