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Double-bunking: Harper's 'solution' to prison overcrowding

John Bell

February 21, 2013

A new directive from the Harper Tories clears the way for Canadian prisons to put two inmates in cells designed for one--a practice called double bunking--in order to increase inmate oppression, prison guard stress and corporate profits.
Previous directives on housing from the Commissioner of the Correctional Services of Canada contained the words: “single occupancy accommodation is the most desirable and correctionally appropriate method of housing offenders.” Although prisons are part of his portfolio and he postures as an anti-crime crusader, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denied any knowledge of the change but insisted double bunking is “a completely normal practice.”
Harper's "tough on crime" approach is only tough on those capitalism criminalizes--which in Canada's prisons includes a disproportionate number of indigenous and racialized people, people with mental health issues and people living in poverty. The austerity agenda's attacks on jobs and services promotes petty crime as people struggle to survive, and gives billions to prisons and police to incarcerate and scapegoat oppressed people--while the bosses steal our wages, the military breaks and enters Afghanistan, and the oil barons murder our environment.
Unions representing prison workers and guards strongly oppose double bunking and overcrowding, saying it creates dangerous conditions for guards and inmates. In Alberta, correctional offices represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees rallied in Calgary in February to protest overcrowding that often takes the form of triple bunking. They say the conditions lead to increased violence, for which guards are blamed.
Catherine Latimer, head of the John Howard Society warned that violence would not be contained within the prison: “Crowding in our prisons endangers both staff and inmates. Ultimately it endangers the public because it impedes the delivery of rehabilitation and reintegration support programs.” Double-bunking shows that's never what prisons under capitalism were designed to do, and plans to sink billions of dollars into new prisons won't solve the problem.
Double-bunking is about applying the austerity agenda to prisons, making them cheaper to run--at the expense of those who are incarcerated and work there--and potentially more profitable, if Harper follows through on his desire to privatize prisons.

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