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Mutual Respect & Toilet Paper



The relationship between inmates and correctional officers is complicated by the various issues that arise from an artificial environment. When you enter a prison, you enter a different universe. People on the outside can think they know what prison is like, but you really do not know until you have a number or a uniform. There are three types of residents in a prison. The full time residents are the inmates. The part time residents are the correctional officers and the civilian staff.

There are correctional officers who  treat the inmates with respect. I have personally witnessed this mutual respect in the tiers and in the visitation room. Unfortunately, mutual respect is not common. Many correctional officers treat inmates as individuals not worthy of respect or even common decency. Proponents of harsh sentences argue this type of treatment is part of the punishment. This type of attitude is short sighted since people, and inmates are people, will for the most part respond in kind to the way they are treated. I have observed correctional officers discussing inmates at their desks. Many of the discussions compare inmates to animals. For an example of this attitude, just consider toilet paper. Toilet paper is a precious commodity in prison. At my unit, you were given one roll for the week. If you ran out of toilet paper, you could request the officers for an additional roll. There were officers who would say no while smiling even though the supply room had plenty in stock. I also remember  two officers who enjoyed throwing toilet rolls at  inmates who requested one. On the other hand, there was one older correctional officer who kept in his desk supplies readily available for those who were in need.

The following article discusses the treatment of inmates by Canadian correctional officers.

TORONTO — Canada’s prison guards are essentially being left to their own devices when it comes to treating inmates with basic human respect, according to an internal survey report obtained by The Canadian Press.

The “ethical climate survey” of Correctional Service Canada staff included a question about “treating offenders with respect as human beings.”

However, responses to the question from the survey’s 2,200 participants were dropped from the final report because of a “lack of unanimity.”

“Most probably, the (corrections) community does not share a common understanding and expectations regarding respect toward offenders,” the report states.

“Apparently social values around respect toward offenders have not been encouraged within CSC to the same extent as values of respect toward the organization and co-workers — leaving this aspect to each individual’s discretion.”

The document says without proper training, employees rely on “what is deeply ingrained in their beliefs” to mould how they treat offenders.

The report’s analysis notes several respondents brought up concerns about staff who abused their power, a problem it says could be tackled through workshops focused on values and ethical issues.

The findings open a window on the mindset of correctional officials at a time when a coroner’s inquest into the 2007 prison death of troubled teenager Ashley Smith has exposed how a mix of personal action and bureaucratic procedure shape treatment of the incarcerated.

Smith choked herself to death inside her segregation cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., while guards, ordered not to intervene, stood watch outside.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said the apparent lack of agreement from staff on humane treatment should serve as a shot across the bow of prison authorities.

“It should be a significant wake-up call to Correctional Service Canada, and instead of burying it or ignoring it and taking it out of the survey some sort of concerted effort to address this should be in order.”

Pate said the survey underscores what she called a shift under the Harper government toward punishment of prisoners and away from rehabilitation.

“One of the most consistent complaints I’ve heard from staff, particularly (those) who work with women in prison, is that they don’t receive a lot of training in how to support and assist prisoners — that the priority seems to be on how to use force,” Pate said.

A corrections spokeswoman said the prison service is studying the report.

“The survey results raise important issues for employees, supervisors and senior managers across the Correctional Service of Canada and will inform actions at all levels,” Sara Parkes said in an email.

“CSC continues to work to apply its values in the workplace and integrate them into its practices and processes, as well as to support and strengthen the ethical culture in the workplace.”

Parkes also said employees are given training on ethics and workplace values when they are hired and again on appointment to specific jobs.

The poll of workplace values follows a pair of earlier ethics questionnaires done in 2007 and 2009. A subsequent audit determined results from those surveys, which drew on much smaller sample sizes and found similar results, were not acted upon at most participating correctional institutions.

The 2012 voluntary survey was administered online to staff ranging from guards patrolling cell blocks to top-level bureaucrats carving out policy in Ottawa.

In all, about 12 per cent of the corrections workforce responded. The results are considered accurate within five percentage points 19 times out of 20.



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Overcrowding & Suicides In Our Jails - PrisonPath Visitor Information & Inmate Locator- PrisonPathPrisonPathCindyDavid Michael Recent comment authors
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David Michael

This is a great article, but it doesn’t bring up about how much respect the inmates have for themselves. Many do and are being treated with respect. Sadly some do not and provoke the employees who then react instead of respond to the inmates. It is hard to treat everyone the same when they do not see themselves the same.


I’ve personally witnessed officers who would not supply sanitary napkins to women except one or two per day and subjected them to humiliation by not providing basic needs. It’s a control issue and just like in any organization, it starts at the top. A culture of treating people fairly and periodically assuring that they are is needed.


[…] The Bryant county inspection report in 2012 described how, “Inmates are not given more toilet paper when they run out.’ “They are required to wait until the next time toilet paper is handed out.” As a former inmate in the Maryland Correctional system, we often ran out of toilet paper and were told by the guards just don’t go to the bathroom. This was posted last April, in our article, “Mutual Respect and Toilet Paper.” […]