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While we may not have the same incarceration numbers, private prisons or overt existence of a prison pipeline, Canada has seen an increase in incarceration over the last decade, and this population continues to be over-represented by black, brown and Latino youth. This highlights a need for open discussion.
Four months ago, I began teaching inmates in two of Ontario's maximum security jails. The experience has taught me a lot in a very short amount of time. I'm learning about an alternative universe that exists in parallel to mine. I'm accessing a dimension which is completely divergent from the one I was born into, and I'm still trying to digest it all.
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Every year, thousands of people are placed in segregation in jails and penitentiaries across the country. Systemic data about the use of segregation in both provincial and federal contexts indicates that segregation is being overused on -- and causing particular harm for -- vulnerable groups, such as black and indigenous prisoners, women, and those with mental health disabilities.
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Incarcerating mothers is commonly associated with depression, anger, poor school performance and environmental disruptions among their families, especially for their children. We are impacting entire communities spanning generations.
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"Research shows the earlier and longer youth spend in the system, the worse the outcomes are," says Peter Leone, a professor at the University of Maryland who has studied juvenile justice measures around the world for more than 20 years. It costs approximately $100,000 a year to incarcerate one young person in Canada. If that individual becomes a hardened life-long criminal, the amount will exceed a staggering $2 million, according to a Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
Traditionally, no one cares about guards working in prisons with the lowest of the low in society, yet that is where my life's work began years ago -- working as a Correctional Officer in a human warehouse that systematically destroys staff and inmates alike. Notwithstanding, I've dedicated my life to seeing through the development of this idea because I have seen, first-hand, the goodness of inmates, guards and administration who are in an out-of-control system that can't alone meet the needs of everyone, or even come near being able to deal with the multiplicity of internal issues involved.