Meagan Campbell: Keeping Nova Scotia Inmates on Lock Down Increases Recidivism, Raises Costs

This is the second of two prize winning essays by Meagan Campbell, 2nd place winner of the AIMS on Campus 2015 Essay Competition. Here Meagan argues the urban-rural ratio in Atlantic Canada has thrown our economy out of whack, and offers some suggestions on how to grow our cities. 

prison graphic

In 2014, inmates at Nova Scotia’s largest jail wrote more than a complaint per day.  Most of these letters report facility-wide lock-downs, preventing prisoners from doing educational programs, work or recreation. Considered alongside the province’s need for working-aged citizens, the complaints illustrate that inmates are doing little to increase their employability upon release. Prison practices are therefore an important issue to the productivity of Nova Scotia and, indeed, to Atlantic Canada as a whole.

Amid increased violence and decreased staff, inmates in Nova Scotia are frequently locked down. The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility houses more than half of the province’s prisoners, and more than half of complaints last year reported being locked-down, meaning they eat in their cells and never see the library, program rooms or outdoors.  “I’m trying to maximize program time to make the most of every day here,” writes one. “Please advise me on the reason for refusal.”  The reason was two-fold: violence at the central prison jumped almost 25 per cent from 2013 to 2014, while the facility lost 31 employees to a new jail in Pictou County. The remaining staff was pressured to enforce facility-wide lock-downs for up to five days at a time.

Research widely acknowledges that programs in prison help reduce recidivism and encourage economic reintegration.  Programs can be categorized into education, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and prison industry.  By increasing employability, the first four categories help released offenders contribute to the economy and reduce recidivism—the most common re-offense is theft due to lacking employment.  The fifth category, prison industry, lets inmates be productive while still in jail through activities like road maintenance, land clean-up, recycling work and even animal training, all of which Nova Scotia’s inmates have done in the past.  Industry often allows offenders to reduce their sentences or gain privileges, while further enhancing future employability. The “art of prisoner re-entry,” as some call it, begins long before release.

Prison practices are especially significant in Atlantic Canada. While the rates of recidivism are nearly consistent across the country, employability of released inmates is critical to the region with the fastest shrinking workforce.  The number of 15- to 64-year-olds in Nova Scotia dropped by nearly 5000 from 2013 to 2014; Nova Scotia prisons contain about half that number of working-aged people. Recidivism also hinders the province’s ability to attract immigrants, as many Canadian newcomers prioritize safety when choosing where to live. Finally, while prisoners cost Nova Scotia more than $200 each per day (approximately $60 million total per year), prison industry helps offset this expense through community work.

Nova Scotia has the framework to maintain more economical prison practices. The Correctional Services Act mandates that every offender works or participates in programs and that officers make accommodations to prevent any exceptions.  To better fulfill this duty, the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is rapidly replenishing staff. “We’re playing catch-up,” says Sean Kelly, Director of Correctional Services for Nova Scotia. The province’s 2015-16 Capital Plan includes security renovations at the jail, which should help prevent incidents that prompt lock-downs.  These efforts bode promising changes in the years to come.

By Meagan Campbell

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