BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)
Prison Justice Day (PJD) started on August 10, 1976, to remember two prisoners who died while locked up in solitary confinement in a Canadian Maximum Security Institution. PJD has continued to be celebrated both inside prison and outside, and has become an international day to recognize all those who have died unnatural deaths while in prison. Every August 10, prisoners hold a one-day work stoppage and hunger strike, while supporters on the outside hold community events to educate the public to the conditions of Canadian prisons.
On August 10th, 1974 Eddie Nalon bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Penitentiary (Ontario). An inquest into his death found that the emergency call button in his cell was not working, as with many others in the unit. It was also revealed that the guards had deactivated the receiving mechanism in the control tower. In 1975 on the first anniversary of Eddie’s death, prisoners at Millhaven went on a one-day hunger strike, refused work and held a memorial service. The next year, on May 21, 1976 prisoner Bobby Landers, died in the same segregation unit at Millhaven. Lander’s had been active in struggles for Prisoners Rights at Archambault Penitentiary, and was involuntarily transferred to Millhaven and placed in segregation, where he had a heart attack. He died because the emergency call buttons were again not working.
Every year, August 10 is a day of protest against all deaths in custody. Some of the other issues that PJD addresses include the use of segregation as a tool to punish prisoners. Prison justice advocates have said that in recent years the number of people serving long terms in segregation has gone up, and that prisons are often placing inmates with mental health issues in segregation as a way to deal with them. Double bunking also continues to be an issue, as prison overcrowding has forced institutions to house 2 and even 3 people in spaces designed for one. Prisoners are often transferred involuntarily, including within a single institution, from prison to prison and between security classifications (minimum vs. maximum). This is often done arbitrarily and without and formal process or disciplinary hearing for prisoners. Health Care also continues to be an issue for prisoners.
August 10th is a call for alternatives to incarceration that includes intervention programs to work with youth, peer initiatives for ex-prisoners, community based re-integration programs, housing, employment, skills training, Violence prevention, Community mediation and restorative justice as well as the decriminalization of victimless crimes. This is especially important to consider now, as the federal government has been taking a “get tough” approach on crime that could lead to new laws to lock up more people, such as mandatory minimum sentencing.
For more info about PJD, prisons in Canada and prisons in general check out: PrisonJustice.ca or PrisonSucks.com. ∗