Monday, June 27, 2022
HomeWorldPrivatization of Canada’s part-time prison chaplains hurting inmates of minority faiths: Report

Privatization of Canada’s part-time prison chaplains hurting inmates of minority faiths: Report

Some inmates are struggling to practise their religion behind bars due to a decision to privatize the part-time chaplains who mostly serve prisoners who belong to minority faiths, says a scathing new report.

It’s a situation one researcher says is “compromising a fundamental freedom that should be afforded to all people in Canada.”

The report, published by the National Council of Canadian Muslims in partnership with an Edmonton-based researcher, looks at how spiritual services delivered in prison to people of minority faiths has changed since 2013, when the federal government laid off all of its 49 part-time chaplains and outsourced their contracts to a single company.

At that time, it was reported that the change would save about $1.3 million annually of the total $6.4-million chaplaincy budget.

Previously, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) would provide part-time contracts to faith communities on a regional basis, who would then hire, train and oversee the work of their local chaplain.

Of the 71 remaining chaplains who remained on CSC’s payroll, only two were non-Christian, according to the report.

Adar Abdulkadir, research lead at the Islamic Family and Social Services Association and a justice instructor at NorQuest College, says she wanted to research how services have changed because of reports that human rights complaints have drastically increased under the private model.

“What I did not know was that in an ostensible effort to save costs, it appeared we were compromising a fundamental freedom that should be afforded to all people in Canada, and that this compromise goes largely unnoticed by the public and the harms are largely felt by our most marginalized,” she writes in the report.

The CSC’s website notes that prisoners are entitled to religious accommodation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. According to a 2019-20 Public Safety Canada report, about 45 per cent of inmates identified as Christian. The three next largest groups were “unknown” (16 per cent), no religious affiliation at (15.3 per cent) and Muslim (7.5 per cent).

As part of her research, Abdulkadir interviewed 10 minority-faith chaplains from four different religious traditions who worked under both public and private models. The complaints are similar across the board — they said the changes have created a rigid, restrictive system where they’re not able to deliver their spiritual services effectively or at all.

One of the new rules is that prisons need to have a certain number of people, generally three or more, of the same religious group in order for a chaplain of that specific faith to visit the prison. In smaller or less diverse communities that don’t meet this threshold, they are offered to meet the institutional chaplain.

“An unintentional effect of that was a lot of the people I spoke with said ‘Oh, I haven’t been to a women’s prison in like two years,’ ” Abdulkadir said.

The part-time chaplains have to clock in and out and are only compensated for time physically spent in the prisons. Under the new model, they are not paid for any work or travel they do in the community to gather religious materials, such as holy books or scripture that are not available within CSC’s institutions, the report says.

The result is that it’s likely inmates belonging to minority faiths have reduced access to religious materials that are essential to the practice of their faith, Abdulkadir said.

Chaplains’ main duty is to provide spiritual guidance and counselling, but they also advocate for religious accommodation so the inmates can abide by their faith.

For example, a Muslim inmate would need the ability to tell the time of day because they are required to pray daily at five specific times. It’s not uncommon in prisons for the incarcerated to have no access to a clock or windows, Abdulkadir said, so a chaplain might advocate for a wristwatch.

The lack of flexibility makes the jobs of the chaplains harder as well. For example during Ramadan, where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, they aren’t allowed to alter their hours to accommodate this, the report said.

Furthermore, there are many accommodations specific to minority faiths that a Christian chaplain may not be familiar with, Abdulkadir said.

“If you come from a Wiccan tradition, and candles are an important part of your practice, then that might not be something that you will have access to” in prison, she said.

“So the important part of the chaplain is walking that line and facilitating, let’s say, for example, a candle isn’t allowed. Then maybe let’s try to find something else that our inmates can use?”

But she said the chaplains are less effective at advocating under the private model. They reported having far less access to resources and materials. And the private, part-time model has weaker job security, which means they’re less willing to push back.

“One of the problems is that Bridges of Canada (the contracting company) and private contractors have a vested interest in not pushing back against Correctional Service Canada,” so that their contract is renewed, Abdulkadir said.

In a short statement to the Star, Bridges of Canada said it wasn’t aware of the allegations regarding minority-faith chaplains and chaplains’ working conditions.

“We have successfully been providing multi faith Chaplaincy Services for Correctional Services Canada for 6 years,” a spokesperson said. “Bridges of Canada remains very passionate and committed to providing quality spiritual care for ALL individuals within CSC institutions across Canada.”

The Office of the Correctional Investigator, an ombudsman for federal inmates, said about one per cent of the complaints it receives are related to religious accommodation, but that includes both chaplaincy services and issues related to food.

One of the most significant changes for the part-time chaplains is they’re no longer involved in community reintegration of inmates after their release, which Abdulkadir said was explicitly part of the job description before the model changed. Some chaplains are still doing this work, but on their own time.

“I feel like one of the chaplains I spoke with kind of summed it up perfectly. They had said ‘It really feels like before we were part of the rehabilitation process … now we’re just there to do the bare minimum, to make sure that people can’t complain that their charter right is being infringed on,’ ” Abdulkadir said.

Many of the chaplains Abdulkadir spoke to are feeling burned out, ineffective and frustrated. They feel they’re not able to meet their adherents’ needs and are not happy with Bridges of Canada’s working conditions.

She said one chaplain described the job as “Soul sucking.”

“The people who are in these roles actually really care about these (incarcerated) people’s well being. And so the idea that people are suffering and struggling and have less access to them … it’s quite demoralizing.”

The report calls for CSC to not renew Bridges of Canada’s contract, which is up this year, and return to the community-based public model.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments