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“There is no such thing as ‘humane imprisonment’”

Protesters Rally Against ICPA conference

From October 21 to 26, Montreal hosted the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) conference, entitled “Beyond Prisons: The Way Forward” and hosted by Correctional Services Canada. This conference, aimed at correctional and prison staff, as well as CEOs of companies who market their products and services to prisons. In the view of the McGill Union for Gender Empowerment, the goal of this conference was to “entrench the view that prisons can be humane, and their professions anything other than deplorable.”

Among the topics on the conference agenda included discussing the manufacture and design of secure cell components, the use of technology in correctional facilities, and assessing ethical risks in the Canadian correctional system. In opposition to this conference, a protest was held on Sunday October 21 at around 3 p.m. on Peel Street in front of the Marriot hosting the conference. Approximately 50 demonstrators were present for the protest, organized by various anti-prison and solidarity groups. The gathering elicited the presence of around 100 cops, many with tear guns at the ready, according to Tessa Mascia, who attended the event. Dozens of cops made up a motor brigade, while others blocked every entrance on the block, giving the appearance of “being ready for a war,” according to Mascia. Protesters held banners and listened to speeches, ultimately taking to the streets to chant slogans and hold an impromptu dance party that blocked the busy street. “Considering people are rotting their whole lives in jail, people are getting killed by the state every day,” said Mascia, “this spontaneous show of solidarity was the least we could do.”

Mascia cited the importance of getting involved with prison abolitionist movements, calling prisons “the ultimate personification of the true sentiments of the bourgeois state,” and a tool in “maintaining the status quo of a society.” When asked about the personal significance of this kind of event, Mascia asserted that prisons are “one of the biggest injustices of our time.” She argued that “it is the duty of every good person to fight, with whatever means necessary, against prisons,” and that “fighting against the criminal injustice system is just one step, one important avenue of resistance among many.” She fights, she says, “out of respect for all those who came before me, for the people currently incarcerated.” Another protester, who wished to remain anonymous, shared similar sentiments in their statement, saying that “there is no such thing as ‘humane imprisonment’ or ‘nice prisons.’” They argued that “we cannot settle for prison reform. The prison system does not help protect anyone.” Both they and Mascia highlighted their belief that prisons do not work, as prisons fail to address the systemic problems underlying offenses, instead replacing social services with the imprisonment of those who have mental health or addiction issues. Furthermore, the anonymous protester claims that, “the prison system has been proven to not work as it does not rehabilitate individuals and only produces a cycle of re-offenses and intergenerational trauma.” They also cited the glaring fact that a the disproportionate number of those incarcerated who are working class, BIPOC, and queer people.They argue that instead of supporting a prison-industrial complex, “our communities can create non-oppressive alternatives to replace such a system.” The protester asked an important question: “Were the lives of these people considered during this conference for prison conditions?”