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BC Corrections rescinds ban on two of three prisoner publications

A heavily redacted document released through a Freedom of Information request and posted on the B.C. government website says officials felt the publications were not appropriate for inmates, partly because of their “anti-corrections messaging.”

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BC Corrections has rescinded a ban on two prisoner publications but a third is still not permitted inside provincial jails, prisoners' advocates say.

At a meeting last July, BC Corrections officials discussed a prohibition on Cell Count, Out of Bounds and the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons – publications that allow inmates to write about their experiences. A heavily redacted document released through a Freedom of Information request and posted on the B.C. government website says officials felt the publications were not appropriate for inmates, partly because of their "anti-corrections messaging."

The province, when asked Wednesday about the ban, when it was implemented, and when parts of it were rescinded, did not directly answer. But Jennifer Metcalfe, a lawyer and executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services, part of the West Coast Prison Justice Society, said BC Corrections recently agreed to rescind the ban on Out of Bounds and the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons.

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"I guess they just had a closer look and realized they were being a bit overly sensitive," she said in an interview Wednesday.

Ms. Metcalfe said the ban on Cell Count remains in effect. Mooky Cherian, program manager for the Toronto-based Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, which produces Cell Count, in an interview said it is still not permitted inside B.C. jails.

Mr. Cherian said Cell Count has been banned at individual jails in the past, but this is the first time he's seen such a prohibition provincewide.

"It's certainly something that's important to us, but it's going to take us a little bit of time to figure out. So, as it is right now, folks in B.C. are just going to have to kind of wait," he said.

"It's certainly something that's important to us, but it's going to take us a little bit of time to figure out. So, as it is right now, folks in B.C. are just going to have to kind of wait," he said.

Mr. Cherian said the concerns from B.C. officials involve material perceived as anti-corrections, as well as content involving harm reduction.

Mr. Cherian said Cell Count does not print just anything, but gives inmates a platform "to discuss some of the issues that they're going through inside, including, but not exclusively, some of the things that they are frustrated about."

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"Inherently," he said, "there is going to be some critical messaging around corrections and how [inmates] are being incarcerated."

He said Cell Count's work on harm reduction, which can include safe practices around tattooing or drug use, has sometimes been an issue for correctional officials and that does appear to be the case with B.C.

"[Correctional officials] don't see that as health-promotion information. They see it as information that is encouraging illegal activity in the institution," he said.

Justin Piché, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and a managing editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, said in an interview that he was prepared to seek legal action if the ban on his publication was not rescinded.

"I'm not glad that the ban was handed down in the first place, but I'm glad that this was able to be resolved reasonably," he said.

The document released through Freedom of Information said correctional officials were concerned about the publications for three reasons: metal coil binding, negative content and anti-corrections messaging, and information on how to circumvent security measures. Both Mr. Cherian and Mr. Piché said their publications do not use metal coil binding.

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BC Corrections in a statement said it takes all necessary steps to prevent inmates from accessing items or information that could jeopardize safety or security.

"Furthermore, it would be inconsistent with BC Corrections' fundamental goals of changing pro-criminal attitudes and behaviours and reducing reoffending if we were to allow inmates access to materials that work in direct opposition to those goals," it said.

Melissa Munn, a sociology professor at Okanagan College who is co-authoring a book on prison reform, said disputes such as this one have been occurring across the country since the first prisoner publication was launched in 1949.

"There is a history in Canada of wardens wanting to shut the press down when they don't like what the prisoners have to say. And the press has by and large withstood those kinds of challenges and managed to endure," she said in an interview.

Video: Take a look inside the private family visit unit at a federal prison (The Canadian Press)
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