Monday 6 September 2010

Prurient prisons

A friend of the family back in Canada worked as a guard in a women's prison. I asked her a few years ago whether it was anything like what various ...films have led me to believe things may be like in women's prisons. She said it was, except that none of the characters would ever meet any casting director's requirements - nobody would want to watch the film with the default cast. I suggested she write down some of her more interesting anecdotes, replacing "horribly filthy" with "earthy", "obese" with "voluptuous", and "missing most of her teeth" with "had a quirky smile". I still think she could make a bit off the book, but she might have been wrong about nobody wanting to watch the film.
The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the conduct of four officers and three civilians working at the force’s Kamloops, B.C., detachment who allegedly looked on as two female inmates — one of whom may be HIV-positive, according to media reports — engaged in sexual activity.

The women were placed in the same holding cell on Aug. 18, during which time they began a sexual encounter that lasted close to an hour, according to an inside source cited by Global News.

The source alleged that the officers and municipal staff on duty that day watched the encounter through cameras mounted inside the cell block for up to seven minutes without intervening.

The RCMP has confirmed that both criminal and internal code of conduct investigations have been launched into the “actions or inactions” of four RCMP members and three City of Kamloops staff.
I obviously don't know any of the details here. But female-to-female transmission of HIV is very unlikely, if the prisoners were both consenting then it's hard to see any particular reason for the guards to get involved, and failing to keep watching on the monitors would give an incentive to prisoners to feign sexual acts to give cover to other activities, like transferring contraband.
While sexual contact between inmates in both provincial and federal detention centres is discouraged, it is not listed as a disciplinary offence in the federal Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Most federal institutions have house rules prohibiting sex between inmates, but many prison workers operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, says Claudia Medina of the Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network.

“Using substances, needles and having sex, those things are still going to happen when prisoners are not being supervised,” said Ms. Medina, who visits federal prisons to educate inmates on safe-sex practices.

Recognizing that sexual activity will occur among inmates, in 2004 Correctional Services Canada implemented a policy making condoms, dental dams and lubricants easily available in every federal prison.

A CSC study released in March reported that 17% of male federal inmates and 31% of female inmates surveyed said they had engaged in either oral, vaginal or anal sex while in prison within the last six months. Almost all of them reported engaging in at least one instance of unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex while in prison.
The fault here was in letting the civilians watch. Sexual activity is going to happen in prisons no matter what, and failing to monitor can be worse than monitoring. But there's no need to be running a peep show - there ought to be some minimal privacy, even in the panopticon.


  1. Perhaps they should have recorded the whole shebang (not often you get to use that term so literally) and then, with the consent of the participants, released it as a commercial video to raise funds for the prison...

  2. Do you really want the state to have a financial interest in your incarceration?

  3. What do you mean my incarceration? Do you know something I don't? :)

    Seriously though, no I don't want there to be any financial incentives to imprisoning people, that is why I'm a tad nervous about the possibility of privatising prisons.

  4. And all the more reason against turning them into next iteration of Big Brother (or sister) house...

  5. Gah, don't get me started on "reality" TV, it's entertainment for complete retards if you ask me.