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No Books in Jail

Prisoners in TO West Denied Reading Material

by Megan Kinch

Toronto West. (photo from wikimedia commons)
Toronto West. (photo from wikimedia commons)

(Originally published in Basics Community News)

Don’t even think about reading. That’s the message prisoners are getting after a bureaucratic maze of regulations effectively cuts off access to printed materials in some Toronto-area prisons. The lack of access to reading material is only one example of the conditions prisons generally, where the institution has almost complete impunity to mess with the daily lives of inmates, which also shows in other areas, such as the lack of respect for fasting prisoners during Ramadan.

When the Toronto Star picked up the story about the lack of books from Alex’s prison blog, the institution claimed that the library cart was not being run due to ‘lack of volunteers’. An executive from the John Howard society told The Star that actually they would be able to find volunteers and that they had never been asked to provide any. Alex points out that inmates do many other jobs in prison including laundry and food and that there is no reason they couldn’t also push the library cart around.In Toronto West Detention Centre, located in Rexdale, it used to be possible to mail books to prisoners directly from the publisher, and there was a small library cart in the prison. But when Alex Hundert (alexhundert.wordpress.com), a political prisoner incarcerated for his role in organizing G20 protests, was sent to Toronto West this year, this was no longer the case. The book cart had not been seen on his unit in 5 months. Alex was told by other prisoners that there had been a raid on his unit a month before and that every single book, including a bible and two Korans were thrown out by the guards.  Contrary to official policy, books mailed directly from the publishers were being withheld as well. Even “educational” TV channels such as History and Discovery channel have been canceled.  Alex writes: “the less intellectual stimulation there is… the more violence there is in this shockingly overcrowded jail… this place feels like a powder keg waiting to explode.”

In women’s prison at Vanier, located just west of Toronto in Milton, the situation is slightly better.  According to Mandy Hiscocks (boredbutnotbroken.tao.ca/), also imprisoned for G20 protest organizing, the prison cart library has improved slightly since 2010 when only romance novels were available.  But the only books that can be mailed to Vanier are if they are officially on the syllabus of a course in which the prisoner is registered.

Alex writes that needlessly cutting essential services like books in jails, or asking volunteers to do it is part of the austerity agenda, “especially when those services are needed by vulnerable and targeted people like prisoners or migrants or the poor. Ironically, it was organizing protests against the austerity agenda that got me thrown in jail in the first place.” Alex has since been transferred to prison in Penetang, where he was punished after asking about his newspaper subscription, which was being maliciously withheld by the guards.


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
Member since December 2009

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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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