Home > Uncategorized > “The parole board is bullshit,” Or, The results of my application for parole

“The parole board is bullshit,” Or, The results of my application for parole

On November 8th my application for parole was rejected. Two older white men in suits who constituted the Parole Board that day said in their written reasons that “while the two considerations before [the] Board are the threat [I] present to public safety and the efficacy of my release plan to manage [my] risk in the community…these considerations cannot and must not be in isolation [sic] as they must be balanced against the nature and gravity of the offences [I] committed and [my] degree of responsibility for the events.” They went on to say that “given the degree of violence seen on the streets of Toronto [during the G20 summit] and [my] responsibility in regard to this violence” it was decided that I am “not a suitable candidate for parole and [my] request for parole [was] denied.”

To be fair, there was a decent chance that I was not going to accept parole even if it had been granted, and there are two reasons for that. First, I am not sure that I am willing to agree to wear the electronic tracking device that having fastened to one’s ankle has become a standard condition for parole in this province. And second, because parole is somewhat of a sham anyways.

There are several reasons that parole is inherently problematic. The parole system of releasing people from prison but continuing to incarcerate them through house arrest and/or other conditions actually extends the duration of people’s incarceration, and makes them especially susceptible to re-imprisonment. Thirdly, the provincial system does not, despite legislation that mandates they must, actually provide people with a “fair hearing” or reasonable opportunity to “earn” parole. And finally, the Ministry of Correctional Services gives an absurd amount of discretionary power to officials who are selected by the unelected Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

The “offences” to which I pleaded guilty were for a production of a list of places to protest in downtown Toronto during the G20 summit (or “one count of council to commit indictable offence of mischief”) and for facilitating a series of workshops that prepared people for what they would face on the streets during the summit (or, “one count of council to commit indictable offence of obstruct peace office”). As part of a plea bargain that saw charges dropped against 11 co-accused, I received a sentence of 20 months imprisonment for these offences.

At my sentencing hearing, justice Budzhimski said that I had “counselled and promoted violence” and that “what [made] these actions so serious [was] the focus on destruction.” MSSRS Reynolds and Sturgeon of the Parole Board seem to have agreed that we were part of a global resistance against the destructive austerity agenda of the G20 states and against the violence police forces employed to protect the so-called leaders who promote this agenda. If this is a considerable factor for this so-called justice system so be it.

In the provincial system, unlike the federal system, the vast majority of imprisoned people who apply for parole are rejected (despite the fact that they have necessarily been convicted of lesser “offences”). I was but a predictable one of many.

Vanny Thach, 25, also recently passed the one-third point of his sentence, making him eligible for parole. He is serving a maximum provincial sentence of two years less a day. I asked him why he was denied parole.

Van tells me that the Parole board rejected his application because he “didn’t have counselling lined up for when released and had completed no institutional program.” They must have meant the “rehabilitative programming” offered by the Ministry of Correctional Services, because Van has actually completed multiple secondary school credits (through the education program which is contracted to the Ministry of Education) since being imprisoned here and he continues to attend the maximum number of possible classes every day, functionally making him a full time student. He has planned to finish his high school diploma courses at an adult education centre if paroled.

With respect to what they wanted him to have had set up in order to be considered a “suitable candidate” for release, Van tells me “they wanted me to have drug counseling and something like Connections” – Connections being the standard attitude adjustment programing that most imprisoned people seem to be assigned to – “because without counselling and a job set up you are not seen as a manageable risk in the community,” he says, explaining the logic presented to him by the Board.

There are (at least) two problems with what the parole board told Van. The first is that he in fact did apply for the prison’s “rehabilitative programs” months ago but has been stuck on the institutional waiting list. And second, programs outside of prison will not actually enrol a person until after they are released.

Van told me that “the person from the hospitalized substance abuse program said that what the parole board is doing is messed up—telling people they need counselling set up before getting parole because people can’t get spots until they are released…everywhere I’ve called.” He tells me, “they say ‘we can’t give it to you ‘cause you’re still in jail.’”

When it came time to trying to get into the institutional programs here (which are unfortunately laughably inadequate especially considering that people receive certificates upon completion), Van says, “I’ve been to see the ILO (institutional liaison officer). I’ve been to see the substance abuse councillor and the social worker three times, and because I have a long sentence they say I am not a priority.” I too have spoken to ILOs and I have been told that indeed the program’s policy is to not schedule people for counselling until the end of their sentences, which is framed as prioritizing people who are about to be released. Given the superficial nature of the programs, one can easily infer that this policy is structured as part of allowing the institution to do the bare minimum necessary in order to claim that they are “rehabilitating” the people they have imprisoned. In true warehouse modality the certificates granted after these brief programing sessions—Substance abuse, Anger management, Connections, Healthy Relationships—are essentially nothing more than stamps applied to people, institutional tags before they are shipped out the door. But without a stamp, apparently one is “not a suitable candidate for parole.”

“It’s bullshit,” says Van. “They’re giving me reasons of why I can’t leave, they’re telling me ‘you can’t leave ‘til you do this’ but when I try to set that up, they’re telling me, ‘you can’t do that ‘til you leave.’” So Van will be here for another eight months, most likely. But he was an excellent candidate for parole in my opinion, and keeping him in jail is nothing but either unnecessary punitive incarceration or simple arbitrary indifference. Either way, it is an abuse of power.

Van doesn’t have a problem with “substance abuse,” nor does he need “anger management.” Nor does he need five 60-90 minute attitude adjustment sessions in a room full of disinterested imprisoned people. At least that is what I think. However, he intends to dutifully take each one of these programs and to do so with genuine sincerity and then reapply for parole, and I wish him the best of luck.

In my case, the parole board said that while I “have confirmed employments and will be continuing counselling for [my) personal health issues…there is no offence-related counselling in [my] release plan.” I guess that begs the question, “where do I apply for political re-education anyways?”

I am likely all the better for having not been granted parole. The aforementioned electronic tracking device is but one reason. Here is another: section 36 of Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services Act says the following: “The [Ontario Parole] Board has exclusive jurisdiction to examine into, hear, and determine all matters and questions arising under this part [of the Act], and as to any matter or thing in respect of which any power, authority or discretion is conferred upon The Board, and the action or discretion of the board therein is final and conclusive and is not open to questions or review in any court, and proceeding by or before the board shall be restrained by injunction, or other process or proceeding in any court or be removable by application for judicial review or otherwise into any court.”

In short, given that a later section of the Act says that the parole board can revoke parole thereby re-imprisoning a person based on mere suspicion, section 36 essentially says they can do whatever they want and that there is nothing that any constitutional or judicial process can do about it.

In my case, what this means is that despite the fact that I probably have a decent basis for a human rights complaint, it would not have any impact on their decision, and the complaint would be rooted in the fact that what they told me throughout my hearing implied that because they disagree with my politics and because I have not volunteered for some kind of formal political re-education program I should continue to be imprisoned. To my mind, this probably violated the right laid out in, amongst other places, the Ontario Human Rights Code guaranteeing “equal treatment with respect to,” amongst other things, “creed.”

But this is definitely not the only way the prison system has violated my formal rights on that basis. However, I will get into all that at another time. For now, on the subject of provincial parole, I want to give the last word to Vanny Thach. When I asked him at the end of our discussion if he has anything further to add, here is what he said: “The parole board is bullshit.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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