Professor: Seizure of non-dangerous items from Manitoba jail problematic 

By Morgan Modjeski

Calling it a manipulative and unfair system, a Winnipeg professor says there’s much work to be done when it comes to addressing shortfalls in how non-dangerous contraband items are seized from inmates inside Manitoba’s provincial jails, saying the problematic and de-humanizing practice is part of a wider issue.

“One thing that often gets missed in conversations about things like contraband – weapons being seized inside jails – is the idea that those weapons are the primary indicators of violence when really the act of imprisoning people is a form of violence foundationally,” Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, an associate professor of criminal justice.

“These are techniques that guards might use that are part of the physical and emotional manipulation that they use in an attempt to keep so-called peace in a place that really never will be peaceful. We’re not going to get a jail without incident, without violence, without resistance, without discomfort, because the jail itself is violent.”

Dobchuk-Land’s research focuses on the politics of policing and prison expansion. She says the sweeping discretionary seizure of non-dangerous items from inmates can have a negative effect on people residing inside in both provincial jails and federal prisons.

RELATED: ‘Shanks’ tattoos, death notes just some of items seized from Manitoba’s largest jail

After obtaining a list of seized items by COs from Headingley Correctional Centre through Freedom of Information legislation; CityNews reported how the union that represents Correctional Officers is concerned about the items getting inside – and the danger it creates, stressing the growing complexity of how items are smuggled in, is creating an increased need for resources in the facilities.

But amongst dangerous items were things like pairs of headphones, an audio bible, a container of sage, and contraband ear plugs, and Dobchuk-Land says when items like this are taken from inmates, it’s not to preserve safety but to ensure subordination.

“Really all of this is part of the stripping down of autonomy and selfhood that is imagined as being necessary in order to maintain compliance from prisoners,” Dobchuk-Land. 

She said the best way to keep both inmates and correctional staff safe is to reduce the need for, and a number of, correctional centres overall by addressing the root causes of perceived criminal behaviour through strong community support on things like housing, health, social services, and mental health supports. 

“The solutions aren’t mysteries, but they do challenge the commonly held, common sense assumption, that we need jails in the first place and I think we need to challenge that idea.” 

A statement from the province reads, “We are committed to the use of best practices including through the review of existing policies when it comes to contraband entering correctional facilities. Through the provision of rehabilitation and culturally appropriate programs, we are providing inmates with opportunities to turn their lives around and reduce the risk of re-offending.”

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