Prison: Hardcore Billiards Training Ground?

July 26th, 2015
by Laggin' Len

prisonSomewhere Steve West is laughing. During the mercurial Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA’s nine-month stint as Alberta solicitor general in 1992, he slashed creature comforts in Alberta’s nine provincial jails. Colour televisions with cable access were replaced by 11-inch black-and-white sets with rabbit-ear antennae. Pool tables and weights were gone. Extra pay for good behaviour was phased out and inmates were put to work pulling weeds and building picnic tables. Harshest of all, bacon disappeared from cafeteria menus and toilet paper was rationed.

In December 1992, Premier Ralph Klein replaced Mr. West and it was expected that the cuts would slowly be reversed. They never were. Now, the austerity of life inside the provincial jail system has made the plush confines of federal prisons look mighty sweet to criminals.

Just ask Edmontonian Neil Edward Adamson, who pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon in Provincial Court two weeks ago. On April 9 Adamson took a knife and one of his pals to Kingsway Garden Mall, where they accosted a man and demanded his wallet and clothing. After some pushing, the man escaped uninjured. In court, Judge Albert Chrumka told the 21-year-old Adamson he wanted to give him a sentence of 15 months in a provincial jail. But Adamson asked for a two-year sentence, the minimum sentence which would enable him to do his time in a federal prison.

Judge Chrumka went for it, tacking two years’ probation and a 10-year weapons prohibition onto the sentence. Then he lambasted the province for not offering what he called the “Cadillac service” of the federal prison system. “The citizens of Alberta should approach our solicitor general,” said the judge, “and ask him that there be a sufficient transfer payment so everyone is treated equally.”

Adamson’s lawyer, Marshall Hopkins, told Judge Chrumka the longer sentence would enable his client to take advantage of education and job training programs in jail. Diagnosed with a disorder related to drug abuse, Adamson will also be able to take drug counselling behind bars. “I’ve lost everything, all my clothes, everything. I just about lost my fiancee and I just about lost my child,” said Adamson, whose significant other is due to give birth in December. In court he was remorseful, saying, “I’m deeply sorry for what I did.”

In exchange for the extra nine months on his sentence, Adamson will get a crack at the colour television, billiards, weights, bacon and toilet paper denied to his provincial counterparts. Furthermore, the nine months are somewhat fictitious anyway. Federal prisoners serving fixed terms are eligible to apply for day parole six months before one-third of their sentence is up (at which time they can apply for full parole), which means that Adamson could be spending his afternoons on the street in two months.

It is likely that if Adamson applies for parole it would be granted. Last week, a leaked Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) document revealed that federal Solicitor General Andy Scott wants 50% of all federal inmates serving their time in the community by the year 2000. Currently, about 40% of federal inmates on the prairies reside in the community instead of prison.

Adamson would not have given up much education-wise by staying in a provincial jail; all provincial inmates have access to educational, vocational and life skills training. And a federal prison is one of the last places someone avoiding drugs would want to be. It has been estimated by corrections officials that up to 75% of inmates are habitual drug users. CSC has given addicts a boost by implementing “Project Bleach,” which provides complementary bleach kits to inmates so they can sterilize illegal drug equipment while in jail.

Alberta Justice spokesman Peter Tadman says the province can’t compete with that. “Albertans,” he says, “should not have to apologize for not providing Cadillac services to people who choose to break the law.”

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