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Prisoner Access to Education and Internet

Access to (self-funded) post-secondary education and free online education is effectively banned in federal prisons. People in Canadian prisons are unable to access training and education beyond the Grade 12 level. The prison service stands in the way of those federal prisoners who are ready and motivated to pay for such post-secondary schooling themselves. CSC Policy makes clear that prison staff are expected to facilitate access, but that policy conflicts with another: the total ban on inmate access to the Internet.

At one time, post secondary education was available to prisoners through paper-correspondence programs, which they could access and pay for at their own initiative and expense. Today, however, it is nearly impossible to find a distance-education provider that does not require Internet access in order to complete coursework. The few paper courses that still exist are disappearing fast.

Given the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada, the effects of this policy likely have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people. In this way, the current state of affairs may help to sustain a program of colonization and economic marginalization that is, in fact, the root cause of such disproportionate rates of incarceration. What’s more, the Gladue jurisprudence makes clear that judges and other decision-makers have a legal duty to ameliorate systemic and historic discrimination against Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. And yet, the CSC allows this policy arrangement to continue, effectively ensuring that the large numbers of Indigenous prisoners cannot use their time in custody to gain technical skills, training, and accreditation. It also follows that Indigenous and other prisoners will find it harder to maintain ties with their communities and envision life beyond incarceration.

Read the full position paper here.