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Administrator takes race off jail ID cards

Janis Leering: The Mirror
Jan. 14, 2003

Shortly after hearing it's not normal procedure to identify the race of inmates, the Penetanguishene jail dropped the labels on name tags.

Doug Thomson, facility administrator of the Central North Correctional Centre, told The Mirror he removed the race identification on inmates' name tags early on Friday morning.

"We want to be above provincial standards, and it was just a procedure to make sure we had proper offender identification," said Thomson.

"To make sure the right person received medication, as well as being discharged, to make sure we release the proper offender."

Thomson and staff at the jail were accused of racial profiling, where people are identified under a specific race, to assume they are more likely to commit a crime.

"We're not collecting information for those purposes whatsoever. There was a notation of race on the back, and we reviewed that. I made a decision today that the inmate picture is critical, his name, and identification number are critical."

Information such as weight, height, eye colour, hair colour and race are now removed.

Thomson said his intent was to make sure public safety was the number one priority.

"We try to minimize the chance of inmates making false representations, for purposes of claiming to be someone else. There was no intent to collect information for any racial reasons."

Thomson said in the past, race was one of many questions asked to inmates during the booking process.

"We have to ask a certain amount of self-reporting questions, the ministry standards ask us. Such as address, next of kin in an emergency, religion, tattoos. We have to make sure offenders are properly identified - to make sure, again, we have the right inmate," he said.

Because the facility is this size, you can't know all of the offenders. This is to make sure we know who they are," he explained.

In some cases, the inmates could have the same first, last and middle name, and Thomson said this was a matter of security.

He also said it was an internal system, and the name tags were removed if inmates were taken to the hospital, or to court.

Management and Training Corporation in the United States, the sister company of MTC-Canada who runs the jail in Penetanguishene, has statistics such as race on name tags in American facilities.

Sharon Dion, chair of Citizens Against Private Prisons, said a Canadian institution should be run differently.

"That is unconstitutional. We aren't American, and I don't want us to adjust to American standards and values," said Dion. "I'm disappointed, and I don't believe that it's what Canadians want."

When contacted on Friday afternoon, Penetanguishene Mayor Anita Dubeau hadn't heard about the problem.

"It's the first I've heard of it. I doesn't sound like the right thing to do," said Dubeau. "I suppose it's easier for identifying inmates for staff. But I'm glad to hear (Thomson) has taken the initiative and stopped it."

Brant MPP Dave Levac, Liberal public safety and security critic, said he's convinced identifying race is illegal on inmates' name tags.

He said this is a strike against what Canada represents.

"To me, their justification on needing to know a race is weak. It shows me they didn't know the rules, and they should've called the ministry."

Levac said it is inappropriate, given the multicultural society we live in.

"The correctional officers can look at the inmate, with his picture, age, height, and identification number. Why do they need a race? You can't convince me that tool is necessary."

Levac is angry the practice of including race on name tags has been happening since the jail opened in November 2001, and said it is one of many examples the ministry doesn't know what is going on at the jail.

"I said in the beginning that a private company would do things the way they wanted, and this is a perfect example of that.

"But they can't defend breaking the law."

Levac has written the minister of public safety and security, and he is awaiting a response.

"I made it clear this is not acceptable behaviour, it should not be happening. Ministry personnel should be going their job, and I asked they consider revoking the (private) contract."

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