This paper illustrates the shift historically in the rights and protections given to inmates. Canadian inmates are now protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have avenues through which they can address grievances about their treatment or living conditions. The John Howard Society is named after an 18th century prison reformer who was an advocate for better conditions in prisons.
In spite of these rights and protections, however, the fact remains that prisons and jails are brutally harsh places to live. The John Howard Society believes that governments have an obligation to ensure that inmates do have options for addressing issues relating to their treatment or living conditions, and that there is safety in doing so. Canada is seen to be a world leader in progressive corrections, with our rights and grievance measures a key component of this reputation. And yet, we still witness incidents such as those that took place at the Kingston Prison for Women in 1994. These incidents remind us that, while we may have laws and systems to protect inmates, the implementation of them requires constant vigilance, monitoring and challenging. It is all too easy for society at large to be complacent about the treatment of those we have chosen to isolate. It has been said that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Incarcerated citizens are a group who are vulnerable to abuse who deserve the protection of formal rights and grievance procedures.