Shocking into Compliance: Why Tasers Aren’t the Answer to Police Shootings

Trigger warning: this post contains a discussion about police brutality, police killings, white supremacy and psychiatric violence.


Note: by tragic coincidence, just one hour after I put this post up on my website, El Cajon police shock and killed Alfred Olango.  Alfred was a Black Ugandan refugee with mental health issues.  He was in mental health crisis when his sister called 9-1-1 for help.  After 50 minutes, police arrived.  Police knew that Alfred was in crisis and had not called on the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.

Most people by now have heard the heart wrenching recording of Alfred’s sister, reacting to the killing of her brother. She says: “I called you to help me, but you killed my brother.” Later, she pleads: “why couldn’t you tase him? Why couldn’t you guys tase him? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

I want to be clear, if someone I loved who was in mental health crisis was shot by the police that I would probably have the same response in that moment – I would ask why they used a gun instead of a taser.  As a white person, I’m far less likely to be in that situation than a person of color – especially a Black person. By no means is this article a critique of Alfred’s sister or commentary on his murder.  In that moment, when a police officer made the decision to shoot an unarmed Black man in mental health crisis, using the taser the other officer had would have been less likely to kill him – but it still could have. (It’s also important to note that the taser was used in this case. It’s unclear when the taser was fired and it’s possible it was fired at the same time as or after the gun was.) But, there are so many things leading up to that moment that should’ve been done differently. It never should have come to the point where two officers were pointing weapons at Alfred Olango. He should still be alive.  There needs to be meaningful, compassionate, free and non-punitive ways for people too access emergency support for their loved ones.  White supremacy which, among other things, criminalizes and demonizes Black bodies must end. Black lives matter.


This article is about the use of electricity, specifically tasers, as a form of violence and means of controlling people. I argue that an interlocking analysis of oppression is necessary to fully understand the implementation and implications of tasers. Further, I demonstrate how, even though they can cause serious health issues or death, tasers are used as a tool of social control and not an appropriate substitute for guns.

Tasers have saturated American law enforcement agencies, with 98% of agencies using them. They shoot 50,000 volts of electricity into the body and are designed to incapacitate people with intensely painful muscle contractions.[1] They are increasingly being used in Canada. Some have called tasers torture devices because of the extreme pain they cause.[2] Tasers are supposedly non-lethal alternatives to the use of firearms. TASER International posts a warning on its products to “Avoid Known Pre-Existing Injury Areas.”[3] It acknowledges that tasers are “not risk free” because sometimes people fall down when they are tased, according to TASER founder Thomas Smith.[4] He also says “individual susceptibility” can lead to a “higher degree of risk.” [5] However, smith claims that tasers “save 70 lives for every life lost.” [6]

Tasers are reportedly intended to be used as alternatives to firearms but they are used much more commonly than guns would be. Through ‘usage creep’ tasers have gone from being an intended replacement for the use of guns to a go to weapon for anything from not dropping a beer to passive resistance. According to the Braidwood Commission “over time weapon use has expanded to include subduing subjects who exhibit behaviours that are clearly noncombative or who are not actively resisting” by the RCMP (indeed, some police departments permit taser use on people who are not responding to police demands.[7] This amounts to “evidence of ‘usage creep.’” [8] In the US, 60% of policing agencies allow tasering when someone tenses or pulls away while being handcuffed.[9] The year that San Jose issued tasers to its police officers saw the highest number of police shootings in the past five years and the second highest number of police shootings in the previous eleven years.[10] Further, a 2008 study by Amnesty International, found that 90% of those who died after being tasered were unarmed. This group includes people who were naked, engaged in political protest, in medical distress, restrainedor children.[11] When Sammy Yatim was killed by Toronto police recently, he was holding a 3” knife. He was shot several times and then tasered.[12] Frighteningly, tasers are being introduced into a number of hospital emergency rooms and schools to subdue unruly people. Using TASER’s voluntary self-reporting database, only 45% of tasings of people labelled as mentally ill involved a legally justified use of lethal force or prevention of imminent threat of suicide.[13] Tasers are clearly not limited to engaging armed individuals or only as a substitute for firearms. The claim that tasers reduce police shootings is a flimsy one – in several jurisdictions shootings went up or stayed the same when tasers were introduced.

In addition to concerns about use, there can be serious injuries caused by tasers. Estimates are as high as 900 deaths after being tasered in the US and Canada. In 2015, 49 people died in the US after being tasered by police.[14]

So, who is being tasered? Demographic data is often difficult to find, especially on a national scale. I could find no information about class, although I suspect it is poor people who are the most likely to be tasered. Nevertheless, with the data available, a disturbing and predictable pattern emerges: it is primarily men of color, especially Black men, and/or people labelled as mentally ill or emotionally disturbed who are disproportionately tasered. With respect to mental health, different terminology is applied in different places, contributing to dramatic variances with estimates as low as 23% of people tasered as being mentally ill or, in one city, 95% as being emotionally disturbed.[15]  In New York, 40% of taserings are conducted on high risk groups, including people considered mentally ill and 30% of all taserings involve a mental health call rather than a criminal one.[16]

I want to be clear that I am not arguing that, people labeled as emotionally disturbed/mentally ill are a distinct group from people of color. Unfortunately, most of the scholarly literature about tasers that addresses these issues focuses on mental health OR race, creating the illusion that these are unrelated issues. Indeed, people of colour are much more likely to be diagnosed with particular psychiatric conditions because of race bias.[17] Psychiatrization and racialization are interlocked processes which simultaneously legitimize and uphold each other. It is important to note, however, that in the US media reports about white people being tasered are much more likely to be described as mentally ill.[18] Another study found that white people are much more likely to be identified by police as emotionally disturbed when they are tased (93.5 percent) than Hispanic people (84.9 percent) or Black people (81.3 percent).[19]

I would like to suggest that the reason for this is because police use electricity to control the bodies of people whom they have marked as dangerous and/or report the threat of danger to legitimize their violence. Men of colour, especially Black men, when police encounter them, have already undergone the racist cultural process of being marked as dangerous.[20] Agamben describes “states of exemption” in which the state make the determination that particular bodies fall outside of law.[21]  Razack, drawing on this idea, argues people of colour occupy permanent “spaces of exemption” in which the rule of law does not apply evenly or, sometimes at all, to the states actions on these communities.[22] White people who are tasered, on the other hand, must undergo a process of marking when they interact with police. This is done, I would argue, by mapping madness or disability onto their bodies.

Marking white people as psychiatrically disabled, mentally ill or emotionally disturbed helps to construct them as violent and, therefore, as a threat even when no such threat is present. Despite cultural conceptions of people labeled as mentally ill, psychiatrized people are actually less violent than non-psychiatrized people.[23] Certain white men, then, can be brought into a space of exemption through this labelling process.

TASER International now recognizes that deploying tasers can lead to “death or serious injury.” TASER founder Thomas Smith also said that “individual susceptibility” can lead to a “higher degree of risk.” High risk groups include, according to TASER, people who are “pregnant, infirm, elderly, [have] low body-mass index… or [are] small child[ren]” although it does not provide definitions for these groups. According to TASER International, there have been no studies conducted on these ‘high risk’ groups.[24] Nevertheless, few police departments prohibit their applications to these groups. According to the US Justice Department, “Some 31 percent forbid [taser] use against clearly pregnant women, 25.9 percent against drivers of moving vehicles, 23.3 percent against handcuffed suspects, 23.2 percent against people in elevated areas and 10 percent against the elderly.” Similarly, TASER International acknowledges that chest shots can lead to cardiac issues; nevertheless, a New York study found that chest shots made up over 25% of tasings.[25] Warnings against multiple tasings and using it in drive stun mode, both of which increase risk of injury, also frequently go unheeded.

While I am suspicious of this claim, TASER International and its proponents assert that tasers are safe when applied to healthy individuals. In reading reports about the deaths of people after being tasered, one thing that is quite common is that the death is linked to an underlying heart condition. The other typically used explanation of death is ‘excited delerium’ a newly formed psychiatric diagnosis that is not recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which is impressive given the recent revisions that captured a number of previously non-medicalized behaviours and ways of being[26]). Both of these explanations root the problem – the death – in the body of the person who was killed rather than the taser which is views as contributory or, at times, unconnected.

So, what is happening, then is that tasers are being applied across the population even when it is recognized that it is harmful to certain people. Some of those people can  generally be easily identified: children, elders. But others really can’t be identified by looking at them: people with heart conditions, “the infirm,” certain pregnant people, people with mental health issues. Lennard Davis writes about the “tyranny of the norm” – how the bell curve is imposed on all of us and those that don’t fall within set parameters are deemed unworthy or without due consideration.[27] With respect to tasers, this has life and death consequences as non-disability is assumed. If this isn’t the case, it could be devastating. Safety shouldn’t be judged on norms, it should be judged on the impacts to diverse bodies in diverse situations.

Embedded within the notion that certain groups should not be tasered (or at least not tasered unless absolutely ‘necessary’) is that disability is visible and apparent – erasing the fluidity and hiddenness through which many people embody disability. Encounters with people who are deemed as “high risk” with respect to tasers are not rare. Rather, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, they are the norm.[28]

Black Lives Matter has, powerfully and significantly brought the issue of police killings of Black people to the forefront of media and public attention. The work that Black communities have done to combat both the criminalization of Black people and police violence is important and has had a significant social and political impact. In response to Black Lives Matter, a number of people (on both the right and left) have called for the use of tasers rather than guns.[29] It is true that far fewer people shot with tasers die than those shot with guns. But, tasers are not a solution to anti-Black police violence. There is lots of evidence that tasers get used by police for things that guns aren’t used for, including general compliance (although sometimes people are shot for that too). Tasers are also applied in a racist manner (as are bullets). But, there isn’t a lot of evidence that police shootings are meaningfully decreased with the use of tasers.

Tasers are not an appropriate solution to the shooting deaths of Black people, many of whom are labelled as mentally ill, and other racialized groups. What is needed is an end to the criminalization of Black people, the elimination of the hyper surveillance of Black communities, Indigenous communities and other communities of color and the elimination of white supremacy and all forms of police brutality.

Tasers are also not an appropriate solution to dealing with people labelled as being in mental health crisis. One study argues that: “deployment of less lethal weapons, such as the Taser, may be part of a solution to a significant public health problem.”[30] Violence and the infliction of pain are not appropriate approaches to public health issues. Tasers are painful and sometimes deadly. They are an immediate form of punishment, often for being a member of an oppressed group.

While pulling the plug, both literally and figuratively, on the use of electricity as a compliance or control tool is essential, stopping the flow of electricity does not destabilize the political process that allows these abuses to take place. It is necessary to not only fight for the eradication of electricity as control, but also work to eliminate the systems of power and domination which enable the othering or marking of certain bodies as requiring control and as controllable.

A version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association:The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance, October 10, 2015. Toronto, Ontario.


[1] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement” (London: Amnesty International, 2008); Braidwood Commission on Conducted Energy Use, “Restoring Public Confidence: Restricting the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons in British Columbia” (Victoria: Government of British Columbia, 2009).

[2] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement”; Michael D. White and Jessica Saunders, “Race, Bias, and Police Use of ThE TASER: Exploring Available Evidence,” in Race, Ethnicity and Policing: New and Essential Readings, ed. Stephen K. Rice and Michael D. White, Book, Section vols. (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 382–404.

[3] As quoted in Braidwood Commission on the Death of Robert Dziekanski, “Why?: The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy” (Victoria: Government of British Columbia, 2010).

[4] As quoted in Greg Joyce, “Tasers ‘Generally Safe,’ Company Head Tells Probe,” Toronto Star, May 12, 2008.

[5] As quoted in ibid.

[6] As quoted in ibid.

[7] Braidwood Commission on the Death of Robert Dziekanski, “Why?: The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy.”

[8] Amnesty International USA, “USA: Excessive and Lethal Force? Amnesty International’s Concerns about Deaths and Ill-Treatment Involving Police Use of Tasers” (Amnetsy International USA, 2004), 197,.

[9] National Institute of Justice, “Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons” (Washington DC, 2011).

[10] Amnesty International USA, “USA: Excessive and Lethal Force? Amnesty International’s Concerns about Deaths and Ill-Treatment Involving Police Use of Tasers.”

[11] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement” (London: Amnesty International, 2008)

[12] Sahar Fatima and Kathryn Blaze Carlson, “Police Chief Backs Expanded Use of Tasers,” Globe and Mail, 2013.

[13] Jeffrey D. Ho et al., “Impact of Conducted Electrical Weapons in a Mentally Ill Population: A Brief Report,” The American Journal of Emergency Medicine 25, no. 7 (September 2007): 780–85.

[14] Jon Swaine et al., “The Counted: People Killed by Police in the United States in 2015 – Interactive,” The Guardian, 2016.

[15] Ho et al., “Impact of Conducted Electrical Weapons in a Mentally Ill Population”; Michael D. White and Justin Ready, “The TASER as a Less Lethal Force Alternative: Findings on Use and Effectiveness in a Large Metropolitan Police Agency,” Police Quarterly 10, no. 2 (2007): 170–91.

[16] As quoted in New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State,” 2011.

[17] Shankar Vedantam, “Racial Disparities Found in Pinpointing Mental Illness,” The Washington Post, 2005.

[18] White and Saunders, “Race, Bias, and Police Use of The TASER: Exploring Available Evidence.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Carol Taylor and Francis Henry, Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of A Few Bad Apples, Book, Whole (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

[21] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[22] Sherene Razack, “Abandonment and the Dance of Race and Bureaucracy in Spaces of Exception,” in States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century, ed. Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2010), 87.

[23] Erick Fabris, Tranquil Prisons: Chemical Incarceration Under Community Treatment Orders (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011).

[24] Taser International, “TASER Handheld CEW Warnings, Instructions, and Information: Law Enforcement,” 2013, 3.

[25] New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State.”

[26] A. J. Withers, “Disabling Trans: Political Implications and Possibilities of Constructions of Trans as a Disability” (York University, 2013); American Psychiatric Association, “DSM-5 Overview: The Future Manual,” 2012; American Psychiatric Association, “Highlights of Changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5” (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

[27] Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (New York: Verso, 1995), 29.

[28] As quoted in New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State,” 8.

[29] Mary Boland, “Column: How We Nurture High-Crime Areas |,” Post Independent Citizen Telegram, September 18, 2015; Keith Boykin, “Commentary: What It Was Like in Ferguson for One Week,” BET, August 22, 2014; Hannah Wolfe, “Mental Illness Is Not a Crime,”, November 5, 2013.

[30] Mark R. Munetz, Antonia Fitzgerald, and Michael Woody, “Police Use of the Taser with People with Mental Illness in Crisis,” Psychiatric Services 57, no. 6 (2006): 883.


Disability plays a key role in immigration policy, policy that has the desire to keep disabled people out of the country embedded in it. In Canada, the 1886 Immigration Act prohibited “the landing of passengers suffering from any loathsome, dangerous or infectious disease.”

Today, one can be deemed inadmissible if their condition “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services”. People have been excluded from entering Canada for having things like arthritis, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities or for being quadriplegic.

Abdelkader Belaouni was denied immigration status largely because he is blind and, like about 90% of other blind people in Quebec, was unemployed.

Rather than be deported to Algeria, Kader sought sanctuary in a church in Montreal that he has been unable to leave for over 3 years.

In the United States they have a similar policy of discrimination against disabled immigrants. Medical exams for immigration purposes were initiated in 1891. According to historian Paul Longmore in Why I Burned My Book, “exclusion of aliens with disabilities has been a central, if uncontroversial, goal” of U.S. immigration policy. Lomgmore claims that “officials labored throughout the nineteenth century to bar ‘the halt, the lame, and the blind,’ the ‘deformend, crippled or maimed,’iii. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, new laws allowed for even greater powers to deny disabled immigrants entry to the US.

Generally, immigration has been used as a tool for social control and, among others (like racist quotas and practices), the medical exception aspect of immigration law has been used this way. One of the best examples of this was the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952. The act prohibited the entry into the United States of anyone who was “afflicted with [a] psychopathic personality” which was interpreted by the courts to include homosexuality.

As views on homosexuality changed, the bar on homosexual immigration was lifted (1976 for Canada, 1990 for the United States). This definition of disabled or psychopathic which was applied to homosexuals was applied to further political aims.

Disability, especially in the context of immigration, is an ever changing category that is redefined by whim or convenience to segregate undesirables.

The rationale behind this form of segregation is that it is a privilege to come to Canada or the United States and that not just anyone should be allowed in as they may drain national resources.

Here are some problems with this position:

Colonization: The United States and Canada are colonial countries of which the bulk of the population is non-indigenous and occupying this land. As occupiers, we should have no right to dictate who is permitted into these two countries.

Imperialism: American and Canadian governments, corporations and citizens have neo-liberal economic policies which exploit Third-world human and natural resources. The individuals who are impoverished and/or oppressed by these policies should be able to follow the money back to the countries that are implementing them. They should be entitled to thrive on the wealth that North Americans possess because of that exploitation.

War: The victims of the wars waged or supported for political or economic gain by Canada and the United states should have the right to seek refuge in our nations.

Update: Since originally writing this, Kader won immigration status after 3 years and almost 10 months! You can check out his music by clicking here.

In-text links used in this post:

Paul Longmore

Why I Burned My Book

racist quotas

Kader’s music

Incarceration and Institutionalization: Disability and Imprisonment

This is the speech that I gave for Living the Limit: Criminalization, Incarceration and the Law. It was a book launch for Love and Struggle: My Life in the SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond by David Gilbert and Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law by Dean Spade. I started by thanking both of them and the organizers.

I have been asked to speak about disability, disabled people and incarceration. I want to first acknowledge that we are on Indigenous land, not as a token effort, but out of both respect and the understanding that when we talk about prison and when we talk about disability that First Nations people are over represented in both populations both as a consequence and as a part of the ongoing colonial process.

I also want to acknowledge that I am disabled and I am white and both of these things inform my experiences and understanding of this issue. I am coming to this panel as an activist and an ally not as someone who is bringing forward demands about prison justice from my own experience.

When I talk about disability, I define it as a political label used to marginalize people who are considered abnormal, deviant, and/or under or unproductive. Disability is a political category, not a biological one and this is why who is classified as disabled has shifted over time. If I were giving this speech in the 1910s I would likely be talking about women, racialized people, poor people, gay, lesbian queer and trans people because, at the time, they were seen to be disabled. All of these groups were seen to be intellectually, or physically, inferior – and often all 3.

Just because I made a distinction between people who would be categorized as disabled 100 years ago and now does not mean that those groups are not over represented within disabled communities as a whole. Most disabled people are racialized, are women and/or are poor. When I talk about disabled people, please remember that most of us have intersecting oppressions that inform our labels and our experiences of disability.

Just to give you an idea about rates of disability in Canada: estimates of the number of federal prisoners who are considered to have psychiatric disabilities are as high as 25%. HIV/AIDS transmission rates are 10 times higher in prisons than in the general population with almost 4% of women and 2% of men being HIV positive. And, 20-30% of criminalized people are intellectually disabled. But, in addition to prisons, there are also institutions which hold primarily intellectually and psychiatrically disabled people against their will. But, this isn’t to erase the many physically disabled people who are forced into nursing homes or other involuntary institutions.

To give you a little background: mass incarceration of undesirables entered a new era in the mid to late 1800s with the entrenchment of eugenic values. Eugenics is the ideology that promotes the breeding of the ‘fit’ (so, rich and middle-class, white people) and discouraged the reproduction of the ‘unfit’ or marginalized people, largely through segregation and/or sterilization. Eugenics was seen as a biological solution to social problems – for if you want to eliminate poverty, get rid of poor people.

Physical removal of disabled people became, from the eugenic perspective, a social necessity in order to save the white race from degeneration, including disability and inter-racial mixing – prison and institution populations swelled. The distinction between the two was often ambiguous. Institutions were designed like prisons both architecturally and functionally.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The language of eugenics has fallen out of favour but the act of incarcerating marginalized people continues on mass. However, by this time, deinstitutionalization of institutions that held disabled people was well under way. Pychiatric hospitals and institutions for physically and/or intellectually disabled people were downsized and people were moved into the community. This happened on a massive scale, for example, Since 1970, Canada has eliminated 50,000 psychiatric beds.

There were many promises made about how people in institutions would be provided support. But in reality, while some people did get support and some people thrived with or without support, these institutions were shutdown to save money and little resources were made available to people who were deinstitutionalized. To be clear, I am against prisons and incarceration in all of their forms, including institutions, however, it is completely unacceptable to take a person who has been in an institution for a year or five or twenty and hand them a couple of bucks and a bus ticket and say good luck.

Then more cuts came. In 1995, Ontario works, or welfare, was cut by 21.6%. More people became homeless, user fees were implemented for programming that had previously been free and then, in 1998, panhandling and squeegeeing were criminalized in Ontario.

By 1999 approximately one third of all homeless people in Toronto were psych survivors or psychiatrized people. Over 1/4 of psychiatrized people had inadequate housing in 2006.

At each step of the way deinstitutionalization acted as a doorway to reinstitutionalization in the prison system for people who didn’t fit or were ‘unfit.’ People slept on the streets, stole food and other things, loitered, trespassed, did sex work and sold drugs, used drugs and committed welfare fraud, among other things, to make money and survive. Depending where one lived, they could go to jail for many if not all of these so-called crimes, some of which could result in imprisonment for many years.

Thus, the neo-liberal deinstitutionalization was really about moving people from more expensive and supposedly more humane institutions to the streets and then to prisons.

My point in this is that prisons and institutions are interrelated – they both target marginalized communities and are tools of social control. It is integral for people who work on prison issues and who concern themselves with social justice to take up justice issues for disabled people in prisons and institutions. There is no easy separation between the two. It is also problematic for disability rights organizers to claim that there is a distinction between institutions that incarcerate people for what they do ie. commit crimes and those that incarcerate people for who they are ie. are disabled – that distinction simply doesn’t hold up and works to perpetuate the oppression of racialized and poor communities.

Psychiatrized and intellectually disabled people are disproportionately incarcerated in the prison system today (and this is likely the case for physically disabled people but there is a lack of good research on this). This may well be the case for physical disability but there simply isn’t a lot of research about disability in Canadian prisons.

The primary reasons for over-representation are tri-fold:

1. systemic discrimination which leads to a lack of employment opportunities available and the inadequacy of income and other supports

2. the disableism in the judicial system which makes it difficult for disabled people to get adequate representation and a fair trial;

3. the fact that many disabled people face greater barriers to getting parole so they are held in prison longer.

Now I want to talk a bit about what the experiences are for disabled people in prison. In doing this, I want to be clear that I think prison is a horrible and unjust experience for everyone and I am not minimizing that by highlighting disabled people’s experiences. And, please keep in mind when I talk about disabled people in prison that prison populations are disproportionately disabled and that these numbers are going to increase dramatically with Omnibus legislation that the Tories are trying to implement.

There are a lot of ways that disabled people can be profoundly impacted by disablism in the prison system. Here are a few:

    • many disabled people will be put into medical or administrative segregation which can mean, among other things: no television, restricted phone access, no programming, no interaction with other people unless they are guards or, occasionally, cell-mates, restricted yard access, restricted shower and laundry access, restricted or no library or book access.
    • Assistive devices will likely be taken away from people so if somebody needs a cane, wrist braces, back brace, etc. generally speaking they just won’t have access to them. Or if they require equipment like a sleep apnoea machine, they will not have access to it.
    • People can be put in a higher security stream to save money on accessibility, For example, if there are 5 blind prisoners, 1 in maximum security, 1 in medium security and 3 in minimum security, in order to offer programming to all of the prisoners, they would all be kept in maximum security. So, in this example, there are 4 prisoners who would have had more privilege who don’t, specifically because they are disabled
    • In fact, the federal “Custody Rating Scale” and provincial “Level of Supervision Inventory” explicitly bases criteria for security streaming disability implying that disabled people are inherently dangerous.
    • Lack of attendant care – which may mean having to wait hours to go to the bathroom or not going at all.
    • Lack of language interpretation services, including ASL
      prison doctors can overrule anything a doctor on the outside orders so accommodations or medical needs can simply be disregarded.
    • Medication is distributed arbitrarily. If the prison nurse does rounds 3 times a day, you get your medication 3 times a day even if you need it 5 times a day.
      And, if you are disabled and you want to visit someone you love who is in prison don’t count on being accommodated, particularly if you use a wheelchair.When I said that the numbers of disabled people will increase in prisons with the new Omnibus bill, one of the reasons for this is that the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences will lead to an increase in the prison populations over all but that coupled with getting rid of house arrest for a number of offences means that many disabled people who would have otherwise been sentenced to their homes because of accessibility issues, attendant care needs and/or complex medical needs will find themselves in prisons.People, particularly disabled people, will likely do longer time. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act Bill C-39, doesn’t talk about rehabilitation or reintegration anymore, only public safety. What does this mean? Among other things, cuts to programming for prisoners. At the same time, the new legislation requires prisoners to fulfill the terms of their corrections plans before they are released but there may not be programming available for people to do this and if you are disabled and programing isn’t accessible, it will be even tougher. Fundamentally, it will be harder for people to get parole.Also There will be more powers to punish inmates for “bad behaviour” which means that for people who are psychiatrized or are intellectually disabled, people could be facing these punishments on a daily basis (not that they aren’t now) and it could be used to deny them parole.For these reasons, as well as specific attacks on First Nations and immigrant communities, and its regressive nature as a whole, this law is dangerous and could be devastating to marginalized communities. So, in the short term it is important that we fight the Omnibus Bill and ensure that marginalized people and their demands, including disabled people, are a part of this fight. Also in the short term, come on Friday, March 16 at noon to College and Bay and take action against more austerity measures – more cuts to social programs and demand decent income, housing and pubic services for all. In the medium-term we have to build bridges between what have often been disparate movements: disability justice and prison justice, and ensure that disabled people and our demands are incorporated into anti-prison organizing. We also have to recognize how poverty, disablism, racism, colonialism, patriarchy and heterosexism all interlock and we have to combat all of these things in order to defeat the systems that incarcerate certain bodies and privilege others. And, Ultimately, we need to fight for a just society in which all of us are accommodated and have the opportunity to thrive. And I have said this many times, but it is nevertheless true, when I say we have to fight, I mean it. We cannot simply ask for change, we have to demand it and we have to create the conditions to make it happen. And we have to Fight to Win and fight until we win but we can win and we will win.

In-text links used in this post:

Love and Struggle: My Life in the SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law