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National Post, May 15, 2001

Public believes prison life cushy
Bernardo, Homolka influence opinion, survey finds

Adrian Humphreys
National Post

Although most prisoners are behind bars for comparatively minor offences,
two notorious inmates -- sex slayers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka --
epitomize the prison population, according to public opinion research
conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada.

That mental image colours the public's perception of prisons being lenient
and cushy, according to an internal report to the federal agency running the
country's prisons obtained through the Access to Information Act.

"The mention of prison inmates conjures an image of child molesters,
pedophiles, murderers and other violent criminals. Paul Bernardo and Karla
Homolka were spontaneously mentioned in almost all segments," says the
report on interviews with six focus groups of residents of Kingston, Ont., a
community with one of the highest concentration of correctional facilities
in the country.

"There is a prevalent belief that prison conditions are too good in Canada,"
says the report.

"Respondents across all segments feel prisoners enjoy excellent food, free
education, comfortable living arrangements, big screen TVs in their cells,
video games and some even believe inmates have unrestricted access to the
Internet.

"There is a perception that prisoners lead a better life than some who are
not in prison, especially the homeless."

The report notes, however, that none of the respondents would prefer to be
in prison.

The package of public opinion research, including the focus groups and
telephone polling, also found that respondents had little confidence in
Canada's prison system.

The poll found a huge gulf between public confidence in police and
correctional agencies.

The Ontario Provincial Police was rated the highest, with 57% expressing a
high level of confidence in that agency, followed by 56% for the local
police.

Only 17% of respondents expressed a high level of confidence in the courts,
15% in the Correctional Service, and 10% in the National Parole Board.

The report notes: "Respondents express more negative than positive views
about the Correctional Service of Canada."

Michele Pilon-Santilli, spokeswoman for the Correctional Service, said the
prison system often takes the lumps for public problems with all justice
institutions.

"There are often public misconceptions. People often think we are the ones
who hand down the sentences, when we only administer them."

The poll, conducted in July by Environics Research Group, surveyed 600
Kingston and area residents. Participants were excluded if anyone in the
household was a federal government employee.

The poll's report notes that the margin of error is plus or minus 4%, 19
times out of 20.