Sally Ann inmate present program slammed
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Friday, December 17, 2010 3:49PM PST
A Salvation Army program that provides goodie bags to federal inmates for Christmas is being slammed for playing Santa to incarcerated criminals.
Although the "Sunshine Bags" vary by province, they are usually stuffed with treats like peanuts, hard candies, magazines or personal hygiene products, like deodorant or tissue.
Vancouver advocacy group Families Against Crime & Trauma (FACT) says the program confirms that victims of crime are being snubbed by a criminal justice system that panders to offenders.
"Charitable dollars should be spent on those who have suffered at the hands of criminals, not those who perpetrate the crime," Executive Director Sandra Martins-Toner said.
Martins-Toner and her husband, David, lost their teenaged son to a brutal murder in 2005. They say no victim of crime should support the Salvation Army until they discontinue the Sunshine Bags.
"If … the Salvation Army thinks for one moment that a stick of deodorant or some chocolate will rehabilitate a psychopath, I'd like for him to live a day in the life of a parent who must sit by their child's grave on Christmas Eve," Martins-Toner said.
The B.C. branch of the Salvation Army says its funding does not come from public donations or kettle campaigns, but through money from the provincial and federal government allotted for its organization to supply visitation or chaplaincy services to inmates.
Money also comes from correctional justice programs through court-ordered financial restitution from criminals.
Maj. Brian Venables told CTV News the program is an important part of the rehabilitation process and the faith-based organization doesn't believe anyone is beyond redemption.
"Just because they're in prison doesn't mean we should write them off or society should write them off. They may have lost their way but that doesn't mean they may not find their way again," he said.
Venables said it stopped putting candy in the bags because the recipients were using the foil to short out light circuits in their cells, sometimes a measure to distract guards.
Martins-Toner said she is stunned by the thought of court-ordered funds, which are supposed to help victims' programs, being used to "play Santa."
"It's despicable," she said.
Venables admits the program receives negative feedback but says the bags are an important gesture to someone who otherwise may not receive any presents this year.
"So to give them a small token, a chocolate bar, a pair of socks, a calendar, anything, shows them that someone cares," he said. "Everyone deserves a little bit of Christmas cheer despite what they've done."