Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

PRISONS ARE NOT THE ANSWER!

Posted by strattof on August 11, 2011

The federal Conservative government intends to pass an Omnibus Crime Bill as part of its US-style law-and-order agenda. The bill includes several pieces of legislation that will have a damaging effect on youth incarceration rates. One of these is Bill C-4, which will expand the types of crimes youth can be charged with. Another is Bill S-10, which includes mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug charges. 

The result will be more youths will be spending more time in prison. It also means large increases in public spending on federal and provincial prison systems.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • Canada’s crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 20 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973. Is the government ignoring facts at taxpayers’ expense as it pursues its “tough on crime” legislation?
  • “The budget for the Correctional Service of Canada has already increased 86.7 per cent, from $1.597-billion annually since 2006 when the Conservatives took office, and is expected to climb to $3.147-billion by 2013-14” (Globe and Mail, July 21, 2011: “Crime falls to 1973 levels”). 
  • In anticipation of prison population increases, the provinces are expanding or replacing jails. The estimated price tag for building the new and expanded facilities is $2.724 billion. Operating costs to maintain the added beds are likely to be more than $300 million annually. 
  • The average daily cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated in a federal prison is $322.51. That’s $117,716.15 a year. When the offender is maintained in the community the annual cost is about $25,000. That’s savings of 75%. 
  • 78% of inmates in Canadian prisons are non-violent. Only 22% are violent. Non-violent offenders do not need to be in prison. They can be maintained in the community. 
  • “Canada has the highest youth incarceration rate in the Western world, including the United States” (Department of Justice website: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/yj-jj/ycja-lsjpa/back-hist.html). 
  • Saskatchewan has the highest youth incarceration rate of any province in Canada. In 2007, 26.2 per 10,000 youth were incarcerated in Saskatchewan, which is more than double the Canadian average of 10.9 per 10,000 youth. 
  • Young people who are put behind bars are 11% less likely to get a job once they get out, compared with those who don’t go to prison. 
  • 81% of the prison population in Saskatchewan is Aboriginal, compared with 11% of the general population.

August is Prisoners’ Justice Month, a time to reflect on Canadian judicial and prison systems.

AUGUST REFLECTIONS

  • “The omnibus bill’s jail-intensive emphasis confounds criminologists on both sides of the border: as Canada goes the tough-on-crime route when it comes to youth, many US states are going in the opposite direction. They’ve found this strategy doesn’t work and, moreover, it’s bankrupting them” (Globe and Mail, July 18, 2011: “Time to lead”). 
  • When evidence shows that the things that actually reduce crime are education, anti-poverty initiatives, affordable housing, and mental health centres, why does the government choose to put money into prison infrastructure? Who is benefitting from billion dollar prison investments? 
  • What accounts for the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people?
    1. Because of excessive surveillance by police and other authorities, Aboriginal people are more likely than non-Aboriginals to be arrested on minor drug-related offences. There is no evidence that Aboriginal people are more likely to use drugs than non-Aboriginals.
    2. A history of colonization and ongoing systemic racism limits and suppresses economic and social opportunities, resulting in many cases in extreme poverty.
    3. In 2010, the unemployment rate for Aboriginal people, aged 25-64, was almost three times that for non-Aboriginals: 16% vs 5%.
    4. The legacy of the residential school system lives on in First Nations communities. The current education system continues to fail Aboriginal students. Only 17% of First Nations have a post-secondary education, as compared to 40% of non-Aboriginal Canadians.
  • When do the media use the word gang? Is it used in relation to non-Aboriginal young men who hang out together? Or is the term reserved for Aboriginal youth? Does racism play a role in perceptions of who is guilty and who is innocent?   
  • If even half of the money Canada spends on imprisoning people were to be invested in education, affordable housing, and healthcare, all Canadians would benefit enormously.

LOWER THE CRIME RATE BY WORKING FOR JUSTICE

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