Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

PRISONS ARE NOT THE ANSWER!

Posted by strattof on August 9, 2012

2006, the Harper government has passed a slate of tough-on-crime legislation as part of its US-style law-and-order agenda. This legislation creates new mandatory prison sentences, reduces the use of house arrest, limits parole and pardons, and expands the types of crime youth can be charged with.   

WHAT THIS LEGISLATION MEANS:

  • More Canadians will be spending more time in prison.
  • More prisons will have to be built, at taxpayers’ expense, to accommodate the increase in prison population.

It does not mean that Canadian communites will be any safer. As Statistics Canada figures show, Canadian communities are, in fact, already quite safe. Moreover, most Canadians are aware of it.

A recent Statistics Canada study shows that 93% of Canadians feel safe from crime.

Canada’s crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 20 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973 (see the figures below, taken verbatim from the Statistics Canada website: http://www.statcan.gc.ca). According to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the Harper government does not “govern on the basis of statistics.” But the government is ignoring facts at taxpayers’ expense as it pursues its “tough-on-crime” legislation. 

POLICE-REPORTED CRIME STATISTICS: 2011

The police reported crime rate, which measures the overall volume of crime, continued its long-term downward trend in 2011, declining 6% from 2010. The Crime Severity Index, which measures the serverity of crime, also fell 6%.

Since it peaked in 1991, the crime rate has generally been decreasing and, in 2011, was at its lowest point since 1972.

CONRAD BLACK SAYS:

“The government should run, not walk, to the dustbin to deposit there its proposals for…larger prisons, longer criminal sentences, and harsher treatment of inmates….

“There is no rationale or excuse for confining those who are not physically dangerous nor for reducing their access to treatment, which is cheaper, and more effective, and more humane than prison” (“The case against being dumb on crime,” National Post, February 19, 2011).

WHY IS THE HARPER GOVERNMENT PURSUING  A TOUGH-ON-CRIME AGENDA?

There are many reasons why the government should NOT be pursing a tough-on-crime agenda:

1. The crime rate has been falling for over two decades.  

2. Tough-on-crime legislation is very expensive. California, along with other states that provided the model for the Canadian legislation, is in the process of dismantling its tough-on-crime legislation because it is bankrupting it.

3. “The budget for the Correctional Service of Canada has already increased 86.7%, from $1.597-billion annually since 2006 when the Harper government 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”).

4. According to the Harper government, we are living in times of austerity, not unrestrained spending.

5. Tough-on-crime legislation doesn’t work. Study after study has shown that increased rates of incarceration do not decrease crime or act as a deterrent to it. What does reduce crime are education, anti-poverty initiatives, affordable housing, and mental health centres. 

6. Studies show the longer a person spends in prison, the more likely he/she is to reoffend. Prison, in other words, acts as a crime school.

7. Tough-on-crime legislation does not get big-time criminals off the street. Nor does it tackle white-collar crime or middle or upper-class drug-related offences. Rather, it targets minor drug-related offences committed by those who are economically and politically marginalized and hence already under police surveillance.   

Tough-on-crime legislation makes no sense. Why, then, is the Harper government pursuing it? Here are two possible explanations:

  • Ideology: Members of the Harper government believe that crime is the result of moral weakness and that punishment teaches morality.
  • Prison Privatization: An increasing prison population could provide the rationale for prison privatization. Two US private prison corporations, Corrections Corporatiion of America and GEO Group, are already lobbying the Harper government for permission to set up in Canada. Wherever they have operated, private prisons have been an economic, legal, and moral disaster.

Tomorrow, August 10, is Prisoners’ Justice Day, a time to reflect on Canadian judicial and prison systems.

BETTER OPTIONS

If even half of the money Canada spends on imprisoning people were to be invested in education, anti-poverty initiatives, affordable housing, and healthcare, all Canadians would benefit enormously.

LOWER THE CRIME RATE BY WORKING FOR JUSTICE

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