Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

PRISONS ARE NOT THE ANSWER

Posted by strattof on August 16, 2014

Since 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, limits the use of house arrest, and requires adult sentences for some young offenders.

WHAT THIS LEGISLATION MEANS:

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

It does not mean that Canadian communites are any safer. Study after study has shown that increased rates of incarceration do not decrease crime or act as a deterrent to it.

Canada’s crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 22 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973 (see Statistics Canada graph above). At the same time, the number of federal prisoners has, since 2006, been steadily rising. GO FIGURE!

CANADA’S PRISON SYSTEM: 5 MORE FACTS

  1. When the Harper government gained power in 2006, there were 12,671 people in federal prisons. By 2013, the number had jumped to 15,276, a 21% increase.
  2. Over the same period, the crime rate in Canada decreased by 23%.
  3. While Regina’s crime rate is still the highest in the country, it fell by 8% from the previous year and by 46% over the last decade.
  4. Between 2006 and 2012, spending on Canada’s criminal justice system increased from less than $15 billion to $20.3 billion, a 23% increase.
  5. While Ottawa sets the policy, the provinces bear most of the cost. In 2012, it was a 27% to 73% split. The provinces will also have to pay for the building of new provincial facilities, estimated to cost $2.724 billion.

THE AMERICAN LESSON

While Canada is imposing increasingly harsher sentences, the US is backing away from its tough-on-crime agenda. Why?

  • Cost: Since 1985, US corrections spending rose from $6.7 billion to $53.2 billion annually.
  • Effectiveness: Tough-on-crime policies do not work. Study after study has shown that harsher sentences do not decrease crime. What does reduce crime is investment in job-training, anti-poverty initiatives, and mental healthcare.

The prison population in the US is now decreasing. If Canada must copy the US, we should, at the very least, adopt the latest, most up-to-date US model!

PRISON EXPANSION: WHO BENEFITS?

Private companies are the major beneficiaries. They get to build new facilities and to add extensions to existing ones.

Private companies do especially well when prison expansion is accompanied by an increase in the privatization of prison services ‒ as is happening in Saskatchewan jails where two services have  recently been privatized:

The phone system: A long distance call now costs $1 for the initial connection and 30 cents a minute. Many prisoners cannot afford to keep in contact with family and friends.

Food services: Not surprisingly, the privatization of food services in US prisons led to a decline in the quality of food and hence to prison unrest. Quality jobs are also lost to privatization. 

CANADA’S INJUSTICE SYSTEM

How just is Canada’s justice system? “Not very” is the answer to this question. Here are three examples of injustice in Canada’s justice system.

  1. 81% of the prison population in Saskatchewan is Indigenous, compared to 11% of the province’s population. 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.
  2. The use of solitary confinement is growing in Canadian prisons. Indigenous, African Canadian, and female prisoners are disproportionately represented in segregation. Many mentally ill prisoners also end up in segregation rather than receiving treatment. Cases of self-harm by prisoners has nearly tripled.
  3. Canadian prisons are so crowded that 25% of prisoners are double-bunked. Double-bunking breeds violence, endangering both prisoners and staff. Prison rape is on the rise in Canada.

AUGUST IS PRISONERS’ JUSTICE MONTH  a time to reflect on Canada’s judicial and prison systems. 

There is no rationale or excuse for confining those who are not physically dangerous nor for reducing their access to treatment, which is cheaper, more effective, and more humane than prison. ‒ Conrad Black 

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones. ‒ Nelson Mandela

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