Monday, 22 October 2012

Canada's Crime Creation Policy

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in Parliament, retrieved from
On  August 2, 2012 I posted a blog on torture in American prisons. Lest it be thought that I like to criticize the Americans but not my own country, I want to point out that our current Conservative government is engaged in a policy to ensure more crime in Canada. The government thinks that the way to combat crime is through stiffer sentences, even though we know that “tough-on-crime” policies fail and even though Canada’s crime rate has been falling since 1992 and is now at the same level as 1972, according to an article by Gloria Galloway in the Globe and Mail. The government  has instituted minimum sentencing rules that don’t give judges the discretion to take the particular circumstances of the offender into account; some judges have refused to abide by these rules, saying they violate our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet data on recidivism rates show that offenders given non-prison punishments are much less likely to reoffend than those who are incarcerated, according to an article in The Walrus, a Canadian monthly, by Edward Greenspan, a prominent Toronto lawyer, and Anthony Doob, a criminologist.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners say that “Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms, each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself,” but our prisons are now so overcrowded that double-bunking in cells built for one is common. In fact, according to Galloway, it’s so bad that the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, Pierre Mallette, is complaining. With serious overcrowding, fights and other disruptions are more frequent and guards have to rely more on firearms. Mr. Mallette is also worried that there aren’t enough educational programs for the inmates, who will be released one day into the community without the resources they need to survive without committing more crimes. Yet the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for prisoners also say that “further education shall be provided to all prisoners” and that  “recreational and cultural activities like sports, music and other hobbies shall [also] be available to all prisoners.” Without these programs, there will be more mental illness, more fighting, and more attacks on guards; and more former prisoners will return to crime upon their release.
And then there are the aboriginal prisoners. With more incarceration and higher rates of recidivism the crime rate will undoubtedly increase in aboriginal communities. And one can predict that there will be even higher rates of suicide than the shockingly high rates that already exist among aboriginals, when prisoners are released into the community without the resources to fend for themselves.
Meantime, the same government that has opened an Office of Religious Freedom in its foreign affairs department has decided to cut the number of chaplains available in our prisons by eliminating paid part-time positions Yet according to an article by Jill Mahoney in the Globe and Mail, most of the paid full-time positions are for Christian chaplains, while 18 of the 49 part-timers are members of minority religions. The government thinks Christians can minister to all prisoners, even providing services for all of them. I am sure the Christian chaplains would do their best to minister to prisoners’ psychological and social needs, but how can a Christian chaplain conduct a Muslim, aboriginal or other service, or recite the correct prayers? I guess our current government supports freedom of religion for everyone except people in Canadian jails.
Canada has the resources to take care of our prisoners, we have the trained personnel, and we have the chaplains. But we also have a government that won’t look at the evidence and that uses a purported surge in crime to garner the populist vote. God help us all when the crime rate rises as a result of these policies.

Gloria Galloway, “Overcrowding makes life dangerous for workers and inmates in prisons,” Globe and Mail, September 14, 2012.
Edward L. Greenspan and Anthony N. Doob, “The Harper Doctrine: Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal,” The Walrus, September 2012, pp. 22-26.
Jill Mahoney, “Prisons to lost non-Christian chaplains,” Globe and Mail, October 6, 2012, p. A16.
Thanks to:
 Andrew Basso for helping me with the research for this post.

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