Thursday, September 09, 2010

Crime and Punishment: Harper Endangers Canadians

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government are closing prison farms to move prisoners into prison buildings, imposing minimum sentences even on crimes such as drug possession, and wanting to impose longer sentences, all to make Canada safer.

Canada needs to decide if they want to simply punish people for their crimes or rehabilitate them, if we want to rescue the lost or leave them to rot.

Traditionally, Canada took the sensible route to rehabilitation since strict punishment means a released prisoner who goes back to committing crimes or a troubled youth who becomes a tough criminal. The Conservative government is moving back towards a punishment and incarceration model because that's the way to protect Canadians, they aver. Although crime rates have dropped and so Canada is becoming safer anyway, there remains a perception that Canada is a hotbed of criminality. And so to a certain frightened, outraged segment of the population, Harper looks to be crusading to protect them from the thugs in our midst by making sentences longer and harsher.

"The Conservative government’s preoccupation with crime and punishment is a recipe for serious violence, injuries and even death at federal prisons soon to be bursting at the seams, Canada’s prison watchdog warned Wednesday." (Richard J. Brennan, The Toronto Star, 9 September 2010)

Unless Harper and Canadians are willing to put people away for good -- every sentence is a life sentence, served until the day of death -- harsher, longer sentences served only in crowded buildings will create anger and despair in a lost population thus guaranteeing more crime when the prisoners finally get out. Since many are stupid too, and that's why they're caught, a lack of rehabilitation means no opportunities for teaching these prisoners better life skills and abilities to earn a living as opposed to stealing one. And so they too will go back to crime upon release. In short, strict punishment equals released prisoners angry at their fellow Canadians, wanting to do them harm, to get revenge, to act out their despair.

There is no question that each year a murderer is locked away is one less year for that person to find and murder another, but how many of our prisoners actually land in that category of being unable to be rehabilitated?

"Court and prison documents obtained by the Star show how the young woman’s complaints of inhumane treatment were repeatedly ignored and how she wound up a “caged animal,” four years after first entering the correctional system for throwing crab apples at a postal worker." (Richard J. Brennan, The Toronto Star, 9 September 2010)

Ashley Smith, 19, was just the kind of prisoner Harper wants to create, a troubled person incarcerated for throwing apples. Apples. She had a minimum sentence, she had a longer sentence, she died. And if she had got out, with no rehabilitation, no mental health help, she would have returned to expressing her anger to innocent people. She never got the chance of becoming a contributing citizen or recovering from her adolescent angst.

"NDP public safety critic MP Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway) said the Conservative government’s approach to prisons is failing inmates with mental illness, endangering staff while doing nothing to make Canadians safer." (Richard J. Brennan, The Toronto Star, 9 September 2010)

How we treat the least among us says much about the kind of people that we -- we model, non-criminal Canadians -- are. In the harsh world of lets punish them all, Smith lost her life because in a fit of teenage emotionalism she threw apples.

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