The Harper Government crime bill is a huge mistake for many reasons:
1. Its crafters forget that most of the people sent to prison will be out one day. The point of legislation has to be trying to prevent future crimes, not getting revenge for crimes committed.
2. Surrounding someone who commits a crime with other people who have committed crimes will not automatically make any of them into good people. Prisons serve as training grounds for crime at least as often as they rehabilitate people.
3. People commit crimes for many reasons. There are hardened criminals who must be kept off the streets. There are also people with mental illnesses, bad home lives, and poor decision-making abilities for whom prison is not a helpful place. Eliminating the ability of judges to exercise discretion in sentencing, as this legislation does, prevents judges from making good choices to help these people find new lives.
4. Prison is not remotely like the world outside. Inmates do not make any decisions for themselves. They do not cook or care for themselves. They live tightly regimented lives, controlled by guards and other inmates. Rehabilitation efforts must overcome a system forming people who cannot possibly live competently outside. The longer the sentence, the less likely is rehabilitation.
5. People leaving prison tend not to be wanted as employees, no matter how able they are. Creating a new life after years of life inside the walls is made tougher by the need to make a living. A prison sentence doesn’t look good on a résumé. Plus, while one has been in prison, others have been gaining experience and contacts that prison work-training programs can’t always match. Seeing unemployment as punishment overlooks the problem: this forces former inmates to turn to the people they’ve just spent years living with, who will be pleased to support them in a life of crime.
6. The legislation, though it involves hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditure, is still drastically underfunded, leaving overstretched provinces to pick up the tab. This is a problem for the provinces. However, it’s a greater challenge for the already overcrowded prison system. Chances are, it will be solved partly by cramming more inmates into existing cells. This is dangerous for inmates, increasing the risk of abusive cellmates, and guards, who must care for prisons functioning far above intended capacity.
7. Still, the whole plan means more prisons, and they’re going to be in somebody’s backyard. Do you want one in your area? Don’t support the legislation unless you think that you can host a prison in your town.
8. Mandatory minimum sentences tend to create longer court battles, because plea-bargaining is less advantageous. The justice system could barely move before. This legislation will slow things even more.
Ultimately, the crime bill is about revenge, not about what’s good for society.
However, the cycle of vengeance ensures that society will suffer the consequences.
We really need to turn to different sentencing options if we want a safe and healthy community.
The Rev. Dr. William Harrison