Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are expanded prisons really going to solve anything? Nope!

A curious thing is happening in Manitoba.
Recently the NDP put out a news release it was expanding space at two provincial jails so both could handle more inmates.
Facilities at Milner Ridge near Lac du Bonnet and in The Pas are being expanded. The addition to Milner Ridge follows a 150-bed expansion that was completed last year.
The province is still in the process of adding more jail cells--the NDP call them "beds"—in Brandon and building a new women’s jail at Headingley. The cost for all of this is in the millions.
The first reason is to deal with overcrowding in the adult and youth correctional systems. There are too many people either sitting in remand waiting for their day in court and too many people doing time.
Overcrowding is a real problem. Three inmates to a cell, two on a bunk bed and one on a mattress on the floor, is a real safety threat to correctional staff. Overcrowding builds up resentment among prisoners, who don’t like being stacked like firewood.
The Free Press recently got a call from family of a Hells Angel member who’s inside to complain about this. He at first consented to an interview, but then changed his mind. (Biker rules forbid members from squawking to reporters).
Steps are being taken by the Harper government to reduce the number of people on remand.
But still it’s forecasted more people will be arrested, convicted and sent to jail. Bail rules have also changed; in many cases it’s harder to get even though a possible conviction could be months if not years down the road.
Again, why?
Despite crime-is-out-of control headlines, it’s generally accepted Canada’s crime rate is falling.
Certainly, one year is different from the next, but the overall crime rate is down over the past two decades.
Yes, gang and drug-related crime, and Internet-related crime like child pornography, have emerged as new threats. But the impact has been marginal on police-reported crime in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

They say the main reason is that Canada’s birth rate has declined—it’s why government is so focused on increasing immigration. The decline in the birth rate means there are fewer males being born, which in-turn means there are fewer young men committing crimes.
So why do we need more jails?
The NDP government makes no secret that it’s getting tougher on all offenders, from young auto thieves to gangsters to drug dealers to sexual offenders to impaired drivers.
On the surface that doesn’t sound bad. We and our children deserve to be protected from those who threaten our safety.
But will more jails accomplish that? (A sidebar to this is the province has done little to increase the number of provincial court judges, the people who ultimately shepherd offenders through the system).
I know I sound like a namby-pamby lefty white-wine sipper, but can’t we do more to deal with the root causes of crime, like poverty and the disenfranchisement of many aboriginal community?
What about sinking some of those millions being spent on bigger jails by making life better in the North End or on Manitoba’s First Nations?
I know that same question is being asking by the NDP, as they sit around the cabinet table deciding which jail to make bigger next.
It’s also being asked by many in the party. A quick glance at some of the Equality and Social Justice resolutions up for discussion at the NDP’s recent 2010 annual convention underlines that. There were no resolutions calling for more jails; just the opposite. Fighting poverty and prevention programs were the dominant themes.
Certainly, the jail expansion has been in the works for awhile. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen in secret. Yet there was nothing about bigger jails until now, not even a hint of it, not even in Premier Greg Selinger’s first throne speech.
So it’s a little bit curious the NDP issued their news release on more jail "beds" after the convention.
Maybe curious is the wrong word.

One commenter said:: One of the mantras of the Doer administration was "tough on causes, tough on crime". Under Selinger we see something different. Freezing or cutting the budgets of all but three departments in the budget will do nothing to combat the root causes of crime or lessen poverty in Manitoba. A decade of record tax cuts "to remain competitive" hasn't done much to alieviate any of these problems either.
But the problem in provincial jails remains: we're seeing population counts rise six percent every year - something needs to be done. The system is at 150% of capacity and getting worse. This is, dare I say this on behalf of convicted criminals, a human rights issue when you're stacking inmates up like cordwood. And under these conditions inmates are not being rehabilitated - they're being warehoused. That's not what the system is meant to do.
We need significant investment in addictions programs, child welfare, training and retraining programs, apprenticeships, and Aboriginal education to name a few. We're not seeing the level of investment needed, and after cutting taxes like drunken Tories for ten years this current NDP government has no one to blame but itself.
So until the government is willing to invest in programs and services, enjoy getting your cars stolen and remaining the murder capital of Canada.
I agree with this blog. Expanding prisons will not solve anything. Prison is a quick fix, not a long term solution. With more overcrowding, comes more stress, hostility and violence between inmates, leading to increased recidivism rates when released. If we invested more money in crime prevention programs for youth, we wouldn't need more prisons. We need to concentrate on addressing the factors contributing to crime, such as poverty, addictions, unemployment, poor parenting, child abuse and neglect, negative peer influences, lack of education, etc. instead of punishing individuals. Most offenders, are victims of society in a sense that they lack education, are unemployed, addicts, lived in poverty and are in the lower social class. By imprisoning them, we are criminalizing poverty. Less poverty= less crime. It's a direct relationship. 

Aboriginals are over-represented in prisons and we need to stop discriminating against them by imposing harsher penalties. They can best be served via healing lodges, sentencing and healing circles. 

The courts need to rely less on incarceration and look at the offender's needs and mitigating circumstances and impose the least restrictive method. They need to impose more community based sanctions and spend that money towards programs and addictions treatments.  The tough on crime policies are not effective. They only lead to more overcrowded prisons and more trials being held. 

Prisons have been proven to not reduce or deter crime. We don't need to get "tough on crime" we need to "get smart on crime" and tough on the CAUSES of crime. Tough on crime measures are based on no scientific evidence. Smart on crime methods, work. 

The only thing prisons accomplish is teaching people how to conform and prevents them from committing crimes only during their incarceration period. The problem is, that the majority of people in prisons are not there for major crimes, but minor ones, such as property crimes and drug related offences. Criminals are released back into the same social and economic conditions which contributed to crime initially and they will likely re-offend because prisons do not effectively address the causes of crime. Furthermore, they have been shown to actually cause more crime and violence, because of the pro-criminal attitudes, values and behaviour inside them, combined with the prevalence of drugs and gangs. 

Poverty combined with specific psychological personality traits and biological predispositions, causes crime. 

The public always seems to fall prey to the fundamental attribution error; they overestimate the impact of dispositional influences on others' behaviour and underestimate the impact of situational influences. 

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