Sunday, May 23, 2010
Lock up the real criminals: editorial
The Tories’ tough-on-crime legislation, and its recent yanking of the troubling two-for-one credit for pre-trial custody that gave kisses even to gangbangers, was a long time coming.
But it is about to create another dilemma.
And that’s the overcrowding of our federal prisons.
According to the European Union and the United Nations, the surest sign of a poorly-run and dangerous corrections system is the overcrowding of a country’s penal institutions — a situation that, in many U.S. jurisdictions, and particularly California, has led to successful litigations for cruel and unusual punishment.
We couldn’t care less if they pack them in like sardines.
As long as they are the right sardines.
There are two options, of course. Either we build more prisons, or we make sure the right people are in the cage.
Did Ashley Smith belong in a cage, for example? Not a chance.
The New Brunswick teenager was mentally ill, not a hard-core criminal who belonged behind bars.
Smith, who committed a series of minor offences, including throwing crab apples at a letter carrier, spent 2003 to 2006 in two New Brunswick correctional facilities.
She was later transferred to several different federal prisons across Canada, eventually arriving at a federal women’s prison near Kitchener, Ont., where she was found dead in her cell in October 2007 — a ligature around her neck.
Corrections Ombudsman Howard Sapers, in an interview with the Sun recently, called her demise a “preventable death,” and he wrote a scathing report saying just that.
According to Sapers, a full 30% of the women now incarcerated in our federal prison system suffer from psychiatric illnesses. They are not criminals by definition. They are mentally sick.
As for men, the numbers ranges from 10% to 15%.
There is no mixed message here. We have no bleeding heart when it comes to the punishment of criminals.
The more the merrier, and throw away the key when it comes to repeat sex offenders and first-degree killers.
But, by weeding out the 30% of women, and the 15% of men, who need psychiatric care rather than federal imprisonment, more cells become open for the ones who truly belong there.
And that makes our streets safer.
I disagree with saying that we should imprison ALL sex offenders and murderers. That is categorizing them as if their crimes and circumstances were all equal when in reality, they are not. We need to address the underlying causes of crime and prisons fail at encouraging or facilitating rehabilitation and reform. Prisons are the schools of crime, especially for non violent offenders such as those who commit property and drug offenses. Prisons are also inappropriate punishments for Aboriginals as they provide little to no culturally sensitive programming which would integrate culture and traditions. Prisons have many damaging long term, psychological effects, especially for those serving longer periods, as a result of deprivations and the pains of imprisonment. Also, it has been proven that longer sentences increase the probability of re-offending. That is NOT in society's best interests and it does not make society any safer in the long term. Prison is only a quick fix, not a long term solution. I think the courts need to rely less on prisons and more on alternative sanctions, as they have been proven to be more effective and successful in the long term and offer less deprivations and more opportunities. Also when offenders are sentenced to prison, it is often applied disproportionately, as the majority in prisons are unemployed, have lived in poverty, lack education, have been abused themselves, are ethnic minorities, suffer with substance abuse issues or belong to a gang, have mental health issues, etc. Often, the crimes these individuals commit signal a deeper problem which needs to be addressed and prisons cannot do that effectively. Often, offenders are released from prison with little assistance, not rehabilitated, unemployed, lack housing, substance abuse issues, lack of family support, financial difficulties, have become more involved in drugs or gangs, are more violent and bitter due to prison overcrowding and the negative environment and pro criminal behaviours and attitudes, etc. These conditions often create individuals to resort back to a life of crime, which is also not in society's best interests.
We need the courts to consider all circumstances surrounding an offender and their offense when determining a sanction.
Sex offenders especially, have often been sexually abused themselves and do not need prison. They need rehabilitation and abuse counselling as they struggle with deeper problems.