Monday, June 7, 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.
"We couldn’t care less if they pack them in like sardines."
I guess you don't really care about creating safer communities then. Overcrowding causes levels of violence to increase in prisons, leading to better chances of re-offending when released.
Longer prison sentences, increase the chances of re-offending and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration. Imprisonment should be a last resort in all cases. All other lesser restrictive options should be considered before prison, especially for aboriginal offenders, who can better benefit from restorative justice. We should only imprison those individuals who pose a danger to society and who are violent. We should not imprison property offenders, drug offenders, non violent offenders, those with many mitigating circumstances, those with mental illnesses. Prisons also need to be reformed, to place more emphasis on rehabilitative justice and less on punishment and retribution. We need to lessen the deprivations experienced by inmates.