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.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

We don't need more prisons. They fail to deter, prevent or reduce crime

KINGSTON, Ont. - The federal prison service plans to build new cells at 35 penitentiaries across the country to make room for an exploding inmate population.
A total of 60% of the country’s 58 federal prisons will see expansion, according to internal Corrections Canada information obtained by QMI Agency.
A list compiled by senior officials shows that new units will be built at six federal prisons in Ontario, including four in the immediate Kingston, Ont., area — Collins Bay, Frontenac, Pittsburgh and Bath institutions.
All six federal prisons for women will see expansion, according to the information.
Corrections Canada would not provide specific comment on details obtained by the newspaper.
“The Correctional Service of Canada is implementing a multi-faceted accommodation strategy to address the increase of the offender population expected to result from the Truth in Sentencing Act,” agency spokesman Melissa Hart wrote in an e-mailed response to a request for an interview.
Hart wrote the government is providing the money to create 2,700 spaces in the next three years.
It’s estimated that the construction spree will cost roughly $2 billion.
Corrections and the federal government have refused to make public specifics of the unprecedented expansion scheme.
The cancellation of two-for-one pre-trial credit is expected to add roughly 4,000 inmates to the federal inmate population by 2015, requiring construction of 13 penitentiaries, according to a report released in June by the parliamentary budget officer.
The government’s plans have been condemned by criminologists, advocates, and many social agencies as an ideologically driven desire to appear tough on crime, despite decades of research that shows mandatory minimums and longer sentences do little or nothing to improve community safety or deter crime.
“This is basically pouring money down a rat hole,” Craig Jones, the Kingston-based head of the John Howard Society of Canada has said.
A list of 35 federal prisons where new units will be built to accommodate a surging inmate population:
Men’s prisons
(six Ontario facilities listed first)
Beaver Creek
Collins Bay
Montée Saint-François
La Macaza
Federal Training Centre
Pê Sâkâstêw Centre
Willow Cree Healing Centre
William Head
Women’s prisons
Grand Valley
Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge
Fraser Valley

The new prohibition
The Harper government, fresh from botching its alleged pander to the libertarian wing of the Conservative party with its voluntary census plan, appears to be having no problem steamrolling over the libertarian wing's sensitivities on crime. In back-to-back performances this week, two Cabinet ministers invoked harsh tough-on-crime motives that show the Tories' concern about individual rights to be a fleeting interest compared with their enthusiasm for escalating the bonkers American war on drugs, gambling and sex.
Under the guise of fighting "organized crime," a global economic sector created largely by government laws and regulations, the Conservatives — with hardly a peep from the opposition or critics — this week expanded the Canadian division of the monstrous U.S.-led war on drugs. For a government allegedly concerned about the "intrusiveness" of a pollster extracting personal information under threat of fines and prison, the Conservatives are disturbingly unconcerned about a massive increase in police power to meddle in the lives of its citizens in the name of fighting crime.
The government's bizarre crime declarations began Tuesday, when Stockwell Day, as Treasury Board Secretary, defended a budget plan to spend $9-billion building prisons at a time when crime rates are declining. Mr. Day, reaching for an explanation, tried to link the prison expansions to "the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys show clearly are happening." This was an obvious head-scratcher for reporters: If the crimes are unreported, how will the criminals perpetrating those crimes end up in the expanded prison system? And, moreover, what is an "unreported crime"? Mr. Day rambled around the subject, ending with the usual Tory calls for tougher sentences and a warning that you can't take a "liberal view" of crime.
"We don't think serious crime should be treated lightly," he said.
It turns out the unreported-crime story may have some legitimacy as a contact sport for the statistical statists who are otherwise at war over the voluntary census. The Crime Victimization survey, conducted by StatsCan, asks Canadians about car and bicycle thefts, residential burglaries, pickpockets, robbery, unwanted sexual assault or harassment, and other physical assaults. The survey, a voluntary non-census effort, shows a discrepancy between the number of crimes people say they experience in real life and actual crime statistics. So what's real: The crimes reported, or the crimes not reported? Are people getting robbed, raped and assaulted but not taking the crimes to police?
Before Canada's vociferous stats community could sort any of this out, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appeared the next day with a plan that could generate the criminal numbers to justify the prison spending. The government will apparently fill Mr. Day's prisons with thousands of new criminals to be convicted under an expansion of the definition of "serious crimes" under the Criminal Code.
Mr. Nicholson was accompanied by some of Canada's top police chiefs as he explained how the government needed to escalate its war on organized crime. The government, he said, had enacted regulations that, effective immediately, would give police new powers to crack down on a long list of activities that are already covered under criminal law as relatively minor offences.
The list of crimes now considered serious is worth a close look, especially in the context of Mr. Day's concern about unreported crimes. They include:
- Keeping a common gaming or betting house;
- Betting, pool-selling and bookmaking;
- Keeping a common bawdy house;
- Trafficking in barbiturates and other chemical drugs;
- Trafficking in any quantity of cannabis;
- Importing, exporting, producing barbiturates.
Under the new get-tough regulations, keeping a common bawdy-house or selling a couple of ounces of marijuana will now bring maximum prison sentences of "at least" five years in prison. A low-level operator of a bawdy-house could also face five-year prison terms.
More important for police and prosecutors, under the organized crime umbrella, the full force of the gang-war and drug-war crime-fighting machine will be unleashed on small-time players who may appear to have organized-crime connections. These include wiretaps, tougher bail regimes, the ability to seize the proceeds of crime, sentencing conditions and parole rules.
One of the noteworthy characteristics of the new regulatory effort is that it does not include any of the "unreported" crimes — thefts, burglaries and sexual assaults — that Mr. Day seems to think will soon be the source of an expanding prison population.
Take, for example, keeping a common bawdy-house. The sex trade is a booming business in Canada. Nobody sees the transaction between a prostitute and a john as an "unreported crime," mainly because there is no underlying crime to report. There are no criminal victims. The same goes for the thousands of Canadians who smoke dope and take barbiturates or ingest steroids. Bookmakers and hockey-pool organizers ply their trade across the country, but they are not the unreported criminals Mr. Day said exist in "alarming numbers."
The people who are going to fill Mr. Day's jails are thousands of small-time bookies, prostitutes, drug traffickers and others who are seen by government to be a branch of the "organized crime" industry, even though their crime is to deliver a service to Canadians who are willing to pay for it.
Organized crime through the centuries has been the creation of government law. A business gets organized as a crime because government declares it to be illegal. Alcohol trade became an organized crime under prohibition, and disappeared after alcohol was legalized. Pornography was once controlled by organized crime, but now the industry is legitimate and the criminal behavior — smuggling, guns, violence — that once surrounded it is gone. Want porn? Turn on the TV, where it's available 24/7 on cable.
The criminalization of gambling over the decades created a major outlet for organized crime syndicates — until governments came along and organized the crime themselves, in the form of national lotteries and government-owned casinos. Still, private gambling among citizens who like to bet on outcomes other than lottery draws is a continuing business. Governments' war on private book-making and private poker dens is more to protect their own monopolies than to eliminate crime.
Canada's Criminal Code definition of organized crime, adopted as part of an international policing campaign a few years ago, is an open door to extreme law enforcement. An organization "composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada" is a criminal organization if it "has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences [see above], that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any one of the persons who constitute the group."
With that wide-open definition, the organized-crime enforcement juggernaut already has spawned a largely futile attempt to curb biker gangs, and an expensive and wasteful money-laundering data agency — whose bureaucracy, incidentally, is to get a new $9-million budget increase this year under the Conservatives.
There is no space or need here to review the already well-documented grotesque criminal culture and social deterioration spawned by the U.S.-led war on drugs — a war the Conservatives are now bringing to the streets of Canada. The enforcement of these new regulations, aimed a low-level providers of services that have willing buyers, will be as effective in curbing genuine criminal activity as the other organized crime measures have been, which is not at all. They are likely to make things worse.

Tough on crime measures are completely ineffective at preventing, reducing and deterring crime. What purpose does prison serve for a sex trade worker or a drug user?! None!! These people do not pose a threat to society or the public's safety and therefore, there is no need to imprison them. Prison is a negative environment which is likely only to have negative and damaging impacts on these groups of individuals. We need less reliance on prison, not more. Drug use should be a public health issue not a criminal justice issue and sex trade workers need assistance and support to overcome the barriers to meaningful employment and education and to overcome poverty. Prison does not address the societal factors leading to prostitution and drug use. 

Mandatory Minimum sentences (MMS) and longer prison sentences have been proven in research not to deter, prevent or reduce crime in the long term. They actually have been shown to increase the chances of re-offending and decrease the chances of successful reintegration because of the negative prison environment and subculture which counteracts any programming from being incorporated into an inmates' life. As a result, many inmates are released with little assistance, rehabilitation or support in the community and they resort back to crime. This does not improve public safety at all. Prisons fail at addressing the root causes and contributing factors to crime such as poverty, addictions, mental illnesses and unemployment. We must focus our attention and resources on crime prevention and rehab/reintegration programs for offenders and at risk populations in order to effectively reduce and prevent crime. Prison is a quick fix, not a long term solution. Most crime occurs as a result of social and societal factors, not personal choice. Society sets up the crime and the criminal commits it. The main emphasis should be on crime prevention initiatives instead of focusing on punishment and retribution. To reduce prison overcrowding we need to abolish MMS, place less reliance on prison as a sentence, grant more offenders bail divert more offenders to alternative and community sentences. The mentally ill, addicts, drug offenders, property and non violent offenders should not be imprisoned. Only the most dangerous offenders should be in order to protect society and the public. We dont need more prisons. What we need is for society to address the root causes of crime, such as poverty, unemployment, mental illness and addictions among others. More prisons will not solve the societal causes of crime. The overcrowding situation could also be reduced by the courts relying less on imprisonment as a sentence and more on alternative sanctions. Plus, there is no need to get tough on crime when crime rates are decreasing and have been for the past 25 years. We dont need more prisons. What we need is for society to address the root causes of crime, such as poverty, unemployment, mental illness and addictions among others. More prisons will not solve the societal causes of crime. The overcrowding situation could also be reduced by the courts relying less on imprisonment as a sentence and more on alternative sanctions. It's a stupid legal system we have when they want to send "low-level criminals, non-violent, non-h...armful people like pot smokers, sex trade workers, shoplifting youth, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and so on" to PRISON of all places. NONE of those crimes warrant a prison stay! 

"We shouldn't be under any illusions that they're in some way protecting people... their crime agenda laws are actually very harmful — particularly when it comes to people who are in vulnerable positions, such as sex workers or people who use drugs." -- Libby Davies
Prostitution should NOT be illegal. Those women often need help and assistance in their lives and face many barriers to securing other forms of employment and they should not be criminalized. Criminalizing sex trade workers puts them in an even more vulnerable situation. Police, prisons and punishment are not an effective way to help sex trade workers. Criminalization creates conditions where prostitution fosters in the underground market, where it is unsafe and dangerous. If it was legalized and properly regulated, safer working conditions could be created and implemented. Punishment and prisons are not the answer. Criminalization of the sex trade only results in more harm falling upon sex-trade workers.

Whatever your feelings about the morality of the sex trade, police, prisons and punishment are not the solution, they are indeed part of the problem in this case. Sex trade workers need help and assistance to overcome their situation, not prisons and punishment. Completely ineffective.

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