Ottawa will expand prisons to suit tough crime lawsThe headline hides the story.
It is easy to choose sides when complex matters are reduced to such simple battles.
More prisons. Tougher laws. Fewer prisons. More compassion.
Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper government has introduced several justice proposals that would increase the use of mandatory minimum sentences, end house arrests and eliminate a judge's ability to credit a prisoner with two days served for every one spent in pretrial custody in calculating sentences.
All of which would add to the seemingly reasonable argument that we need more prisons.
Many people, myself included, want seriously dangerous criminals off the streets and behind bars for long, long periods.
On the other hand, most jurisdictions in America that have increased prison populations have had to admit defeat. They simply do not have the money to pay for more and more inmates in more and more lock-ups.
I would suggest that in Canada we probably have most of the prisons that we need. What we do not have, what we have rarely had (and I spent 10 years working in the corrections system) was reasonable programs that would separate the merely goofy from the truly scary.
Most inmates in our prisons are more of a danger to themselves than to any one else. They make lousy, stupid choices. They could actually be helped. They could be turned around and turned back out onto the street if we bothered to work with them and provide transition programs on the outside that worked.
Than there are the (what? possibly 10%) inmates who are flat crazy, scary, nuts. These guys are a running constant serious danger to everything and everyone. They are not hard to spot. These guys should be in prison for life. Our first consideration in their cases must be the protection and safety of the community.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the classification and parole officers and all the shrinks and docs, we simply do a lousy job of responding appropriately to these two very different kinds of prisoners.
When we get around to that real responsibility, the arguments about how big our fortresses need be will disappear.
p.s. The foto shows the B.C. Penitentiary being built in...wait for it...1877. The site in new Westminster is now condos.