Expanding prisons: Getting it right on crime

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Sun Jan 16 2011.

Building more jails is a waste of money. We need a fundamental rethink on how to rehabilitate prisoners — not just punish them. Locking up more and more people doesn’t make the public safer.

Typical rhetoric from the liberal “soft on crime” crowd? Think again. Newt Gingrich, one of the foremost paladins of the U.S. conservative movement, lent his name to a column the other day in the Washington Post making just these points. It’s the biggest sign so far that the tide has turned decisively against the appalling waste of money and lives in the U.S. prison system — and it’s raising eyebrows north of the border as well.

Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, is the best-known leader of Right on Crime, a new conservative group that is blowing the whistle on the idea that more prisons, more prisoners and more money poured into punishment is the way to keep people safe. In the Post, he wrote that the U.S. spent a staggering $68 billion last year on corrections, largely to lock up petty criminals and addicts.

Worse, he added, “half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half the time, and we know there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”

What a week for the Harper government to announce the latest instalment of its “tough on crime” agenda. Ottawa doled out $150 million to fund hundreds of new beds at jails in Ontario, Quebec and the Prairies, part of a plan that will cost at least $2 billion over the next five years (the government’s figure) or as much as $5 billion (the estimate by the independent Parliamentary budget officer).

The Conservatives should think again, and take on board the message from Gingrich & Co. Instead of harping on about being “tough on crime,” they should focus on getting it right on crime — in the best possible way.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/922295–expanding-prisons-getting-it-right-on-crime >

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