Omnibus crime bill a concern

thewhig.com – comment/letters
Nov. 19, 2011.   Marie Lloyd;

I am a former member of the Kingston John Howard Society board of directors and have for some years volunteered to visit regularly with inmates for a program at one of our local prisons.

After reviewing the government’s omnibus crime bill, I have many concerns, but let me highlight the most jarring.

This omnibus crime bill duplicates a system that has already proven to be a failure. Conservative Texans are expressly warning us against their untenable “fill the prisons” approach to justice, and the Canadian Bar Association, representing 37,000 lawyers, declares the bill will “move Canada along a road that has failed in other countries, at great expense.”

Mandatory sentences, a particularly dangerous aspect of this bill, will turn minor offenders into hardened criminals. In fact, the bill, supposedly tough on crime, is tough on Canadians with mental illness, addictions and poverty. It specifically and disastrously targets youth for harsher punishments and will lead to more Aboriginal people in prison — just what they need, after generations of forced incarceration as children in “residential schools”.

Lastly, the crime bill will clog the justice system and require the construction of … more prisons. To house prisoners is staggeringly expensive. To cover the high costs, do you prefer higher taxes or cuts to health care? Or will you have a choice?

Marie Lloyd Kingston
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A wrongheaded approach

Here is a tip for the current government.

You say that the current prison system is broken. You are right.

But the solution you propose — the building of far greater numbers of prison cells, with far more restrictive rules and far fewer useful programs — is a totally wrongheaded approach.

From my observations during the time in which I was a frequent visitor to prisons to provide legal services to incarcerated persons, I found some things that really were not working well.

First: Health care is appalling inside prisons. People don’t get timely or proper treatment for even the simplest, most common problems. And there is no preventative care. When incarcerated persons are released and are ill and out of shape and in need of lengthy lists of overdue or neglected care, it is not likely that they will have the energy to find employment, given the poor availability of jobs in our current economy. In some cases, this forces them into more crime to survive.

Second: Educational and social remedial programs are inadequate, far too scarce, and often completely unavailable. I had one client for whom it was mandatory that he participate in a social program aimed at reducing his risk to reoffend before he could become eligible for parole. Attempting to comply with his correctional plan, he applied for and received transfers a number of times, attempting to get to an institution in which that particular program was offered. Each time he chose an institution in which he had been told that the program was offered, he would arrive to find that, although the program was officially listed for that institution, it hadn’t been offered there for years, and there were no plans to provide it any time soon. It was a classic Catch-22 situation, one in which many other incarcerated people find themselves. If the system requires the program, then it must be provided at (at least) some institutions on a regular, predictable schedule, so that people can actually follow their correctional plan.

Third: Treating people like caged animals is a sure way to ensure that they will behave like caged creatures and not like socialized human beings. The more institutionalized they become, the more likely they are to respond to being released (as almost all incarcerated people eventually are) by acting outside society’s norms. It is vital that people live in as nearly normal patterns as possible within the limitations of a prison, to assist them in retaining their ability to do so upon release.

Take note of and repair these problems, and then, and only then, you can consider whether you need or want any expansion of prisons in this country.

Caroline Yull, Kingston

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