Helping others helps us all

Posted on January 9, 2011 in Inclusion Debates

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Posted Saturday Jan. 8. 2011.   William J. Parrack

How can we solve the crime problem? It is a question getting much public attention. Some people believe more police are needed. Others believe it lies in removing the root causes. The Federal Government is talking about more prisons.

There is no one simple answer because the problem is complex.

How many police will we need? We cannot put police in every home, store, bank, car or gas station. Therefore, we cannot stop all domestic violence, home invasions or robberies. We cannot have police on every street, block or even every neighbourhood 24 hours a day. More police may reduce or change the locations of crimes, but crimes will continue. Of course, more police should result in faster responses and more arrests. This is good, but the increase will be a problem in the court system. It is overcrowded now with people waiting to appear before judges. More judges and lawyers are needed along with other staff and likely additional courtrooms and holding areas.

Social issues such as poverty, addictions, rape, incest, bigotry, racism, prejudice and injustice lead to various forms of violence. Acts of crime are not limited to the poor. People of all financial levels and positions, including lords, are included in the ranks of the convicted.

How many prisons — or, as they are often called, correction centres — do we need? Doesn’t it depend on the number of offenders? Or do we stop arresting and incarcerating people when the prisons are full? When I hear people complaining about more crime, I never hear them come up with a solution to the prison overcrowding that exists.

A recent report by the Justice Ombudsman tells about over-crowded prisons and the danger to offenders and staff they present. Overcrowding and shortage of staff reduces or eliminates attempts at rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation should be one of the major purposes of incarceration. Locking people up for a specific period time as punishment and letting them out with the same or worse attitudes leads to more victims and re-offenders. Proper rehabilitation programs can prepare people in many ways to overcome addictions, lack of education, poor self-image, anger and emotional issues.

They cannot help those who will not accept help. Therefore, indefinite sentences are needed including lifelong sentences. Others cannot change because of mental and personality disorders that prevent them from living “normally”. They will always be a danger to themselves and society. A lifetime of punishment is not needed or logical. Special secure arrangements need to be provided by a society that proclaims justice and respect for all its members.

Society also needs to assist the transition from incarceration back into life on the “outside.” If offenders have no one or place to go but to the environment and those who led them into a life of crime, how many will succeed? Life is difficult even for those with good help from family and friends. Loneliness is one of the worst experiences.

An example is the offender released just before Christmas. She bought her Christmas dinner the night before. Christmas Day she ate it cold and by herself. It was a hamburger. How do we know? She told us when she became a repeat offender.

Can total crime be stopped? No. However, we can reduce it. We can provide the resources that will reduce the reasons for crime. We can provide resources that will improve rehabilitation during incarceration and after it. We can provide the resources for those who need to live their lifetime in secure facilities for their safety and societies safety.

Also important are the lives of the offenders. Jesus tells us that whatever we do to others we do to him. When we ignore the needs of offenders, both before and after their offences, we ignore Jesus.

Christians have a special role and responsibility for showing their love for God by their love in action for everyone. Jesus does not ask us to do it alone. He is always with us.

Rev. Parrack is Chaplain of Portage Correctional Centre for Women

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