What Is The Point Of Prison?

We all need to fully appreciate that one day soon we will rub shoulders with these people, and when that time comes, do you want them to more damaged or less?

Three sons and one daughter lost their lives while in the care of the Newfoundland and Labrador criminal justice system, in one month.

The rates of guard burnout, exhaustion, and PTSD are at all time highs, while the level and severity of incidents among the prisoners are becoming truly frightening.

Howard Sapers, the head of the Office of the Correctional Investigator for Canada stated at a conference of the McGill Institute for the study of Canada that, “In 2009, nearly16% of the incarcerated population are now double-bunked in cells designed for one inmate, something which has increased by more than 50% in the previous 5 years.”

In 2018 these National rates are much higher and in Newfoundland and Labrador they are higher still.

Mr. Sapers continues with what feels like a plea to be heard: “As prisoners become more crowded, they become more desperate, more violent, and more volatile. More offenders than ever before are spending more time in higher security levels. The use of long term segregation to manage the mentally ill continues, despite the fact that isolation, seclusion, and deprivation exacerbate mental illness. There are few if any correctional programs being delivered in the Country’s maximum security institutions.

Many offenders who pose little risk to public safety are spending more of their sentence behind bars, rather than under supervision in the community. Day and full parole grant rates are at historic lows, as are work releases and other forms of discretionary release.

“The purpose of incarceration should be to prepare offenders for their safe, eventual release [as rehabilitated citizens],” Sapers says. “The vast, overwhelming majority of inmates are one day released.

The Department of Justice for its part gives the following for its reason to exist; “The criminal justice system plays a critical role in ensuring the overall safety, wellness, and productivity of Canadians.”

That masthead is painfully at odds with the operations of our prisons, which are behaving less  like correctional institutions and more like factories specializing in human damage.

I’ll reiterate a point made by Mr. Sapers because it is absolutely crucial to understanding the increasingly dangerous and negative role which the current machinations of our criminal justice system is having upon our society. “…the vast, overwhelming majority of inmates are one day released.”

We all need to fully appreciate that one day soon we will rub shoulders with these people, and when that time comes, do you want them to more damaged or less?

I can almost hear the “but we can’t be soft on crime” crowd baying about the need for punishment  in order to create a deterrent to future crime.

To them I say that the rates of recidivism alone demonstrate punishment as deterrent to be a complete and categorical failure.

According to Statistics Canada, in British Columbia 66% of the offenders in 2012 alone were re-offenders. Obviously, any perceived or actual deterrent from a harsh punitive system is more than overwhelmed by the levels of damage to the individual accumulated and the total lack of readiness to re-enter society.

If you are in favour of a system of vengeance and punishment then you must accept that you are also arguing for increased levels of violence, rape, and murder within your neighbourhood.

We can either have a criminal justice system which punishes. or one which keeps society as safe as possible, we can never have both.

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2 Comments

  • ““The purpose of incarceration should be to prepare offenders for their safe, eventual release [as rehabilitated citizens],” Sapers says. “The vast, overwhelming majority of inmates are one day released.”

    And the old adage “Paid your debt to society” is long gone on top of it. Between code of conducts, record checks, bondability requirements and other factors used by employers to discriminate against the ex-con, there is an additional barrier (beyond public attitudes) to reintegration in the form of training and volunteer opportunity diminishment. One cannot be a volunteer with the SPCA without submitting to a background check, nor can one take a nursing course for the same reason.

  • Re: “In 2009, nearly16% of the incarcerated population are now double-bunked in cells designed for one inmate, something which has increased by more than 50% in the previous 5 years”
    It’s actually far worse in some of the provincial systems – in Alberta for instance, it is not uncommon to have three men in a room built for one and occassion

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