Criminal justice……

…….IS A MAJOR INDUSTRY.

Why would we entangle a person who has committed a crime into the complexities of a legal and penal system that often does its damnedest to foil an eventual return to the community as a contributing law-abiding citizen?

Recovery is what the criminal justice system is intended to do. That it routinely fails suggests this system is broken. But no. There is a valid argument supporting just the opposite.

The system works. It is not broken. It works for the benefit of those who control it.

Start with law enforcement and the work of our police services. The first of Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing, propositions almost 200 years old but widely known and accepted in police agencies today, is “to prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.”

“Crime and disorder” in some form will always be with us and these nine truths underscore the maxim that the police are the public and the public are the police. The concluding ninth of these principles recognizes “always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

The sandwiched principles from two to eight stress a duty to secure public co-operation, approval and respect, to minimize the use of physical force, to seek favour by an impartial service to law, and to “refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary…..or of judging guilt and punishing the guilty.”

Today’s demands to defund the police are a symptom of decades of abuse and perceived injustices by law enforcement, a culmination of deteriorating relationships between police and disadvantaged neighbourhoods in this country and in other widespread areas of the world. The movement highlights the growing gulf between the police and the policed, and how far we have strayed from the founding fundamentals of preventing “crime and disorder.”

This writer grew up in a community without a police presence. Yes, the village was in the patrol area of the local Ontario Provincial Police detachment, and one of their cars would occasionally drive through the town, as did the Niagara Parks Commission Police on a patrol of their properties. Help from the police, available if needed, wasn’t witnessed in those years. Community policing was the norm, the usual remedy in times before fixed bodies were formed to enforce the law.

Was there ‘crime and disorder’ in that community? No, at least not that came to the attention of the criminal justice system via a police action. Would that be the case if the village were a neighbourhood in an urban area regularly patrolled by police officers? Yes.

Our police services are the first point of contact between a person presumed to have committed an offense and the criminal justice system. The argument for defunding police calls for a redirection of resources to social programming and services to reduce the demands on police, along with appeals for the decriminalization of minor and non-violent offenses to deter the overpolicing of some marginalized communities.

Our police fuel our courts, jails, and prisons. Efforts by the people to transform the status quo threatens the health of a major industry in Canada.

Later………..our public servants don’t have your back.

 

Crime dependent…..that’s us?

THE CELL PHONE CAMERA IS CHANGING OUR WORLD. COVID-19 IS CHANGING OUR WORLD. WIDESPREAD PROTESTS AND DEMONSTRATIONS CALL FOR CHANGE, URGING US TO CONFRONT SOCIAL INEQUITIES AND TO PRESS FOR REFORMS. THE PUSHBACK FROM THE RIGHT AND AMERICAN ALT-RIGHT DELINEATES A DIVISIVE GULF THAT PROMPTS A CONSIDERATION OF JUST WHAT OUR BEST INTERESTS ARE.

There’s no doubt though. The status-quo will not do any longer. But, what will change for real?

Demands to defund police are a doorway to hold our entire justice system up to scrutiny for example, to question its purpose, its goals, its efficacy, its outcomes.

As a redux of where this can go, let’s repeat a posting from March 26 of 2017.

“Cells for sale or rent.”

The New York Times ran a story in late February under Dan Bilefsky’s byline which began, “The Netherlands has a problem many countries can only dream of: A shortage of prison inmates.”

About a third of Dutch prison cells are empty, attributed to a ‘spectacular’ drop in crime over the last twenty years, and a national preference for rehabilitation over incarceration. There was a upswing in prison populations there in the 90s, but the Netherlands now imprisons only about 61 of every 100,000 citizens, similar to Scandinavia. The United States, on the other hand, puts about 666 of every 100,000 citizens in prison, the highest in the world.

Norway negotiated an agreement with the Dutch two years ago for a three-year lease of a high-security facility and sent 242 prisoners there. They’re paying $35 million per year for the use of this prison, and Belgium is also making use of Dutch jails, sending about 500 inmates across the border.

Even more cells will become surplus over the next few years. As one criminologist explained, the Dutch have a deeply ingrained pragmatism when it comes to regulating law and order. “Prisons are very expensive,” this professor at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam rationalized. There is a relatively liberal approach to soft drugs and prostitution, and the Netherlands is more focused on what works and what is effective, while people in the United States, for instance, make moral arguments for imprisonment.

The Dutch have also become creative with the vacancy rates by transforming jails into housing for asylum seekers, converting cells into apartments for families, and where the interior exercise yards, gymnasiums, kitchens and outdoor gardens have a practical benefit. High exterior walls and barbed wire are removed, but care is taken not to house former political prisoners in cells, unless they feel at ease.

Not everyone is happy. About 2,600 prison guards could lose their jobs in the next four years as more prisons close. The government doesn’t want to give up too many jobs, as this political football can play out to the disadvantage of the present centre-right party in control. As a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Security and Justice put it, the surplus of empty jail cells is “good and bad news at the same time.”

This isn’t an environment that’s generated in a vacuum, with no explanation, or can be simply written off to happenstance. This comes with a concerted effort to question the status quo, think outside the lock-em-up box, and take bold steps to take a different road. Separating some people from the community in a custodial setting will continue to be a reality for now, but there is an illogic to a prison-based system of justice. One perspective is in the form of a poem reprinted in Baz Dreisinger’s book, “Incarceration Nation”:-

We want them to be responsible,
So we take away all responsibilities.
We want them to be positive and constructive,
So we degrade them and make them useless.
We want them to be nonviolent,
So we put them where there is violence all around them.
We want them to quit being the tough guy,
So we put them where the tough guy’s respected.

Now, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it!

Of course, it doesn’t. We’ll go on to examine the why’s next time.