“Fighting crime by building more jails……

…….IS LIKE FIGHTING CANCER BY BUILDING MORE CEMETERIES.”
Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s quotation appeared here five years ago. It was relevant long before he said it first, is still timely today, as it will be tomorrow.

Suppose you were able to tour our provincial jails and federal prisons from Victoria to St. John’s. Aside from a gender imbalance, a noticeable observation is the difference between the racial make-up of an incarcerated population and the people in the communities from which they came. No matter what perspective you choose to explain the contrast, it remains a symptom of societal inequity.

The COVID pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of our supports and safety nets for vulnerable groups, conditions we’ve conveniently ignored and allowed to deteriorate through negligence, lack of resources and even intentional defunding. We’ve seen the tragic outcomes from viral infections in our seniors’ care facilities as an example, and are now attempting to save face, even though we’ve been aware of the unacceptable state of the situation for years.

At risk from any and all hazards facing the disadvantaged along with the elderly are the poor and homeless and addicted and people with physical and mental health conditions, and…….prisoners. The pandemic has underscored a lack of help for an increasing number of jail/prison inmates with mental health issues, with access to rehabilitative programming, and with support in transitioning back into the community upon release.

Addressing provincial conditions, Rajean Hoilett with the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project and quoted from a June Toronto Star article says, “We’ve seen a lot of folks who’ve been released without any support, who are telling us they don’t have shoes, they don’t have clothes, they don’t have a place to go. We know that there’s a lot of folks who use drugs who are coming out without any sort of harm reduction supplies, and we already know we’ve lost people in this way to overdoses.” Ergo, recidivism’s revolving door.

For offenders sentenced to a federal prison, we have what is called Correctional Service of Canada.
Many could and would argue the agency is better tagged Punitive Service of Canada, or Offender Warehousing Service of Canada, or Criminal Retention Service of Canada, or our preference, Prison Industries of Canada.
No, Canada calls what we have a “correctional” service. That, and “corrections” is the label provincial and territorial governments use to describe the role of ministries that oversee their jails.

This space has argued for years that putting a name to something does not necessarily make it so, like the offices that manage our jails and prisons for instance. It seems that either what we call them is a sop to people who believe they should serve that better purpose, or the intention to be a correcting influence on lawbreakers is genuine if not a touch jaded. No one in authority looks to be paying attention to compliance in the trenches with policy, procedure, or the law, or the efficacy of the way things are or what more can be done.

The criminal justice conglomerate is a mammoth monolith, costing billions of taxpayer dollars a year and employing tens of thousand of people. Most of these men and women, from policing to the courts and on through to our penal institutions and all the attendant supports and apparatus, are or believe they are working for the best interests of the country. And as we pointed out earlier, it works well….for those who control it.

Rehashing earlier critical appraisals isn’t on today’s agenda. How to fight “City Hall” is. How to effect change is. Quite simply, don’t give up, don’t give in.

Joshua and his army marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days until the noise of the shouting and rams’ horns caused those defenses to collapse.

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis learned from that old Biblical battle.

Persist. Persist. Persist.

That is the lesson.

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
Edward R. Murrow

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