…..FOR OUR MONEY? Conservative governments feed the prison industry; they see that as a vote-getter. Liberal governments burp the prison industry. Okay, the new Liberal government in Ottawa has committed to reintroduce Bill C-22 which died when the recent election was called. It’s been described as “a huge step in the right direction” despite its shortcomings, but reforming, rebuilding, reimagining the justice system isn’t a high Liberal priority. Doesn’t serve to yield to reason or to appear too progressive. Same goes for provincial penal systems.
Community safety is politicized.
One school of thought seems to say that community safety means putting the bad guys away, and if that doesn’t straighten them out, then put them away again. The flip side thinks that community safety makes prisons and jails responsible for helping offenders become law-abiding citizens. We get a little bit of both. Do penal systems feel forced to balance their response to political masters with conflicting preferences?
As things are, if the people we elect, appoint, and employ aren’t taking action to get better results, then it’s left to the public to force change and/or to take on the job for itself.
There can be three perspectives to approach the prison industry we now have. One was addressed last time with the “Choosing Real Safety” declaration that argues the path forward is in doing what is necessary to keep people out of the justice system in the first place and further, to divert offenders to constructive alternatives when they come into conflict with the law. Don’t keep people in jail. Don’t put people in prison. That’s a big step toward improving community safety but it doesn’t address what happens to the lives of the men and women whose crimes warrant incarceration.
Another look centers on the failure of our prisons to give inmates the substantive means to turn their lives around after release and avoid ending up back behind bars. There’s the half-way house system, the John Howard Society, CoSA for ex-sex offenders, and other resources in the community, too many underfunded with long waiting lists. Significantly important is getting a job that pays a true living wage. Criminal records close most doors. TheFieldPodcast.com episode of August 10 this year, “Reimagine your future with Jason Wang” takes a look at a program through joinfreeworld.com, “a tech enabled non-profit that aims to end generational poverty and recidivism by accelerating economic mobility for returning citizens.” It offers a pathway to economic freedom.
Thirdly is the frontal assault on the prison industry to reform what it is into what it was always intended to be…..a correctional service. Dozens of groups and organizations, along with at least hundreds of individuals, persist in a worthy labour that makes incremental inroads towards a goal that always seems so distant. A novel proposal from FreeWorld’s Jason Wang is to make prisons success factories, rated and financed for their achievements and not their failures. Imagine, getting paid and rated on how well an assigned task is accomplished!
Whatever the means, the work goes on.