Justice & Prisons….in the news #3

We could bankroll a criminal’s education in Harvard for the cost of keeping an inmate in prison.  You heard that before? 

The perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes cannot avoid prison, but we are missing opportunities to divert many offenders away from institutions that do not rehabilitate, are not correctional, and cannot best serve the public interest.  That is, of course, until or unless we elect or appoint courageous leaders to initiate radical reforms.  While we wait, let’s do something better than just tossing people in jails.

“For years, the U.S. justice system has been accused of deep bias and a judicial vindictiveness that has put roughly 2.3 million people behind bars,” so says Nathan Vanderklippe in a contribution to the Globe and Mail in late December.  Yes, the Americans love incarcerating people who break the law, particularly non-whites. 

But in a small corner of California, as it’s described, Yolo County, population 220,500, “a mix of agricultural areas and university campuses, has sought new ways to erase the role of race in the system, undo past injustices and, where possible, keep people out of prison.”  It has initiated an addiction court and a parallel mental health court that works “to heal and rehabilitate rather than merely incarcerate.”

Prosecutor offices use software that redacts racial indicators from police reports.  Judges can put defendants, some facing serious criminal charges, into community programming where judges themselves often moderate.  This project provides encouragement to both those that are doing well and those who are not but want to do better.

Now, that’s a start.

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Some people who plan to solve an imaginary problem to suit their own purposes end up creating a real one in the process.

Stephen Harper did that, and in particular with his so-called tough-on-crime crackdown, even as crime rates continued a slow years-long decline.  The work he and his fellow Conservatives did increased the cost of the criminal justice system by billions and ballooned the prison population by 25 per cent.  The mostly invented non-issue would have attracted like-minded voters, but the dire financial and human costs are still with us today.

One Conservative policy increased the cost of a pardon from $150 to about $650 which effectively denied most ex-offenders from even beginning the unwieldly process of applying.  The waiting period was also extended to ten years, putting prospects of a lawful re-entry into the community at extreme risk.  Now, after committing to review the Harper-years crime/justice/prison impositions six or seven years ago, the current Liberal government has finally cut the fee to $50.

There is a snag though.  The fee for a pardon, or record suspension, leaves the applicant still responsible for any additional fees to get the required processing information, like fingerprints, court documents and police checks.  The government has also allocated $22 million over five years to community-based organizations for support services in helping people complete the applications. 

A good beginning says Fresh Start, a coalition of more than 60 wide-ranging academic, civil rights, and racially marginalized groups, that applauds the long-awaited changes.  All the same, Moya Teklu of the Black Legal Action Centre said, “Reducing the application to $50 will not make the process any less long, any less cumbersome, or any less complex.” 

Is there something better?  Fresh Start would prefer the “spent regime” system, already used in Australia, England, and Spain as examples, where records are automatically sealed after a specified amount of time, with a few exceptions.  Canada already seals the records of offences by underage youth, but the government has yet to express support for expanding the practice.

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And finally…….

February 21, 2022

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:      What do you fear?     

Dear Minister Mendicino:

Your staff chose not to respond to my November 29, 2021, letter questioning the delay in revising Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner Directive 022 – Media Relations.

I did hear from Colette Cibula, Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement at CSC on February 8, answering my May 6, 2021, letter to Commissioner Kelly.  Referring to the needed revisions to make the policy around inmate access to media Charter compliant, Ms. Cibula wrote, “I can assure you that it is now nearly complete.”

It is now approaching two years since the Service undertook to rewrite this directive.  It leads one to wonder just what it is that you all fear from inmate access to media?

Yours truly,

 

NEXT:  Not Prison News #4…….just More…..

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