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An inconvenient truth (on building more prisons – US style)

When even Newt Gingrich – former Republican Speaker of the House back in the 90’s – says this about the US prison system – you can see how out to lunch the Conservative government is on spending billions to build more prisons:

Building more jails is a waste of money. We need a fundamental rethink on how to rehabilitate prisoners — not just punish them. Locking up more and more people doesn’t make the public safer. Typical rhetoric from the liberal “soft on crime” crowd? Think again. Newt Gingrich, one of the foremost paladins of the U.S. conservative movement, lent his name to a column the other day in the Washington Post making just these points.

..In the Post, he wrote that the U.S. spent a staggering $68 billion last year on corrections, largely to lock up petty criminals and addicts. Worse, he added, “half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half the time, and we know there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”

Up here, the Conservatives are proposing to build mega-prisons as the crime rate is dropping, and when faced with those stats and facts (the natural enemy of this Conservative government), it has to resort to claims that “unreported crime” is way up – and therefore that means Canada is in the middle of a crime wave.

When even prominent conservatives in the US like Gingrich sees the folly of what is going on in the US with their prison system, it begs the question of why the Conservatives want to go this route.

The answer? Partisan politics and power. This policy is nothing to do with crime – it is everything to do with trying to use fear to demonize those who oppose them. However, when there are now folks on the conservative divide speaking out against what has been going on in the US – it completely undercuts the Conservative arguments we should be following suit – in a time of fiscal restraint, recession, and bluntly, no need for it.

10 comments to An inconvenient truth (on building more prisons – US style)

  • Gayle

    “Or maybe one of you gurus could enlighten me as to why there is such a high rate of unreported crime?”

    Well the same report that said there was a moderate (3%) increase in unreported crime also said the most common reasons for not reporting was that the crimes were minor in nature and therefore the victims felt they were not worth reporting.

  • the rat

    40 years of Liberal rehabilitation policy did just what? It boosted the crime rate massively to a high in the early nineties, significantly higher than seen in the 50’s and 60’s. That’s a record to be proud of. And maybe some of you oh so smarter than me Liberals can explain why anyone is raped and brutalised in prison? Could it possibly be a result of Liberal prison policies that resulted in serious overcrowding and an inability for guards (ooo, sorry, “corrections staff”) to control inmates (sorry, sorry, my brother-in-law the prison guard tells me they are called “clients” these days)? If Liberal policy is so much better why did it take 40 years to see a slight decrease in crime after an initial massive increase? Or maybe one of you gurus could enlighten me as to why there is such a high rate of unreported crime? I know you guys poked fun at Stockwell but then that little report came out confirming that people don’t even bother to report most thefts and break-ins because police don’t attend anymore. Another Liberal policy working exactly as you guys thought it would, I’m sure. Me, I know I’m not in the exalted heights of super smartiness that you guys are but I thought that just reducing inhumane overcrowding was a good idea, aside from the political stuff. I can only assume you wizards of penal policy agree with early release programs because we can’t house those actually convicted of a serious crime.

    • Redrum

      @the rat, It’s demography, dummy, not that ‘hugging thugs’ BS. The crime rate rose through the late 60s and peaked in the 90s & fell because of the huge Baby Boom that came of age, acted out, then simmered down. And despite the building, the CPC changes are going to make overcrowding — AND recidivism — worse, cuz they’re inreasing the prison time and the number of offenses subject to it: they’re planning on doing more double-bunking than ever. These changes are going to cost the provinces billions AND increase the crime rate, all so they can get some cheap votes & scare y’all out of more donations.

      As for the unreported crime stuff, first, a lot of it was about relatively trivial stuff that would never result in any jail time, which is why the police don’t respond & why people don’t bother to report it; second, if it’s unreported, then, gee, they’re not going to end up with any arrestees to convict then, are they, which makes it irrelevant to needing more jails; third, if the police are over-worked, then give more money to the RCMP & the provinces for that, to have more cops on the beat to prevent crime.

      • Redrum

        here’s a source on the demography point:

        Population aging and the federal inmate profile of 2010, by Roger Boe, Research Branch, Correctional Service of Canada

        www +

    • Beerbob

      @the rat, I’ll bet a nickel that you didn’t look at the link about the boomer crime wave. And I’ll bet you enjoyed ignoring it. A warm, satisfied sensation. Here’s another reading suggestion:
      The Political Mind, by George Lakoff.
      It’ll tell you why you enjoyed disregarding the evidence.

      I said it could be hilarious, but it was just predictable. Oh well,the thread’s still open. There’s hope.

  • Beerbob

    I can’t wait to see the arguments from the trolls. I’ve seen posts like this in other places (talking about a bit of unsupported mythological drivel planned by the reformers) result in a very interesting silence on the part of the subordinate authoritarian types. Sometimes there’s an effort, usually hilarious. Or it would be hilarious if the subject wasn’t so serious.

    This act of pouring money down a rat hole is being done for one reason. Power. The population is aging, and it’s easy to frighten old people with visions of drug addicts performing home invasions and strapping Granny to a chair. This policy is designed to make old people think that they’re safer, so they’ll like that wonderful Mr. Harper, who dresses so nicely, and his hair is lovely, and he’s going to put away all of those bad people for a long, long time. It’s just depressing. The structure of the modifications they’re planning (and have already passed in some cases) confirms the purely political nature of the reformer’s prison reforms(?). Mandatory minimum sentences for white collar criminals. Hooray. No changes anywhere about altering regulations, or changing corporate reporting requirements (except by reducing them), or doing anything at all to make it even slightly more risky to commit corporate fraud. It is an established fact that penalties are not a deterrent. It’s one of the safest and most profitable ways to steal money. Deterrence is accomplished when you have a regulatory and reporting structure that makes it clear to any young crook, that understands the reporting requirements, that there is a strong probability they will get caught. It’s the probability of getting caught that matters. Whether you spend one year in jail or two, doesn’t come in to the calculation. The time doesn’t matter too much, the point is they’ll never be trusted with other people’s money again. Thinking you’ll end your chances of ever working in your field again (because they well might catch you), is far more effective than having an environment where it’s easy to get away with crime, with a very slim chance of being put away for five years.

    The whole concept of “bad people” feeds into the thinking behind this. Cons have very much an either/or worldview. Bad people are, for the most part, just people pretty much like anybody else, but in the wrong period in their lives, are a bit stupider, or greedier, or more desperate, or a combination of the three. Cons hold that once, you’re bad, you stay bad, unless we put you in a bad place with other bad people, and you’ll get better…

    Throwing a kid who’s growing half a dozen weed plants in his garden shed in prison for a year (because there’s a school two blocks away), resulting in him being raped and brutalized, isn’t likely to produce an ideal citizen. But that’s another bit of lunacy, best left to another time.

  • Gayle

    The CPC argument never held any water. They could never justify it on facts or on reasonable analysis. They have demonstrated they are not concerned about the safety of Canadians (nor should they be with the crime rate dropping). This is only an issue for them because they win on it. They want people to be scared and to believe they need the conservatives to protect them.

    Take those ads on drug addiction showing a white middle class teenaged girl getting lost in addiction. While such people do get into drugs, it is a much more common problem for the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, victims of abuse and violence. However, those people are not as likely to vote as nice white middle class families, ergo they create an add to strike fear into these families and with the false promise the CPC will protect them.

    So while I agree with your post, the fact is the facts do not matter in this debate. If they did Canadians would rightfully see the LPC has done far more to combat crime than the CPC has or will.

    • Curtis in Calgary

      “Take those ads on drug addiction showing a white middle class teenaged girl getting lost in addiction. While such people do get into drugs, it is a much more common problem for the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, victims of abuse and violence.”

      I think that’s an over-simplification of addiction. Addiction crosses ALL of our society. There are many causalities of addiction most prominently mental issues and mental issues are not immune to any sector of society. More often than not, addiction is the result of mental illness and causes poverty, crime, homelessness et cetera. What we need are open discussions and policies on mental health issues. Attack the cause, not the effect.

      As for the thrust of the article, I thoroughly agree. “We need a fundamental rethink on how to rehabilitate prisoners — not just punish them.” is spot on. (I can’t believe that I agree with Newt.) Of course, the Harper gang does not agree and vigorously pursues the the punishment approach. “Prison farms are working? That’s wrong. It’s too cushy for prisoners. Most of will never work on a farm when they are let out so let’s close them down. Punish. Punish. Then punish some more. Who cares if recidivism rates from prison farms are extraordinarily low. It’s not punishment from our perspective.”

      • Gayle

        @Curtis in Calgary, This is getting off topic, but I respectfully disagree that addiction is more likely to be the result of mental illness than otherwise. I have only my personal experience to rely on, but given the youth I work with I would have to say addiction is due to addiction already existing in the family (parents), and being the victim of abuse or neglect. In addition, while I do some times encounter youth from middle class families, they are not at all representative of the majority of addicts I work with.

        • Curtis in Calgary


          And with all due respect, my personal experience with family members reflects my above-noted comment. Alas, it’s a multifaceted problem that’s not confined to one class. I’ve witnessed it all across society from the poorest to the wealthiest.

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