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Tory plans for U.S.-style prisons slammed in report

MisterF

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Tory plans for U.S.-style prisons slammed in report

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/09/24/conservative-prison-plan024.html

The Conservative government plans to bring in an American-style prison system that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars and do little to improve public safety, according to a report released Thursday in Ottawa.

"It tramples human rights and human dignity," University of British Columbia law professor Michael Jackson, co-author of the 235-page report, titled A Flawed Compass, told reporters.

Moreover, there is "a near total absence of evidence" in the government plan that its measures will "return people to the community better able to live law-abiding lives," said co-author Graham Stewart, who recently retired after decades as head of the John Howard Society of Canada.

Their report provides a scathing review of a government blueprint for corrections called A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety. A panel led by Rob Sampson, a former corrections minister in Ontario ex-premier Mike Harris's Tory government, drafted the plan, which is being implemented by the Correctional Service.

In addition to constructing super prisons and implementing work programs, the program will eliminate gradual release and deny inmates rights that are now entrenched in the Constitution.

However, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the plan is not based on a U.S.-style prison system at all. "I don't know where that suggestion comes from," he told CBC News in an interview.

"We don't have a capital program for creating and building new prisons right now, so attacking the government is a little odd."

Rather, "the changes we're proposing [are] to improve our system, protect society more and make sure offenders get the help they need," particularly mental illness treatment, Van Loan said.

The government wants to create an incentive system for prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs, "because that's important for not just the safety of society, which is … the most important principle, but also for the prisoner to integrate into the community ultimately," he said.

The current practice of statutory release is the "wrong approach," he added.

"That means somebody has a nine-year sentence; at six years, even if they're not participating in their programs, they're automatically … released into society."

But Jackson said the plan undermines public safety by making prisons more dangerous places and constricting inmates' reintegration into society.

By keeping prisoners locked up longer, the plan places an enormous financial burden on taxpayers, he added.

Perhaps worst of all, Jackson said, it "will intensify what the Supreme Court has characterized as the already staggering injustice of the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the prisons of Canada."
A recipe for prison violence: Jackson

By stressing punishment rather than rehabilitation, the plan ignores lessons of the past, which led to the prison riots and killings that dominated Canadian news in the early 1970s, Jackson said.

"My greatest fear is with this road map's agenda and its underlying philosophy, we will enter a new period of turmoil and violence in Canadian prisons," he said.

"I do fear that prisons will become more abusive, prisoners will become more frustrated and that we could go back to a time not only when the rule of law was absent but a culture of violence is the dominant way in which prisoners express their frustrations."

Stewart called the blueprint "an ideological rant, which flies in the face of the Correctional Service's own research of what works to rehabilitate prisoners and ensure community safety."

"The fact is that you cannot hurt a person and make them into a good citizen at the same time," Stewart said.

The government has already allocated hundreds of millions to the plan, even though it has had no input from either Parliament or the public, according to the report.
 

adma

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Hey, to sugar-coat it all, they can always hire a world-renowned Toronto-born architect
franksimpsons5.jpg
 

afransen

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Wow, who knew the Tories were disingenuous idiots? Oh wait, I did. Is anyone left to be surprised?
 

kEiThZ

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There are elements in the proposal that aren't bad. I do agree with getting rid of statutory release. A prisoner should be working towards his freedom, not just get it automatically. That's not to say I want US style supermax prisons. But some change beyond what we have today might not be a bad idea.
 

OttoSchloss

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that get tough on criminals shit is such crap. They've already committed the crime so what's to gain by imposing harsher sentences? absolutely nothing but smug satisfaction.

The only way to deal with crime is to stop it before it occurs.
 

kEiThZ

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What's harsh about serving the full length of the sentence you've been given or having to work towards early release? Why should parole be an automatic right?

I would not support increasing the sentences. But I am strongly supportive of making convicted felons work towards their release and/or serving more of the sentences that are on the books.
 

Northern Light

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The one element Keithz highlighted, which I also support is the end of statutory release; in fact, I would also be in favour of ending conventional parole.

However, with the pre-condition that most non-violent crimes shouldn't carry prison terms at all (fines, community service, etc. would be more appropriate); and that some sentences (or the options therefore) be reduced from sometimes ridiculous levels.

Put this another way, Canada has a very high incarceration rate, and I'd prefer it were lower; but what drives a lot of people nuts and makes the promise for ending Statutory release so appealing to many is that there is no Truth-in-Sentencing.

At face value, someone running guns, but who has not shot anyone, nor ordered anyone to be shot etc. should not face and in reality does not face 10 years in jail. Yet, on paper, that sentence is there.

Of course, they probably get sentenced to six years, and serve 2, which is hopelessly confusing to most people and superficially unjust.

Much better to have realistic and appropriate sentences and then stick to them, you serve the stated time, no 2 for 1 credits for pre-trial custody, no statutory release.

In respect of parole, I do favour reintroducing people to society in a measured way, rather than holding them to the last day of a long sentence, and then being completely hands-off.

However, the parole at 2/3 of sentence thing is silly for short sentences like 3 months; and on the other hand, letting someone out at 14 years on a 20-year sentence seems a bit early.

I'd rather see a notion that if sentences are of a certain minimum length (say 2 years) then you can get parole, if you've been well behaved, in stages, beginning at 2/3 of your sentence. But that partial parole might be work-release for weekday daytimes only, and you still sleep in prison and spend your weekends there. You then get additional freedom if you continue to behave yourself, at regular intervals, culminating in full parole at say 80% of your sentence.

*****

In the meantime we need to legalize marijuana and prostitution, and decriminalize possession of small amounts of any drug (for personal use) so that we are not jailing people for sniffing glue, or having a beer in a park or things like that. To be clear I know very few people are in jail for these last items, but I don't even think it should be discretionarily available to police or the crown to be heavy-handed in 'victimless' cases.

That frees up room for those who society sadly must lock up, for our collective protection. I actually favour a very narrow version of the U.S. 3 strikes law, underwhich anyone convicted 3 or more times of the most violent offences (Murder/Attempt Murder, Kidnapping, Manslaughter, Aggravated Assualt or Aggravated Sexual Assualt) would be sentenced to Life with no chance of parole for 25 years. We don't want to lock up some teen whose had a couple of tussles for that kind of time, but if you've put people in hospital 3 different times, I think society is right to say that's not merely enough but too much.

**********

With respect to offences I would no longer jail for, aside from using straight legalization/decriminalization, I don't want to see people in jail for drunk driving unless they kill someone. If they are a repeat offender I simply want their car taken away, for good, a fine equal to 10% of their annual income or $2,500 the greater of the 2, and their driver's license gone for life. For a first-timer, I'll settle for 1/2 that fine and taking their car for 3 months.

Jail only if you get caught driving drunk AFTER all that.

Same deal with non-payment of tickets, I'd rather see the car taken away along with the license.

And for other non-violent offences I'd rather see income-contingent fines (with a floor-amount); and community service.

The idea of putting white-collar criminals in jail seems silly; not that they shouldn't be punished, but the penalty should start with restitution to the victims (and then a fine/community service on top), and jail should be used only to avoid the risk of flight or for non-compliance with the sentence.

What we don't need is the Tory plan to help the prison-building industry.
 

MisterF

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What's harsh about serving the full length of the sentence you've been given or having to work towards early release? Why should parole be an automatic right?

I would not support increasing the sentences. But I am strongly supportive of making convicted felons work towards their release and/or serving more of the sentences that are on the books.
Parole is meant to gradually reintroduce prisoners back into society and prepare them for their eventual full release. Keeping prisoners until the end of their sentence doesn't reduce crime rates. Most importantly, prisoners are evaluated on a case by case basis - parole isn't an automatic right as you suggest.

Do you have any evidence that what you suggest would reduce crime rates at all?
 

kEiThZ

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Do you have any evidence that what you suggest would reduce crime rates at all?

Do we have any evidence that making people work for parole instead of statutory release would make it more likely that they might re-offend? I am not suggesting that the government's approach might reduce recidivism. But nor have opponents of the government's proposal offered evidence on which way recidivism would go, for specific proposals (like ending stat release). It's fair to argue that the government should have offered more. And I fully agree with the John Howard Society on that.

Anyway, while I'll admit I don't have the stats, there's a perception out there, right or wrong, that parole is easy to get. And that you don't have do much to get it. You just have to avoid trouble while you're inside and you'll earn parole. I doubt you'll find that the average Canadian thinks parole is all that challenging to attain in our system. If this perception is wrong, then it's incumbent upon those who advocate for the status quo to dispel the myth. Let the John Howard Society explain to Canadians why Statutory Release is a good thing. I'd love to hear that debate.

One last point is the issue of justice. One component of imprisonment is retribution. Deterrence and rehab aren't the sole purposes of prison. We as a society, lock-up the person who committed a crime to punish them. That's reality. I get the sense that there are far more Canadians, than the law-and-order types who think the pendulum has swung too far, in favour of the convicted, over the victims. If that's the case, is the government wrong to take a tougher stance on parole and the requirements for it?
 
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jade_lee

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The Harris government made some interesting changes in the provincial prison system and now the same guys are trying to sell their ideology to all Canadians.
Harris closed the halfway houses in Ontario and made it almost impossible for anyone serving a provincial sentence to be released early. They took away the flexibility of the decision makers, the parole board members. They, in my opinion, made a sharp right turn in our prison system and generally increased the warehousing of incarcerated people. No noted improvements.
The general public are ignorant with respect to our prison system. It's a crime school that warehouses damaged goods and every other type of person who has committed a crime or not. Conrad Black's partner Radler comes to mind.
The notion of "hard labor" is hilarious as a tool of punishment or as character building in the prison system. It does occupy a prisoner's time, much like a book would,
so is the idea that prison is anything other than a hellhole. Our current government's tough on crime politics is not in touch with the reality of the underworldness of it's prison system but only having direct knowledge of our provincial system I can inform that it's getting better and not worse despite the recent death in the Don Jail. Shit happens. This is why we pay for policing. All institutions need constant tweeking, we are a dynamic bunch.
 

Hank

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I generally agree that prison time probably does more harm than good, with low-grade criminals being turned into hardened criminals by the time they leave.

The real problem I think though, as someone mentioned, is that there is no truth in sentencing. This is especially notable in the difference between provincial and federal parole eligibility. For nonviolent crimes, Provincial jail time is anything under two years, and you're generally eligible for parole after serving one third of your sentence, while Federal jail time is anything two years or greater, and you're generally eligible for parole after serving one sixth of your sentence.

My girlfriend works as a crown prosecutor, and she had one case where the offender was sentenced to two years less a day (you see this a lot...because of the parole disparities, a sentence of two years less a day actually turns out to be longer than one that's two years plus a day or even three or more years), served three or four months, was convicted of a non-violent drug crime based on something he did in prison, and then had to be immediately released from jail because the extra few months he got from the drug crime bumped him up into federal time which meant that he had to be released after serving one-sixth of his sentence (which, even with the additional time, he'd already served). He basically got a get-out-of-jail-free card by committing another crime. Insane.

If there's one thing I'd change about the penal system immediately, it would be that.
 
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cacruden

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Parole is meant to gradually reintroduce prisoners back into society and prepare them for their eventual full release. Keeping prisoners until the end of their sentence doesn't reduce crime rates. Most importantly, prisoners are evaluated on a case by case basis - parole isn't an automatic right as you suggest.

Do you have any evidence that what you suggest would reduce crime rates at all?

Actually, that is a secondary issue. If you keep a prisoner to the end of their sentence - then there is no parole, and no control on that released prisoner. Parole is meant as a means of trying to keep control of the released prisoner in a manner that is used to try influence his behaviour post prison and to have the ability to try and put/keep that offender on the right side of the law (reinforce good behaviour and threaten more jail time in the case of poor behaviour - like associating with known criminals, drug use, etc.).

Parole should not be automatic, and for serious violent offenses I would not make release automatic either (especially for those offenses where statistics indicate a high likelyhood of repeat offence - like child predators).

There has to be a balance of rehabilitation and punishment. Having a criminal justice system that is purely vindictive in nature will actually increase the likelihood of problems post-release.
 

ShonTron

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A couple of things I will say.

I think, if I committed a crime and was convicted of such a crime, I would rather stay three years in a Federal medium security prison than two years less a day in a provincial jail like Maplehurst, forgetting parole differences and all that. The federal system isn't as brutal as the provincial system, from what I know and hear.

I am also proud that Canada was a leader in abolishing the death penalty, the last executions in 1962, a de facto abolition in 1963 under Pearson, and a true abolition under Trudeau in 1976, with Chretien abolishing it for military laws 20 years later.

I don't mind the current prison system, except the split between provincial and federal systems based upon that 2 year criteria, and the fact that the Aboriginal population is way overrepresented in the system, even worse than Blacks in the US. Parole is based on many deliberate factors. There's no true "life imprisonment" unless the prisoner is declared a special case under the dangerous offender provision, as I believe in the punishment and rehabilitation aims of criminal justice. I absolutely agree that there's no room in the criminal justice system for vindictiveness. Just what's best for everyone.

There's some cases, of course, where the courts could take a harder line. Not victimless or non-violent crime, of course, but violent crime (particularly repeat offenders) and many cases of white-collar crime. White-collar crime for example is easy in Canada as the courts are almost powerless. Wonder why Conrad Black had to go to Chicago to be tried and convicted? Because he'd get away with it here.

I'm fearful of the Conservatives, on a "Law and Order" gimmick, will build new prisons and get hard on non-violent and non-white-collar crime for no reason other than to buy votes.
 
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kEiThZ

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I absolutely agree that there's no room in the criminal justice system for vindictiveness.

I don't know if most of society would agree with that one. If the we weren't going to punish people for their crime, we wouldn't have prisons, we'd have therapy centres.

As for the differences between the two systems, I find the logic flawed. So because one system is more brutal than the other we tolerate lesser sentences? Why not make the provincial jails less harsh? It's logic like this that erodes the stature of our justice system in the eyes of most Canadians (not just the right leaning ones either).

I do concur with you about the over-representation of aboriginals in our prison system. But that has to be dealt with at a societal level. It does not mean that our laws or their punishments should be modified just because the felon is aboriginal. We should be working towards ensuring that our Aboriginal citizens don't end up in front of a judge in the first place. We should be making sure they have a quality of life and opportunities for work that do not compel them to get in trouble with the law.

On white collar crime I agree. But this has a lot to do with the provinces, not the feds, since things like insider trading fall under the purview of the OSC for example. Incidentally, the push to create a national securities regulator could improve enforcement against white collar crime.
 

cacruden

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I don't know if most of society would agree with that one. If the we weren't going to punish people for their crime, we wouldn't have prisons, we'd have therapy centres.

Actually, that is why we as a people have a justice system in the manner that we have. We don't allow for lynch mobs, and we don't have juries that assign punishment (they are the finders of fact - but punishment is metered out by the judge based on the law). The primary purpose of our prisons is to protect society - by removing those that must be removed from society, and to act as a deterrent for those that need it. Prisons are a necessary evil to protect society from those that we need protecting from.
 

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