Pubdate: Fri, 25 Feb 2011
Source: Penticton Western (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Penticton Western
Author: Bruce Walkinshaw
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark:  (Mandatory Minimum 
Sentencing - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The federal Conservative government has been criticized lately for 
plans to build more prisons throughout the country.

Personally, I'm thrilled. Just as hospitals are great places for 
people who are sick or injured, so too can prisons be great places 
for people who have made others dead, injured or poorer.

Certainly, a big part of the equation is making sure the prisons are 
designed like hospitals, in that they have opportunities for their 
residents to better their situations in life so as to avoid repeat 
visits: addiction treatment, educational opportunities, family 
counselling, therapy, mental and spiritual health programs or even 
plastic or reconstructive surgery -- research from the University of 
Texas (and others) demonstrates a positive relationship between 
cosmetic surgery and a significant decrease in recidivism.

This is the rehabilitation side of things and further progress in 
this department is something Canadians should demand. However, 
Canadians should also be demanding more of the other side of prisons, 
the palliative side. The place where we look after people that we 
have had to give up on because it is simply more humane that way.

Now, before building more prisons, we should first use the room in 
the facilities we already have more productively by doing away with 
our completely ridiculous drug laws prohibiting large production of 
cannabis. As a special Senate committee on illegal drugs asserted: 
marijuana is not a gateway to harder drugs; it is less harmful than 
alcohol; and it should be governed and taxed by the same sort of 
regulations. Really, the main outcome of prohibition has been the 
protection of tobacco and pharmaceutical industry profits and, to a 
larger degree, huge revenues for criminal organizations. Some advice 
to the Conservatives: If you want to limit the consumption of a 
product that is tearing away at the fabric of our society, turn your 
attention to Auto-Tune.

Regardless, even if all the currently incarcerated growers and 
sellers of cannabis were set free, there would still be a need for 
some new facilities to house all the violent felons out there who 
really ought to be locked away for longer than they currently are.

Canada should adopt some sort of policy that would remove the burden 
from the police, prosecutors, judges and judicial system in general 
of having to determine whether someone convicted of a violent crime 
deserves to be designated as dangerous offender or not, and make the 
actual perpetrator responsible for determining their own fate: 
Perhaps a three strikes and you are out for 25 years policy for 
violent crime, along with first and second-degree murder becoming 
life-long, parole-less offences.

Many argue that such measures are not warranted because, according to 
Statistics Canada, violent crime rates are going down. The problem 
with that argument is two-fold.

Firstly, statistics can be misleading. Maybe, incidents of violent 
crimes have slowly been decreasing since 1999, however, if you look 
at the numbers from a 50-year perspective, they are still up more 
than four times compared to 1960s' levels. It's a matter of scale. 
It's like ordering a super-sized Big Mac meal, shaving off a few 
calories by getting a Diet Coke and then calling it a diet.

Furthermore, a new report penned by former Crown prosecutor Scott 
Newark pokes all sorts of holes in the claim that violent crime rates 
are even dropping. Newark asserts the inaccuracy occurs in the manner 
in which StatsCan categorizes and analyzes its data. For instance, 
while homicide numbers have been dropping, Newark points out that 
attempted murders have not. When counted together, he notes, the 
number of potentially murderous acts actually rose by about 10 per 
cent between 1999 and 2009. Newark adds decreasing homicide stats may 
have more to do with progress in medical treatment than in a drop in 
violent crime.

But stats be damned, my second point is this: Violent crime is a kind 
of terrorism and should be treated as such. I'm not foolish enough to 
suggest that we can eliminate it completely, but that ought to be the 
goal, not simply reducing it. And if by throwing thousands of repeat 
offenders in prison for much of their lives -- at, I concede, a great 
expense to the country's treasury -- saves just one innocent life 
that would have been ended had just one of those offenders received a 
lesser sentence, I contend it would be a worthwhile endeavor, 
particularly if that life happens to be mine or yours or someone 
either of us cares about.

Indeed, if someone is in the regrettable process of doing away with 
me and I happen, as one of the last acts of my cut-short life, to 
stick my thumbnail in that person's skin, thus capturing their DNA, I 
would like, as I lose consciousness, to be able to think to myself, 
"Welcome to hell, you son of a bitch," instead of the lesser: 
"Gotcha, now you are not going to get to watch the next three James 
Bond installments on the big screen."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom