23 November 2011

Mean on Crime

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that the Conservative crime bill would enable prisons to deny prisoners visits from family as a means of punishment for bad behaviour. The G&M calls this "mean-spirited" and I agree. (aside: Seriously, G&M. Could you at least pretend to be objective? I know it wasn't your term, but the Canadian Bar Association's, but quoting it in the headline is not a sign of objectivity.) It's not only mean-spirited, it's counterproductive, and is counter to the teachings of Jesus.

There've been a lot of posts on how counterproductive this is, so I'll sum it up with this: recidivism rates are higher when prisoners don't have visitors. So... duh. Counterproductive. Unless your agenda is to increase prisoner rates so that you can pay contractors to build prisons...

But what really strikes me is that these so-called Conservative Christians are completely ignoring Jesus. Again.
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory.  All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.'
Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you;  sick or in prison and go to see you?'  And the King will answer, 'I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.' Matthew 25: 31-40 
We're called to visit prisoners (I don't... I just can't bring myself to do it. Maybe someday.) And these guys actually want to be able to take away the prisoners' right to be visited? It's stunningly mean. It goes so far beyond not visiting a prisoner. It's stopping everyone else from visiting! It's mindblowing.

I truly cannot even imagine what they think they're accomplishing here. That they cannot see how vile their actions are isn't surprising, given their track record. But at least, I can usually at least see their twisted reasoning. This one? Not so much.

I took a Sociology of Crime course back when I was working on an undergrad degree. It was a very interesting and very eye-opening class. For so many years I'd been told how soft our system is on young offenders. Apparently not. At the time, Canada had more youth incarcerated per capita than most countries in the world. Top 10 for sure. Maybe Top 5. I don't remember now. I'd like to see the stats now to see what's changed, if anything. I also learned that the vast majority of people in jail (jail, not prison) were in for non-payment of fines. Basically, debtors prisons where the prisoners owes the government. There is not a single fine that we shouldn't allow someone to work off with community service. And during off-hours too. Suppose I get a speeding ticket and I can't afford to pay the fine. They don't let me save up for it. The longer it takes me to pay, the more it costs me. I should be able to walk into city hall with my ticket and say, "I'd like to sign up for community service to pay this off". They pay me minimum wage against my ticket to work. If I have a day job, I can do my service at night. If I have a night job, I can do it during the day. If I have 12 hour shifts, I can do off hours. No one should lose their job because they got a ticket they can't pay. And that's the other problem with incarcerating people who don't pay. If they did have a job, they don't now because they got fired for being in jail. It's ludicrous. And it costs the government a fortune.

Incarceration is for people who are dangerous. Period. There's no excuse for a society to lock up people who don't pay a fine. And there's no excuse for treating prisoners as anything less than human beings with human rights.