The John Howard Society has some valid concerns about the new Conservative platform on crime, based on the society’s 80-year history in advising the Canadian government on justice issues and helping criminal offenders with community work and rehabilitation. Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba called the government’s new crime strategies “tough on tax-payers and soft on crime.”
This is very important. Blanket declarations of “longer sentences” or guaranteeing jail time for more offenders are examples of policies that make some people feel good about “being tough on crime” but actually make things worse.
Imagine if the first time a child did something really wrong–such as hitting another child, or stealing money–you sent them away to an expensive private school where they learned how to become career criminals.
That’s what jail time can be for many people, and the research backs it up. Remember that peer pressure thing your parents made a big deal about in high school? Imagine what happens when you’re locked up 24/7 in an institution where 80% of the people you interact with are criminals.
The John Howard Society’s press release [PDF] explains how this works with prisons compared to community sentences in real life:
…less than 14% of offenders serving their sentence in the community reoffended during the period of their sentence. In comparison, national studies show that approximately 45% of those incarcerated re-offend almost immediately and will be convicted of another offence within two years of being released.
Of course, that’s also because the offenders serving community sentences were chosen based on a promising profile, but that’s the whole point: if you can reasonably identify people who won’t re-offend, why put them in prison where they cost us more money, and upon release will commit a number of new crimes before finally being caught again… only to cost more money? At an estimated $87,000 a year per male inmate (as much as double that for women), it probably costs taxpayers more than most criminals even make from criminal activity.
Of course, prisons have a purpose. There are dangerous criminals who shouldn’t be released. And the fear of prison may serve as a deterrent for some. But actually sending people to prison should be a last resort.
Justice is about more than just filling prisons.