Which simile works best: Canada and failed prison systems go together like peanut butter and jelly, or Canada and effective prison systems go together like peanut butter and… I don’t know, something that doesn’t go well with peanut butter? Cabbage rolls, I guess.
Though we seldom like to admit it, the stereotypical Canadian politeness and stewardship is sometimes only service deep (I am so sorry if that offended anyone). This can be seen in everything from our deplorable environmental record to our hockey-ignited temper tantrums. Now, it’s time to look at our jailing system, one that is needlessly costly, and far from effective and just. To give our prison system credit, it hits all three major points, and proves that Canadians don’t half-ass anything, not even a broken prison system.
As Canadians, we have seen our fair share of government spending gone awry. Although many of the grievances I’ve heard voiced may not have been so reasonably fuelled (while others consisted of calling Dalton Mcguinty names that can’t be repeated on this site), the gravity of many of these protests hadn’t dawned on me until I learned that $850 million of Canadian tax money is spent on pre-trial detention annually. That’s $850 million spent on people not yet convicted of a crime. Do you have any idea how many junior chickens you could buy with that money at McDonalds? Probably close to 850 million.
Abby Deshman, program director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Society, says that, despite this incredibly high cost of pre-trial detention, the majority of people who are jailed upon arrest are facing minor, non-violent charges. The cost, she says, “personal, societal and financial–of heading down this path is overwhelming.” Her report, Set up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention, notes that the rate of people awaiting bail hearings has increased, while Canada’s crime rate has decreased.
A fundamental provision of the prison system should be its effectiveness in ensuring those detained don’t come back by slipping through the cracks (yo, that’s a sweet rhyme, I should be a rapper). Manitoba has the highest number of non-convicted people behind bars at almost 70% of people in custody. Corey Shefman with the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties says the province is setting people up to fail because of its zero-tolerance policy for breaches of bail conditions. For example, someone who is five minutes late for an appointment set out in their bail conditions can be returned to jail. These harsh bail conditions aren’t only limited to Canada’s most crime-prevalent province. For one suspected youth, the judge said failure to make his bed could wind him back before the court. This is another of many examples of how unnecessary bail conditions are clogging up the provincial prisons systems with legally innocent people. Then again, don’t kids these days with their hip-hopin’, hat-turnin’, skate-bordin’ ways need to a learn a bit of respect? Deshman’s report describes the bail system as, “chaotic and unnecessarily risk-adverse and that disproportionately penalizes–and frequently criminalizes–poverty, addiction and mental illness.”
You may think that Canada’s jailing system couldn’t get any more cartoonishly backwards, but I haven’t yet reminded you of its discriminatory workings, illuminated last November. Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Saper brought to light the dramatic increase of visible minorities in Canadian prisons, while the number and proportion of Caucasian inmates has declined significantly. Saper stated the situation is particularly critical for black and aboriginal inmates. “These groups are over-represented in maximum security institutions and segregation placements. They are more likely to be subject to use of force interventions and incur a disproportionate number of institutional disciplinary charges. They are released later in their sentences and less likely to be granted day or full parole,” he said, adding, “You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these.”
For all those sickened by the Canadian prison system’s complete lack of integrity, chin up from the pool of vomit! Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi looked at Abby Deshman’s report and shot her a quick email while he was on his way home: “we want to thank the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for their report. The Ministry will work with the Ministry of the Attorney General while reviewing the recommendations.”
Man, all this prison-talk has really made me hungry, I sure could go for some peanut butter right now…and a cabbage roll.