Prime Minster HaperOur prime minister, Mr. Harper, has once again pretended to help victims by going after the mentally incompetent. Ignoring the fact that few of these people re-offend, Mr. Harper wants them kept in prison for three years no matter what the experts say.

As with other legislation, he plays to his arch-conservative base. The victims? Harper really doesn’t care. Does he pay them to come to hearings if they want to come? No. Does he offer them long-term counseling if they have been traumatized? No. Does he provide financial help, if they have suffered loss of income or loss of the ability to earn income? Does he help? NO.

Soon a new punishment will come down on inmates. Harper wants them to pay for their room and board. The maximum an inmate can make in a day is $6.90. I had a latte this morning on my way to teach in prison that almost cost that much, $6.10.

I asked one inmate if he plans to pay room and board. “Me? Pay room and board to be in jail? Come on, Ed. Get real. What will I say if they come after me? I’ll say, ‘Go ahead, throw me in prison. I ain’t payin.’”

It seems that Mr. Harper and his conservative government are all about punishment and nothing about rehabilitation. They pretend to help the victims, but they just play off of them. What concrete thing have they ever done for victims? What money have they offered them? Have they applied the principles of restorative justice? NO.

The media, of course, are just as guilty. They run around asking people if they are happy with a ten-year sentence or whatever it is. Naturally, there’s only one answer to that question – “No, I’m not satisfied.”

And the media do not seek alternative sources of news and opinion. They take Mr. Harper’s press releases and print them without doing any investigative journalism.

And the public – The public elected Mr. Harper and gave him a majority government. We should send him back to Texas or wherever he came from. (Actually the Americans are moving away from some of the prison ideas that Mr. Harper is implementing.)

And me? I would have never voted for him or his party, but I certainly didn’t work very hard to defeat him. I’m just as responsible as others for his policies.

What is your opinion? Do you think Harper cares about victims? Do you think he wants to punish inmates or rehabilitate them? Do you think punishment works?

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  1. Joanne says:

    The problem with punishment is that it does not teach what we want it to teach. When Julie hits her brother and Julie’s mom takes away her TV privileges, Julie learns to be more discreet when hitting her brother. She also learns that her mother cares more about her brother than the reason Julie struck out in the first place. Punishment is the lazy person’s way out of a problem. The better, but much more laborious way, is to find out the cause of the problem and work on fixing it so that the same result can be avoided in the future. This is as true about bank robbers and rapists as it is about Julie. Of course, the causes may be much more deep-seated and more difficult to tackle, but by simply using punishment, all we are doing is ensuring the cycle will start over again.

    The easy way out, unfortunately, works better for our political system. Four years in the cycle of crime is a short time, especially when sentences are getting longer. By increasing the use of punishment, Stephen Harper appears to be doing something productive over his term of office, and no one can really argue about the results, as they will not be in until long after the election. Fortunately for him, voters also have very short memories, so his claim that punishment will work can be used almost indefinitely.

    On the other hand, launching programs aimed at getting at the causes is a costly and protracted affair. Results come in long after the end of a political term and the public is left believing that nothing concrete has been done. And that a lot of money has been recklessly thrown at a problem. Prison buildings are concrete; university studies are not as visible.

    Punishment only makes the punished more resolved to retaliate when they have their chance–just like Julie would more than likely seek out her brother to convey her discontent that he told on her and got her into trouble. Perhaps her brother–the victim–feels a little vindicated for a short while, but eventually he is targeted once again and this time with greater vengeance.

    Punishment does nothing for the victims in the long run. They are not even given a chance to speak, as the reaction is automatic and predictable. Trials often do not focus on why the crime happened, only on evidence that it did happen. Sure there is sometimes the search for a motive, but in the end the purpose is only to prove the crime, not to come up with a solution.

  2. Catana says:

    Unfortunately, Mr. Harper may be looking to the US for his model. There are already places where you’re charged for your jail stay. So if you couldn’t pay for bail, or your fines, you wind up in jail and go even deeper into debt. But this is our brave new world. You’re not only punished, you pay for your punishment. One possible outcome is that prisoners will be forced into working low-pay jobs that are often contracted out to prisons, just in order to pay for their room and board. And the public will love it because it’s costing them less. A truly vicious circle that is recreating the old debtors’ prisons.

  3. Tasha Turner says:

    Not commenting on Harper but instead on the idea of an inmate paying room/board/expense of keeping them in jail. I have mixed feelings on this. A number of years ago I read that it typically cost $30,000/year for each inmate. That is a lot of my pretax dollars. On the other hand our “justice” system has a number of problems. Whites get lesser or no sentence for the same crime a black man gets large jail time for. We really are not rehabilitating inmates but instead make them more bitter towards the government, no longer able to vote, and rarely improve their work skills or ways they deal with stress. I don’t know what the answer is to the problem just that we need to make changes as I don’t think even victims of crimes are served by our current system here in the US.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      My number agrees with yours, Tasha. $100 a day is $36,500 a year. Think what you could do with that kind of money to help people. I believe California spends more on prisons than it does on education. It would be great to have you as a guest blogger here, just speaking of your feelings about American justice.

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