This year was a landmark year. The Conservative party, now the majority party in Parliament, finally succeeded in passing the Safe Streets and Communities Act. This is the omnibus crime bill that made sweeping changes to the criminal law with little regard to the widely accepted literature on crime and corrections.
If you look up this act and go to the government’s website to view it, they promote it like this:
The Government introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act on September 20, 2011, fulfilling its commitment to “move quickly to re-introduce comprehensive law-and-order legislation to combat crime and terrorism.” The Safe Streets and Communities Act received Royal Assent on March 13, 2012. The criminal law amendments in this legislation will make communities safer by:
- helping improve the safety of all Canadians and, in particular, extending greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society; and
- further enhancing the ability of Canada’s justice system to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
Sounds pretty good, right? Who doesn’t like it when politicians actually fulfill their commitments? Who doesn’t want to “improve the safety of all Canadians”? Who doesn’t want to protect “the most vulnerable members of society”? Who doesn’t want offenders to be held accountable for their actions?
The government website continues on to say that the act accomplishes these goals through 16 or 17 various ways (depending on how you count them up). Of these 16 or 17 methods, 12 or so are ways of saying that the only sentence available for most crimes is now jail—if it wasn’t jail before—and, if it was jail before, now it is more jail!
The amendments especially affect young offenders (under 18). Young offenders are unique in our criminal justice system, because more than any other type of offender, they have the best prospect of rehabilitation. It used to be that rehabilitation was the focus of sentencing any young offender, but now the government is mandating that the courts consider the best way to denounce and deter these offenders. So that we’re clear, denunciation and deterrence in sentencing is legalese for jail, jail, and more jail!
Do you know what is the least effective method of deterring offenders and ultimately protecting our communities? Jail! And more jail!
Putting aside that some of our most vulnerable members of society (the mentally ill, the drug addicted, those caught up in the vicious cycles of abuse and poverty) are actually the people that will face these new draconian legislative changes, jail only serves to isolate people from the general population for a definitive amount of time.
Yes, of course, now they will be isolated for longer than ever before, but eventually they will get out. It’s simply that now they have had lots more time to twiddle their thumbs and get to know other people that are more advanced in their criminal careers. Jail tends to be an opportunity for mentorship, networking, and generally just dreaming up schemes.
One such example is this bizarre story about one man’s scheme to use two other men to carry out an evil plot on our dear Justin Bieber’s life.
Essentially a man (a convicted felon serving two life sentences) with a severe case of Bieber fever recruits another man in prison, to kidnap, murder, and castrate Bieber, his bodyguard, and two others. The would-be assassin was a small-time criminal, someone in and out of jail for drugs, driving while intoxicated, and a burglary or two, but no murders.
Why would this small-time criminal do it? Well a “budding prison friendship” and the promise of some money.
Unfortunately, the small-timer was successful in murdering two people at the behest of his prison buddy. Fortunately for tweens and Bieber fans everywhere, he missed his exit on the highway and was apprehended at the Canada-U.S. border.
Now, I’m not saying jail is never the answer. My point is simply that it cannot always be the answer. Jail needs to be the last resort, not the first resort because we should all be wary of what goes on behind bars.