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Violence Rising in Crowded Canadian Prisons

Violence Rising in Crowded Canadian Prisons

In the Spring 2011 election, the Conservative Party of Canada promised to be “tough on crime.” Having already introduced and passed a variety of legislation that increased prison time for a variety of offenses, the Conservatives promised to take things even further. They promised new measures that would crack down on human smuggling and contraband tobacco, lengthen sentences, and make it more difficult for inmates to be granted parole. The Conservative party knows that this, along with other “law and order” initiatives they have implemented over the past few years, means that the prison population will increase steadily in years to come.

Crowded Prisons = Increased Violence

The increase in the prison population is resulting in increased crowding. According to Ottawa’s prison watchdog, correctional investigator Howard Sapers, by 2014, close to one third of inmates will be sharing cells that are designed to accommodate only one person.

The increased crowding in prisons is leading to an increase in violence. “The indicators that we look at in terms of getting a measure of institutional violence are all going in the same direction,” Mr. Sapers told the Globe and Mail this week. “And they’re all going up.” Sapers noted that inmate injuries increased by more than 60 percent in the last year. John Winterdyk from Mount Royal University’s Centre for Criminology and Justice Research told the Globe and Mail that rates of violence and in-custody deaths have increased faster than the prison population over the past decade.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews brushed aside those concerns, telling the Globe and Mail that he hasn’t seen those statistics and that “There isn’t as much prisoner-on-prisoner violence that used to exist eight or nine years ago, before we put in policies that restricted some of the movement of prisoners.” Toews concluded by saying that “If you’re concerned about prisoners inside prisons, that’s fine: I’m concerned about them too. But my paramount concern is about violence against people out on the street who are innocent.”

Plans to Build More Prisons

In January, the Conservative government announced several prison expansion projects to accommodate increasing inmate populations and to help spark economic recovery through the creation of construction jobs.  According to their plans, these projects would cost $158 million and create 634 new spaces. However, according to the Toronto Star, the parliamentary budget officer estimates that tougher sentences could cost between $10 billion and $18 billion over five years.

Does this Make Sense When Crime is Decreasing?

Canada’s crime rate is down 17% from 10 years ago and the crime severity index is down 22% from 10 years ago (source: Statistics Canada). But statistics don’t win elections; fear does. The increasingly gruesome and sensationalized media reporting on crimes combined with the fear mongering of the Conservative Party’s campaign may be more likely to sway votes than the reality portrayed through the statistics.

According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian incarceration rate is about 117 inmates per 100,000 people (compared to the United States rate of 760 per 100,000). The American incarceration rate, which is significantly higher than all other Western democracies, has quadrupled since the 1970s. Former Republican U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency head Asa Hutchison has warned Canada not to repeat his government’s mistakes. According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Hutchison says the Republicans’ approach did not put enough emphasis on preparing convicts for release and that their mandatory minimum sentences often put people behind bars who did not need to be there.

The Alternative: Address the Roots of Crime

Experts on criminal justice agree that tougher sentences and bigger prisons are not the way to decrease crime rates.  According to the Toronto Star article, Solving Crime? Tackle the root causes first, the steps that lead to safer communities are:

  • Reduce poverty and school dropout rates.
  • Invest in comprehensive childhood development initiatives.
  • Make housing affordable.
  • Increase access to health care and rehabilitative programs.
  • Reduce incarceration rates, partly through alternatives to jail, and direct savings to neighborhoods with a high number of offenders.

According to the Toronto Star:

Attacking root causes doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if savings from reduced incarceration are reinvested in troubled neighbourhoods. With crime costing an estimated $70 billion annually, $1.8 billion of it for prisons, cost-benefit analyses have repeatedly shown such investments would save many more billions in the long run.

In the Spring 2011 election, most of Canada’s political parties had comprehensive platforms designed to address these issues in particular. The Conservatives, however, plan to use their majority government to simply put more people behind bars and give Canadians the perception that they are safer.

Related posts:

Prison Libraries Ban Literature, Raise Controversy

Canada Has Voted and It Isn’t Pretty: Conservative Majority

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Photo credit: DubyDub2009 on flickr

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29 comments

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9:52AM PDT on Aug 15, 2011

Beverley, How about working toward creating a world we can live in instead of slave and suffer in. If you want the death penalty in Canada, let's start with corrupt politicians seeing how they create more suffering and inequality with one decision than any murderer could ever do. Greed and Entitlement will destroy civilization if left unchecked.

6:39PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

we need deterents all the world over. the rope, the electric chair, cat ' o 9 tales. people will be mroe law abiding then.

2:10PM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

This does not surprise me, Harper is a clown, a self-righteous clown. When he gets caught doing something illegal, there will be and always be extenuating circumstances like there always is with politicians. His solution, like every other numbnut is to just build more prisons because god forbid that they just aren't doing a good job running the country and actually encouraging crime to grow.

4:41PM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

The key sentence in this article was: "Statistics don't win elections; fear does." This is the tactic that has been used so effectively to ruin this country (US). The powers behind media fear-mongering know this tactic well, and know the people will react to it by electing those who have no clue how to govern and could care less about the people they represent. The game is played for financing elections, war, prisons, xenophobic reactions to other cultures, doing away with social safety nets, to mention just a few. and is won when voters believe these people who are fostering these fears.

Why else would FOX news still be on the air?

10:30AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

Legalize pot and that will cut the prison population by half.

10:23AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

Oops... *disagreeance with... ;D

10:21AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

I will admit I didn't vote for the "Harper Government". I was disagree with most of their platform, and am painfully aware of the atrocities they have wreaked on certain groups in Canada. Their platform on crime is ridiculous. The money would better be spent on rehabilitation (ie: mandatory counselling). Also, why can't the criminals work for their keep instead of getting a free ride? They should be made to do community service to pay for their keep, grow their own gardens, no free cable television(most of us NON-criminals can't afford it why should they get it for free?), education ONLY if they are actively working on becoming better people, etc. I could go on and on.

They live better than the MAJORITY of hardworking families living below the poverty line because minimum wage doesn't keep up with cost of living, and education costs are becoming out of reach for so many. Canada's government has it's priorities skewed. As a First Nations person, I also see how the Aboriginal people of this country are often living in 3rd and 4th world conditions because of broken promises and continuous cuts. It's becoming a less desirable country to live in, still better than many, but sliding down. So sad.

9:52AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

thanks

9:14AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

for the most part, i have always had trouble with the idea of prisons: is this the adulltequivalent of sending kids to their rooms? yeah, there are violent criminals who need to be kept away from society, but imprisoning addicts or white collar criminals? there has to be a better way to handle non-violent crimes. in short, if it costs more than it's worth, alternative sentencing might be in order.

9:13AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

Has anybody thought as to what would happen if the majority of the population was incacerated? - That's for those who claim that the majority should rule.

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