Monday, June 09, 2008

Another reader response - on incarceration vs restorative justice

Hi, George:

The John Howard Society is a world wide prisoner advocacy organization. After I retired from work, I chaired the Manitoba John Howard Society, and spent four years on its national body. The experience strongly affirmed what I already believed about our penal justice system, and it provided me with empirical evidence that I would otherwise not have.

Re prisons:

I've come to thoroughly disrespect the established practice of incarceration. Here are some reasons :

- Broadly speaking, punishment almost never achieves the goal of deterrence. Our usual punishment for offenders is incarceration and we find that most people in prison have been there before. (Remember school detentions? It could have been easily predictable that the same kids were always there.) Punishment, or its threat, works only as long as the punisher is present. "If prisons worked, the United State would be the most crime free country in the world".

- A study done a few years ago at Manitoba's Youth Centre (a lock-up) showed that for every gang member who spent time there, two new gang members came out. A recruiting station.

- About ten years ago the federal government did a study on the relationship between length of sentence and the likelihood of recidivism. It found that the longer the sentence the more likely it was that the offender would offend again. !

- The following example is anecdotal, has been told to me many times: It's easier to get drugs (including alcohol) in prison than out. (I heard of a guy who became an alcoholic in prison. When he was released, one item topped the list of things to buy, borrow, or steal.)

- If it's vengeance we want, I have little to say except that at least the lash is gone.

There are a few good alternatives to incarceration. Here's one: "Restorative Justice"

Restorative Justice is slowly getting government recognition -- if for no other reason, it's much cheaper. Restorative Justice is the one process I know of that regularly has measurable, positive results. The rate of recidivism, for example, improves with inmates who are given the choice of being active in its educational classes and individual counseling... I like it for lots of other reasons. Check it out. There's lots of info about Restorative Justice on the net.

HN, Winnipeg

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