It is no secret that I strongly disapprove of our current government. Stephen Harper is the reason I started taking any interest whatsoever in politics because I looked into his icy blue eyes in 2008 and decided I didn’t want that man running my country. This opinion has been strongly reinforced by the fact that I’m daily inundated with convincing indications that the Harper Conservatives are taking Canada in a very bad direction.
But I thought there must be some reason they’ve been voted in twice. So I’ve been actively seeking Harper-positive people to tell me why this is. Trouble was, I didn’t think I knew any.
But it turns out I do! So I asked him to send me any pro-Harper information he came across and asked his opinion of Bill C-10, that being one of my biggest beefs with this government. I’m not alone on that.
He very kindly explained why he is for it. Harsher penalties for crime would mean fewer criminals on the streets. Not giving special consideration to first nations and immigrants from troubled countries puts everyone on equal footing. Fair enough.
I would have no problem with this… if it worked. However, prolonged incarceration doesn’t serve as either as a deterrent to first offenses or repeated ones. You can threaten the death penalty for theft but a person will still steal food if they are hungry enough. A rapist or child molester knows there are penalties for their acts. The idea that this knowledge will stop them from their wrongdoing fails to acknowledge the mental illness that makes them not care.
This obviously doesn’t apply to absolutely every case but the causes for the majority of crime are poverty, desperation, lack of options and mental illness. And when I say lack of options I don’t mean you had no choice but to steal a car. I mean that you were given no good reason not to. Why should disenfranchised people care what society wants when society clearly doesn’t give a damn what they need? And for many, the prison lifestyle is preferable to the free lifestyle. At least you are guaranteed food and shelter.
So now we have a crime bill that basically says to these people, “You have committed a crime and you must be punished by being fed, clothed and housed on the taxpayer dime even longer. Take that, miscreant!”
I grew up around a lot of lower class people who turned to crime early in life. Some of them have been in and out of prison since their teens. So it’s a mindset I’m extremely familiar with. And due to my familiarity with it, I can definitively say that the prison system’s main contribution to preventing crime is separating the criminal from society. But the criminal mind, and the resentment towards society that leads to criminal acts (especially violent ones) thrives in prison.
And why should that surprise us? If you want to change someone’s thinking do you confine them with a bunch of other people who think the same way and can teach them better tricks?
The truth is our entire sense of justice is messed up and outdated, based on emotional, revenge based thinking rather than rational, solution oriented thinking. We seek to punish misdeeds with the very erroneous idea that people will “learn their lesson” and emerge contrite and somehow cleansed of the urges and mindsets that put them there in the first place.
Making punishments harsher doesn’t scare criminals enough to stop them, as evidenced by the ineffectiveness of methods used in centuries past. Did the threat of hanging or transportation keep England, for example, from being absolutely riddled with crime? No it didn’t. It wasn’t effective as a deterrent and it didn’t keep the public safe. So if the threat of death or indentured exile didn’t stop crime, why would extra jail time?
This is assuming we catch them at all. Harsher penalties do create incentive to take extra precautions against being caught.
So we are treating the symptom and not the disease, and we aren’t even doing a very good job of that. It’s obvious that the root problems need to be addressed, but that is way harder without overhauling our entire society.
Can we reduce poverty, disenfranchisement and racism? Can we incorporate an emphasis on mental health into routine medical care? Can we change the pervasive, ingrained attitudes that allow rape culture to flourish? Can we hold society as a whole accountable for the people it produces?
I really mean that last one, not that there’s much anyone can do about it. Irresponsible parenting, indifferent teaching, negligent medical care, race and gender hate, stubborn ignorance, religious fanaticism, bigotry and generally mean-spirited attitudes are largely responsible for producing criminals in the first place. And responsible for all that is the unthinking, uncaring, selfish, shortsighted, terrified stupidity of the human animal. That’s you and me, pal. If we could bring ourselves to actually treat each other as we want to be treated we could probably weed out a lot of criminal tendencies.
But mostly we don’t, so we’re doomed. But is a vengeful, punishment based justice system our best option? Even Texas doesn’t think so, and that’s saying something. They tried it. It cost them tons of money and their crime rate dropped at half the rate of the national average.
So they tried a more rational, statistically viable approach. They invested in drug treatment, mental health programs, and improved probation and parole programs. And it worked. They still have people in prison, even on death row, but far fewer. And their crime rate is far lower. It’s cheaper too!
This goes against our instincts. When we hear of horrific violent crimes our primal, animal brains scream for blood. But going against our instincts, rising above our primal urges is what enabled us to build civilization to begin with.
So what I don’t get is why our government thinks we have the money to burn on a way of doing things that has already been proved a bad mistake. Bill C-10 and the thinking behind it could cost us the opportunity to prevent crime at the root level, ruin more lives, destroy civil liberties and still not accomplish its objective of a safer society. I rarely point to America as a positive role model, but in this case, I’m with Texas.