Saturday, February 4, 2012

Canada under Harper follows U.S. lead in increasing incarceration

   Brian Stewart is a Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Stewart has a long history as a senior reporter covering conflicts around the globe for about four decades now. In a recent CBC article he discusses the high rates of incarceration in the U.S. Finally, he notes that the Canadian government with a Conservative majority under Stephen Harper is following a similar path.
     Stewart calls the mass incarceration of millions of Americans one of the greatest scandals of our times. Yet little attention seems to be paid to it. The deficit and jobs are major domestic problems in the U.S. but the fact that the U.S. jails people at a rate seven times that of other developed nations seems neither here nor there.
     The U.S. with less than five per cent of the global population has 23 per cent of the prison population. At present 2,284,000 Americans are in prison with millions more under correctional supervision. Ron Paul with his campaign that would decriminalize recreational drug use is one of the few candidates to give even much thought to the problem.
     While Newt Gingrich has in the past advocated prison reform he has been notably silent on prison issues during debates. A common problem about even talking about reform for any politician is that they will depicted as soft on crime. Many fear this label could lose them support.
    In Canada the conservative government of Stephen Harper seems to be following in the U.S. path by building more prisons,  increasing penalties, and jailing more people. This is happening even as crime rates have been in decline. Some in the U.S. claim that declining crime rates there are a result of harsher penalties and more imprisonment. However as Stewart points out the declines are similar in both states with harsh criminal laws and those with less harsh laws.  In fact many studies suggest that crime rates depend much more on other factors than the severity of punishment whether harsh or relatively mild.
  Often rates of certain crimes can be altered by methods that have nothing to do with punishment. For example decriminalization of marijuana use and possession would eliminate one whole class of crimes. The Manitoba Public Insurance Co  has mandated anti-theft devices for many vehicles that have lowered the rate of auto theft substantially in Manitoba.The company pays for the devices since they save far more money than it costs to install the devices.  The devices make stealing the vehicle exceedingly difficult and this results in far fewer thefts For much more see the entire article here.

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