Concern About Changes To Our Prison System

On behalf of OMI Lacombe Canada,
Fr. John M. Malazdrewich, OMI Provincial – OMI Lacombe Canada
February 29, 2012

This was a Letter to the Editor sent to many newspapers throughout Canada,
175 Main Street ● 175, rue Main OTTAWA ON K1S 1C3 TEL: 613-230-2225 ● FAX/TELEC: 613-230-2948

jail.web Concern About Changes To Our Prison SystemBill C-10, the “Omnibus Crime Bill”, is now before Parliament. If passed without further amendment, we fear that those who will be punished most by the new law will be not criminals, but law-abiding Canadians.

Much has been made of the enormous financial penalty that Canadians will have to pay for this misguided legislation: up to $3 billion per year. We wonder how many classrooms, hospital beds and programs designed to keep young people out of crime will be axed to pay for the new prison beds the bill would require.

Less has been said about other long term consequences. Our government seems to have forgotten that those who are incarcerated must eventually be released and re-integrated into society. The bill makes no provision for expanding the rehabilitation of offenders. It ignores the fact that most of those who are incarcerated live with serious handicaps: many are functionally illiterate or live with a serious learning disability; many were victims of child abuse or have a mental illness. An overcrowded prison with a minimum of programs for education, mental health and rehabilitation does little to prepare an inmate to live “on the outside”. In fact, longer periods of incarceration where an inmate becomes accustomed to living an institutionalized life, often makes it more difficult for an inmate to live a normal life back on the outside.

If an offender emerges from prison determined to get a job and live as a responsible citizen, changes to the system of pardons will make it nearly impossible, without a lot of personal wealth, to receive a “record suspension”, even after many years of living a law-abiding life. When applying for a job, they will be passed over in favour of those with no criminal record; their dream of living a productive life and contributing to his community will be denied again and again.

As for victims of crime, many victims lament that they receive little satisfaction or healing from the court system as is. More effective have been programs where the offender comes to understand the damage, loss and deep pain that the offence has caused and then makes concrete amends for the offence. This can happen through mediation, community sentencing circles and other means that promote accountability, respect and reparation. However, no provision is made in this legislation to expand and better support such programs; in fact, it is possible that resources will have to be diverted from these programs to pay for new prisons.

Since our arrival in Canada in 1841, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have worked with prisoners and victims of crime. We encourage the members of Parliament to consider well the testimony they have heard from those who have long experience working with criminals and their victims. We urge them to propose amendments that would re- orient the legislation toward rehabilitation, toward addressing the real needs of victims, and toward helping vulnerable young people find healthy alternatives to crime and the revolving door of a short-sighted penal system.

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