Prisoners of Ideology

The federal government’s quiet reform of the country’s prison system might have gone unnoticed by many Canadians if not for the work of Graham Stewart and Michael Jackson.

Stewart, former head of the John Howard Society of Canada, and Jackson, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, have released an illuminating review of the direction in which the Conservative government is taking the corrections system.

Their critique, A Flawed Compass: A Human Rights Analysis of the Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety, accuses the government of — surprise! — favouring ideology instead of data, and ignoring the human rights of prisoners, when it comes to developing corrections policy.

These are serious concerns that need to be addressed.

They contend that the Harper government has ignored reams of research and conclusive evidence about prison policy — some of it produced by government employees — in favour of slogans and pandering. They fear that the resulting direction the government is taking — based on the 2007 report Roadmap to Public Safety — will not only be extremely costly, but will fail to make the public safer.

The Harper government has long talked a good game on law-and-order, promising to get tough on crime. Problem is, crime rates have been dropping across Canada, so in order to win public support for its agenda, the government has had to rely on emotion rather than facts. And the government is happy to admit it. Critics “try to pacify Canadians with statistics” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told an audience last year. “Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong, they say, crime is really not a problem.”

It is true that statistics matter little to individuals who have been personally victimized. But empirical evidence should matter to policy-makers. Crime rates are one piece of evidence about what is and what is not working in the corrections system. Ignoring research and statistics is a formula for producing bad policy.

Among the key recommendations the government has adopted is ending “statutory releases” after prisoners serve two-thirds of their sentences, in favour of earned parole that is tied to following a corrections plan. The 2007 panel said the shift would improve public safety.

But experts such as Stewart and Jackson say it would have the opposite effect because, instead of being supervised in the community, prisoners would serve longer and then be dumped into communities with no conditions. Ending a program that might be perceived as offering early release to prisoners may be good optics, but is it good policy?

The Harper Conservatives consistently confuse the two. One need not be a university-based criminologist to see how releasing prisoners with no conditions and no support might actually make the public less safe than earlier release that comes with conditions and support.

The Harper government would move the country’s correctional system closer to the U.S. model, which would see more prisoners incarcerated for longer periods, thanks to mandatory minimum sentences and the elimination of gradual release. The plan would see the construction of U.S.-style super prisons.

But is the U.S. really any safer as a result of its jam-packed prisons? The Canadian government might find it useful to talk to some American criminologists, who are horrified about the politicization of their corrections system, before taking us down the same path.

– Article from The Ottawa Citizen.



  1. Devil's Advocate on

    Start sending that sort of letter and you should get ready for official visits. I’m all for it, but you better be squeeky clean when they arrive or you may end up next to Marc Emery.

  2. Anonymous on

    Harper should do everyone in Canada a favor and kill himself.

  3. Joesph on

    The Reform PC like Harper is a minority government. This means that 29% of Canadians are really stupid. The majority are very intelligent

  4. one12alpha on

    I like your idea in concept. But the truth is, nothing you write any public official is worth the paper its written on. Telling them you profit from their policy will only cause them to pry into your life, and imprison you.

    Like the last reply mentioned, trafficking causes price gouging and violence. Not a good thing for anyone.

    You could write them and say thank you and they will take it as approval for their BS. Write and say you think their wrong, and they’ll ignore it as usual. There is simply no way to get through to these people. They all work on their own agenda, and care only for themselves. When it comes time for votes, they tell you what they think you want to hear, then its back to the same ol’ same old.

    It seems the only way to show these criminals we mean business is to actually vote. We need our own advocates to run for office, like Marc and Jodie Emery do, and we need to vote for them. We need to campaign for our advocates in any way we can, and show our support proudly. Its the fact that what we want is currently illegal that makes it difficult, along with the negative stigma placed on the “pot head”. We need more people of respectable titles like’ doctors, professors, lawyers, CEOs etc, to come out of the closet and admit their use, and support. People are generally sheep, and we have the mainstream media on our side. More and more, marijuana is shown in a more positive light on TV. And the govt’s actions against medical marijuana patients is helping our cause… as time goes on the stubborn, brain washed public of yesteryear grows senile and dies, another tragically good thing for our cause. The “[email protected] the police” generation is grown and growing up, and the hippies of the 60’s are ripe for politics….it wont be long ladies and gents. After 40 long years, the prohibition is nearing its end….hopefully.

  5. Anonymous on

    Canadians need to take a good look at places that the United States has touched with its hardball “War on Drugs” policies. The United States has surpassed both China and Russia in prison population rates. Education scores are dismal. It sinks more money into imprisoning people than it does educating them. Organized crime is rampant — just like during alcohol prohibition. Police regularly abuse civil rights of people, circumvent laws, and pick the pockets of citizens based on supposed drug seizures (eg. East & West Texas in recent news). The list goes on and on in the U.S.


    Other countries…

    Colombia had stabilized economically recently since the U.S. had pulled out and was focusing on Mexico. The U.S. sent lots of money, weapons, and training over to Colombia and both countries went after the cartels again. The cartel leaders were killed and imprisoned and now Colombia has a power vacuum. Right back to increases in crime, violence, organized criminals, murders, civil rights abuses, and economic instability.

    Mexico is another semi-recent example. George W. Bush bullied Mexico’s President into halting a bill that the Mexican Congress had signed, legalizing personal amounts of all drugs. Bush sent in money, weapons, and training… the result? Increases in crime, violence, organized criminals, murders, civil rights abuses, and economic instability.

    Another semi-recent example? Afghanistan. In June 2009, the U.S. had to pull out its opium poppy destruction efforts and call it quits. During its push to eradicate poppies, opium production increased to 40 times the regular amount and the farmers joined up with the local rebel groups for protection of their crops. Again U.S. drug policies had created… increases in crime, violence, organized criminals, murders, civil rights abuses, and economic instability.

    So now that the U.S. policies are working their way more and more into Canada, what do you want? A model of tolerance that has worked for your country or what every country the U.S. touches with its drug policies gets?…

    You have already seen how legalization and regulation of illegal drugs works. The United States alcohol prohibition is a good example of how bringing popular items out of a black market and illegal status serves the better good of all citizens — those who drink and those who don’t.

  6. Anonymous on


    I dunno you

    but playing the trafficking game causes a lot of problems

    sending kids to private schools ?

    with drug trafficking comes competition
    and violence

    I applaud your effort but, don’t think it’s the way to go

  7. Caber1 on

    I think we may be going about it wrong. Instead of telling the government how stupid they are and getting them all defensive we need to change our strategy.

    We need to start sending letters thanking the government for letting us make bigger profits selling weed because now the penalties are that much higher.
    Let them know how much you appreciate your new car and vacations and how you just can’t thank them enough for being able to now afford to send your kids to private schools.

    I would also thank them for allowing me to be like banks and big corporations by not having to pay income tax.

    This is a win,win situation and I tip my hat to them.

    Please no elections to upset this beauuuutiful relationship that we have.