No one wants a sex offender living in their neighbourhood because they are a menace to society. The assumption is that they are incurable; that their impulses are so strong that they are certain to reoffend. But what if that assumption is wrong?
If offenders could be rehabilitated, communities would be safer but it would take a change in policy. The policies of the Harper government ensure that communities remain endangered.
The “tough on crime” policies of the Dark Decade meant government-legislated mandatory minimum sentences, capped incarceration credit for pre-sentence custody, limited parole eligibility, and plans to build more prisons to house pot-smokers, mentally ill, and aboriginals –a plan that the U.S. advised against as I outlined in an earlier column (November, 2011).
Jonathan Kay, editor of Walrus magazine, says that there was eventually pushback even from conservatives. “Harper’s attitude toward criminals was so callous that even many Tory diehards began to push back (September, 2016). Kay quotes a conservative columnist regarding the closure of the prison-farm system. “When queried on the evidence for such measures or a broader philosophy of the role of incarceration in the criminal justice system, the justice department offers little more than slogans.”
Fortunately, rehabilitation is more than a slogan; it’s a plan. The prison-farm system is part of that plan because it provides education, vocational guidance and vital skills on how to improve the lives of prisoners and integrate them back into society.
The Liberal government plans to reopen prison farms on an “evidence based” approach. Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould has been instructed to review the justice system with a view to “increasing the safety of our communities, getting value for money, addressing the gaps and ensuring that current provisions are aligned with objectives of the criminal-justice system.”
Notice the difference? Safer communities does not mean just punishing prisoners but ensuring that when they get out that they are less likely to cause harm. The change in focus is from punishing offenders to securing society. Other than the visceral pleasure of revenge, punishment is no plan at all.
Another useful program that the Tories stopped funding was the Circles of Support and Accountability. This volunteer-run group was founded by Mennonites in 1994 and has proven results in keeping sex-offenders and pedophiles from reoffending. Studies suggest that they can reduce recidivism of sex offenders by as much as 70 per cent.
No wonder that the model of CoSA has been adopted by the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and some European counties. Volunteers help men deal with landlords, stay sober, access food banks, and obtain government ID. More importantly, they help men avoid the triggers that that cause them to reoffend; help them deal with their guilt, shame, loneliness, and anger towards others. They are often the victims of abuse themselves.
This is not coddling the sickos, as avengers claim. This is protecting society. The CoSA program is not only effective; it’s cheaper than re-incarceration.