Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bringing back chain gangs

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is adding a new twist to right-wing tough on crime policies, he’s aiming to get tough on ‘criminals’ by bringing back the chain gang.

He’s proposing that inmates perform a mandatory 40 hours of manual labour in order to receive credits for such things as purchasing coffee or the right to watch TV.

“If you want do things you get for free under Dalton McGuinty, like playing cards, watching high def TV, taking freeing the spirit zen yoga classes,” he said, “you need to do an honest day’s work just like every hard working family out there.”

The Ontario Liberals have responded by calling this a “reckless proposal” and claiming it would put Canadians in danger to have “these individuals” in their neighbourhoods and parks – as if inmates would just be turned outdoors, told to pick up some trash and come back at dinner time.

There are currently 8,488 inmates in Ontario. That number is going to balloon once the Federal Conservatives push through their crime omnibus bill which will see more people sent to jail and add to the number of people on remand – those who have not been convicted of anything but are sitting in provincial jails, typically in maximum security cells, awaiting trial.

The John Howard Society, a charity working to develop and promote just, humane and effective responses to crime and its causes, paints quite a different picture of Ontario prisons from that described by Mr. Hudak. They describe the prison environment as “dirty, degrading and dangerous”. For example, due to prison over-crowding, there can be 3 people to a 4 metre by 2.5 metre cell originally designed for one person, confined together for 12-14 hours a day or more. Health problems such as TB are rampant.

Since they lack regular access to fresh air and even showers, I can see that the chance to work outdoors, outside the prison walls, would be eagerly welcomed by some. I can also imagine that an opportunity do physical labour could be rewarding and therapeutic. But something tells me that’s the welfare of inmates is not what is driving this proposal. I’m going to look into this some more.

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