31 October 2014

Scary, or just ridiculous?

Well, we’ve done it. Our delightful right wing government, which has at least persuaded itself that we are on the ever-rising crest of a crime wave, has gone the way of prolonging sentences to their extreme. It doesn’t matter that statistics show a steady downward trend in crime rates — let’s just put an end to that particular information gathering activity if it doesn’t show what we want it to.

I always thought it laughable to hear those law and order sentences coming from the United States: 300 years in prison! And now we are there in Canada. The federal government changed the Criminal Code to allow for consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences. So if the penalty for homicide is life and you commit three of them, you will spend three lifetimes in prison! That’ll teach you!

In fact, the penalty for first-degree murder in Canada is life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.  First-degree murder means it was pre-meditated or the person killed was a police officer on duty. Today, a person convicted of the murder of three police officers was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. The 24-year-old will be 99 when he becomes eligible for parole. If he is still alive at age 99 and not deemed a risk for society and sufficiently penitent, he will presumably be released into poverty to suffer on his own dime. But the question that begs to be answered: if he dares to die earlier than that, will they keep his corpse around for the reminder of the sentence?

I don’t want to make light of a serious criminal offence. Someone who commits murder must be punished. But it used to be that the criminal law had more purposes than just punishment, like rehabilitation. I’m not sure how much is left of the programs that would serve to help people rehabilitate themselves while in prison, but I’m willing to bet that they are less available than they ought to be, and even less so when we have to plan to feed and house a prisoner for the next 75 years. How soon do you think this guy might have access to a program?

We also have a parole board that, with the advice of a number of experts, assesses whether the person will be able to return to society and lead a productive and peaceable life, but this government doesn’t seem to trust that body at all. They will point to the spectre of recidivism when in fact the cases of people committing crimes after their release are actually much rarer than we are led to believe.

As usual, the facts matter little. The fear of crime we have trumped up wins and we look good by meting out a mockery of a sentence. Way to go. If only this philosophy of sentencing applied to electoral fraud we might be rid of some of these politicians for a good long time.

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