There is a saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Unfortunately, our government not only has an arsenal of hammers, but it sends questionnaires out to citizens asking the public's advice on which hammer to use.
I received this one such questionnaire earlier this year, and I was floored (click on any image to enlarge):
The big question asks whether "I think thieves and vandals should serve their sentences in jail."
Prison time for "thieves and vandals" draws up images of the guy who (literally) got 25-to-life for stealing a slice of pizza. But read the smaller print, which informs citizens that "The Conservative Government believes that serious offenders should be held accountable for their actions." So which is it--Serious offenders or thieves and vandals?
I was so incensed by this tough-on-crime mantra that I decided to write a letter. By hand: (as always, click to enlarge; the yellow highlighting is added after scanning for this blog entry)
Aside from playing out my 'credentials', I scorn him for not giving any space for comments. A yes/no checkbox is hardly "consulting" the community, and he could receive any number of "no" responses and still stand up in the House of Commons and say "Such-and-such many people replied to my survey saying that they want..." &c.
But I try to give him the benefit of the doubt. I figure, hey, this guy's a conservative, let him at least explain how this policy will save taxpayer money and reduce crime. My main concern is that we keep throwing resources at ways of putting more people into prison, while wholly ignoring the services that deal with people when they come out. That does nothing to discourage recidivism.
My name and address are blacked out to protect the guilty :P.
Naturally, once I had written this letter (and sent it off postage-free), I more or less forgot about it. I also forgot about the fact that MPs are compelled to reply to correspondence. (I recently e-mailed my MPP, and I got a reply e-mail asking for my address so they could send me a response. Gah!)
From the get-go you could tell he didn't write the letter, because he had crossed out my full name and scribbled my first name above it. To be honest, I think that was a decent gesture on Hawn's part, without treating you like a child.
But substantively, he not only confirms my fears, but brings out even more crazy shit that I didn't expect in the first place! "Lenient sentences are most certainly taken into account by criminals who plan their crimes" he says, providing no evidence. He then trots out the "think of the children" argument, and talks about some policies to help addicts, which will probably be left underfunded and unsupported in practise.
But he really surprises me when he announces the "reverse-onus" law for gun crimes. In case you're not familiar with the term, "reverse-onus" means guilty-until-proven-innocent. And in case you're not familiar with the Charter of Rights, it is totally unconstitutional (see Charter section 7(d)). The fact that the Conservative Government wants to do away with due process and the rule of law scares the shits out of me.
The letter continues:
To his credit, Hawn addresses my concern that punishment is only a deterrent if you think you're likely to get caught. He addresses it by saying the Government is spending $161 million to put a thousand more police on the streets in hopes to increase the "perception of the enforcement of laws". Again--hammer, nail.
Unfortunately, this still will do little to reduce crime, while doing lots to spend taxpayer money and remind us that the State is supervising our every move.
Mr. Hawn's letter, just like Canada's 'correctional' system, completely ignores the fact that when you put more resources into sending people to jail, you need to put (at least) equal amounts of resources into dealing with when they come out. The Conservative Government policies which Hawn propounds in his letter will only exacerbate this problem.
When he says "the best way to prevent crime, be that jail time, community service or house arrest," Hawn shows that he completely misses my other point that punishment is not the only way to prevent crime. That, as can be explained patiently, is insane.
I'm glad I didn't just dismiss the leaflet, but instead tried to engage in an intellectual debate on the merits of prison. It really gave me an insight into how little intellect is being used to run this country. Shit.