650 words; 3 minutes to read
A slightly different version of this piece appeared initially on Dec 14 in The Lawyer’s Daily. https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/32171
Murray Fallis is a lawyer with John Howard Canada.
Governments get a reputation for being slow and bureaucratic. Heck, it is rumored that Statistics Canada first got external Internet in 2017. Yet, if government is the tortoise in a hare’s world, then Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is the three-toed sloth.
CSC manages one of Canada’s biggest problems — crime. Crime, and its resulting incarceration, lies at the intersection of so many of our society’s challenges — alcoholism, poverty, racism, addictions, mental illness.
As modern countries use innovation to tackle crime, we fall behind. Outside of Canada, innovation and technology are already keeping people safe while here at home it is being ignored and rejected.
The U.K. offers two examples.
First, in October, the United Kingdom released an article on its Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge. This project saw technology companies submit ideas on how to break the cycle of reoffending. Grants of up to $500,000 were awarded. Submissions flooded in, from fostering family connections, to ensuring identification documents were ready upon release. Ideas abounded. One group focused on ensuring access to adequate supports post-incarceration, via technology. These are all issues we continue to face in Canadian corrections where non profit organizations such as John Howard have been refused the ability to use technology inside our prisons. CSC cites security concerns as a barrier to rehabilitative technologies, yet, somehow, other jurisdictions around the world have made it work.
Second, if you hopped on a red double-decker bus from the Ministry of Justice, you’d find groups of millennials sipping coffee at Redemption Roasters. This prison-based coffee company roasts coffee beans inside Her Majesty’s prisons. They rely on prisoner labour as their workforce. This employment allows prisoners, upon release, to have the minimal funds to get an apartment, a haircut or even some toothpaste. All this to prevent post-release recidivism. Redemption Roasters also hires released prisoners while training others for further employment in the coffee industry. As employment is key in preventing recidivism, these millennials, by sipping their dark roasts or their flat whites, are keeping society safe. Here, the only risk of addiction is totally legal.
Clearly, in the U.K., somebody smart inside the Ministry of Justice ran the math. They figured out that incarcerating a single prisoner for a year costs a minimum of $100,000. If these projects ideas can prevent even 10 prisoners from reoffending, then they have saved taxpayers money. They’ve also kept us all safer.
Unwilling in Canada
In Canada, innovative ideas are hard to come by. Prisoners must still ask a librarian for access to judicial decisions. Last year, John Howard Canada received a public safety grant to introduce basic, supervised, computer access to a single minimum-security prisoner. The objective — to ensure the prisoner had the necessary supports to prevent crime — charities, halfway houses, churches, identification. After a year of trying and failing to gain access, in July, CSC informed us our technology wasn’t needed. Less than four months on, Canada’s new Recidivism Reduction Framework now offers an opportunity to use innovation to tackle the cycle of reoffending. Following a U.K.-esque, innovative, path would serve our prisons and our communities well.
Prisoners owe a debt to Canadian society. They have wronged victims and have behaved unlawfully. Yet, if we refuse to implement programs which prevent future crime, we are shooting our balance sheets into the red. We are unnecessarily increasing costs and are refusing to acknowledge criminological evidence on recidivism.
Most prisoners are released. The question is, upon release, have we ensured they have the skills, resources and judgment skills to avoid reoffending?