The importance of parole

Here’s a wonderful recent article from the Globe and Mail about parole in Canada. We desperately need to get back to a sane system of parole – not only for the sake of helping convicted persons to reintegrate into society but for the better protection of society also. What we’re doing right now – locking people up to the limit of their sentences and then releasing them without supervision – just isn’t working. It isn’t a question of being tough on crime or weak on crime. It’s a question of doing what feels good vs. doing what actually works.

I’m very glad the media is beginning to pay more attention to this topic and to write with more nuance. Because what’s needed is not only political will but greater public understanding. So long as the public takes the view that the best way to protect society is to lock up bad people for as long as possible, there will always be politicians ready to roll out proposals that play to those instincts. But the truth is that very few criminals are beyond rehabilitation, and very few can be kept locked up for life – not legally, ethically, or practically. Even when we’re willing to change the law and reframe our ethics, we come up against the hard reality that it costs damn near $100,000/year to keep someone in prison. And so for all those reasons, the overwhelming majority of prisoners will be released.

Some people believe rehabilitation is impossible. They support longer sentences simply because it prolongs the time before the offender gets out and (to their mind) inevitably reoffends. But the truth is, rehabilitation does work much of the time, and when it’s supported properly it works far more often. So we can pour money into warehousing prisoners and at the same time compromise their best chances at reform. Or we can spend far less, and actually support the path which would see them stay out of trouble for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, you don’t need to hear it from me. You know where I stand already. But read the article in the Globe. It’s a good one.

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