This fall, the Conservatives will pass an omnibus crime bill increasing imprisonment. Increasing imprisonment, of course, does not actually reduce crime as jails function as a great place to get people involved in more criminal activity, especially if they are in prison on poverty-related offenses. Poverty is not alleviated when you put a person in prison. The more people in jails increases the negative effects of them:
A year ago, there were about 500 women in the federal prison system. Now there are almost 600. That is an increase of 20 per cent in one year. It costs $556 per day to keep a woman behind federal bars. Overcrowding results in the spread of disease, the heightening of tension, more violence, less access to programming and visiting rights. It is an extremely destructive method of accommodating prisoners.
As you can see, prisons are also expensive. So if prisons don’t actually fulfill the goals of a tough-on-crime agenda (that is to reduce crime) and if they are of huge federal cost, why are the Conservatives so dead set on their expansion and increased occupation?
Prisons maintain power hierarchies. For example, those living in poverty are much more prone to ending up in prisons. This is due to poverty-related offenses like not paying a fine or doing survival sex work or theft (last month, a man was murdered at the Edmonton Remand Centre – he was serving time for not being able to pay the $110 fine after being caught on the LRT without a ticket). This is also due to the fact that a good lawyer is expensive. This is also due to the fact that corporations can’t be imprisoned, but individuals can. There are lots of ways in which privilege affects sentencing.
Incidentally, prisons also make corporations a lot of money – building them, providing the vast array of products needed (everything from jumpsuits to shampoo to the latest technology and weapons). In other words, prisons are just another way for people with privilege to make money off of people who are marginalized, something the Conservative government has shown numerous times that they fully support.
For more information on what’s wrong with prisons read ‘The Prison Industrial Complex‘ by Angela Davis. It might seem a bit long but it is definitely, definitely worth the read.