This weekend I read an article in the Globe and Mail by Kirk Makin about mental illness and Canada’s Criminal Justice System. The article first describes the conditions of over-populated prisons that are not equipped to deal with the mental health issues of many inmates. It then talks about the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville, Ontario, which takes a different approach to dealing with convicts.
Health care professionals account for 70% of the staff and security accounts for about 30%. There are 30 programs available, including ones for anger management, self-esteem enhancement, yoga, psychotherapy, relaxation therapy, medication management, and group therapy for sex offenders. Less than half of its ex-patients re-offend, compared with 92% at other institutions that house similar individuals.
Though the article focuses on mental illnesses like schizophrenia, I began to think about the role of correctional facilities for convicted traffickers, sex tourists, pimps, and other sex offenders.
I am torn, you see. Part of me wants these people to suffer the cruelest of penalties. Solitary confinement. Gruesome labour. The chair. I want a punishment that fits the crime. But what if that is not enough? What if such punishments do more harm in the long term?
What do you think will happen when a sex tourist like Donald Bakker gets solitary confinement for 7 years, and then is released back into society? He will have had 7 years to conjure up more sick fantasies instead of receiving help to sort through his (very serious) issues.
Should convicted traffickers and sex offenders have access to counselling and programs like the ones mentioned earlier? If so, should it be covered by tax dollars? What is a suitable punishment for crimes so monstrous? How do we measure long-term impact of prison conditions on society?
Perhaps we all need to read Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice by Howard Zehr.