Canada’s lead jailer

If society were to adopt the perverse goal of turning young people into violent thugs with an affinity for antisocial behaviour in general, then we might try to lock up as many of them as possible with hardened criminals, for as long as possible.

If society were to adopt the perverse goal of turning young people into violent thugs with an affinity for antisocial behaviour in general, then we might try to lock up as many of them as possible with hardened criminals, for as long as possible.

Sadly, that appears to be pretty much what the Alberta government is all about these days.

Statistics Canada released a report on Tuesday identifying Alberta as the lead jailer in the nation.

Alberta locked up 12 per cent more people last year than in 2007, the biggest jump in Canada and 12 times the national average.

A sizable proportion of those individuals are young adults.

Some Albertans will, no doubt, conclude that this will make the province safer. In reality, it will only take an at-risk group and teach it to be really vicious.

Jailing people seldom turns them into model citizens. More often, it simply teaches them how to be better criminals. It also makes them bitter and, frequently, virtually impossible to reintegrate back into society.

Admittedly, some people are so dangerous to society at large that they must be imprisoned, but those are not the majority of convicts. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

The numbers released on Tuesday are staggering.

While the national incarceration rose by one per cent, the rate jumped by 12 per cent in Alberta.

According to the report, the growing rate of adults behind bars is driven largely by the increasing number of people held in custody while awaiting trial.

That’s a reflection of an inefficient and indifferent justice system here in Alberta.

And if Alberta’s numbers are bad this year, just imagine what they will be like next year as countless trials are delayed so that many of this province’s Mounties can work the Olympic Games at Vancouver.

Plenty of those officers will be gone for three months and will be unavailable to testify here.

Alberta’s Conservative government is surprisingly left of centre economically. It seems to have largely given up on balancing its books.

But socially, the government is still in the dark ages and appears to be banking on the fact that a tough law-and-order stance will prove popular with many of its supporters.

As Chris Hay, executive director of Alberta’s John Howard Society, has noted, the government’s “tough on crime” agenda is short-sighted because locking people up does nothing to make the community safer in the long run.

“Incarceration doesn’t reduce crime and it actually might breed it. I see this as a knee-jerk, half-cocked solution to our crime problem,” he adds. “In fact, it’s not a solution at all.”

The approach taken by Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford is doomed to fail because it does nothing to address the root causes of crime.

Criminal Trial Lawyer’s Association president Deborah Hatch calls the increase in inmates housed at remand centres disturbing.

“These inmates are people who are presumed innocent and many of these people will be acquitted,” she explains.

Alberta is the national leader in jailing human beings, but it sure isn’t the leader when it comes to common sense.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.

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