Sunday, October 23, 2005

Buzzin behind bars...

For the first time in history, Ralph Klein has done something I actually agree with. I was reading the newspaper the other day and on the front page was a story about how the Alberta prison director had decided to cut all caffeine from the prisons...the following week. No real rhyme or reason except for vaguely mentioned "health reasons" and with insignificant time to wean yourself off of your 15 coffees a day. This story bothered me on several levels...first, it was going to result in a seriously pissed off prison population within the week. Already in jail and recently banned from smoking, these poor people are going to be edgy. Secondly, it triggered an area of underlying frustration I have in the North American prison system. A frustration I plan on elaborating on, right now:

Historically, prisons were designed for two reasons. To hold criminals until they could go to court and to protect the rest of society from the really bad people. In my opinion, our perspectives on incarceration have gotten so twisted that everyone who ever makes a mistake of an illegal nature is sent behind bars. How cruel and utterly unimaginative.

People who go to prison should be people who are guilty of serious crimes and who are more than likely going to re-offend. They need to be put behind bars to protect those in front of bars, not to punish said offenders. There are so many other, more beneficial and less punitive ways of dealing with people. This was my objection to Martha Stewart being jailed...that is not who jail is for. It is also not for the 15 year old girl who, in a fit of rage, runs over her abusive boyfriend with a car. Chances are, she won't ever do that again and in different circumstances, she wouldn't have done it in the first place. Jail is not for the guy who is so hooked on meth that he breaks into some house and is so high that he can't find his way out again and is caught having a nap in the bath tub.

Now, this is not to say that these people shouldn't be punished or helped. Have them do community service, have the young, abused murderer go to schools and talk about domestic violence and young people. Have the drunk driver give talks on how it feels to know you killed someone. The courts seem to neglect the power of human emotion...guilt goes a long way and shouldn't be ignored. Most people suffer enough from the nights spent wondering how they could do what they did, and the "What ifs?"...they don't need to lose their freedom any further.

Which brings me to my next point. Human freedom is the most sought after, fought for, desired, treasured and basic of human rights. To remove freedom for tax evasion is cruel and unnecessary. It's expensive for tax payers, there is no evidence whatsoever that it acts as a deterrent and it usually introduces troubled people to even more troubling ideas. A tax evader would be better served by having to give free financial counseling to poor, single mothers, or by having to work for the community to pay off what he owes, then by being incarcerated. And so would the rest of society.

Leave jails for the sociopaths who cannot show compassion and for repeat offenders who are a danger to the rest of us. back to the caffeine thing. So, it isn't bad enough that these people are in jail, now they also can't have a cup of coffee. Nice. Ralph Klein read the same news story I did and was "dismayed" by what he read...and he put a stop to it real quick. And that is what he did to make me think, that maybe (just maybe) he's not such a jerk after all.


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