Let me start off by saying that I am under no illusion that every person sent to prison can be rehabilitated any more than I under the illusion that a person, if given all the opportunities in life are going to turn out as the ideal citizen. As I’ve noted in the past, I am not an idealist or a person trying to deliver a utopia but rather dealing with the system as it exists and make it suck a little less – a modest set of goals with no illusion of perfection ever being reached but that being said we do need to find a different tactic to what we’re using today. For far too long we’ve had a justice system that has pandered to the emotions whipped up by ‘tough on crime’ politicians using the emotive issue to win votes but how successful has it been? well, if being ‘tough on crime’ is meant to be a deterrent and amping up the punishment of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ is meant to be the ultimate message then one should see a reduction but in reality we’ve hit an all time high of 10,200 with per capita numbers going up as well (not just a matter of having a larger population) with the net result being $900million spent propping up the edifice. For me, I don’t look at it from a question of morality but a question of money that could have otherwise been spent on something more productive – mental health for example, imagine what an extra $200million could do along with better pay for those who work in that sector.
There are three steps that are needed, the first is setting up institutions to ensure that young people don’t end up in the system in the first place – that they don’t go from simply being a misbehaving kid to one having graduated from the university of criminality aka the prison system. Yes, in theory their parents should be doing their jobs but unfortunately we don’t live in that ideal world so we have to ensure that the community step in and take on that role. I’ve talked about (in the past) how schools should be offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, uniforms and stationery along with after school homework tutoring as well then during the holidays there are programmes to keep the kids entertained – maybe even stuff that is fun but also teaches practical skills. Combine that with a lifeskills class where budgeting, comprehensive sex education (parents will not be allowed to opt out and all schools will be required to teach it – waving the ‘but I’m religious’ is not a valid excuse) and free contraception (including liberalising abortion laws and making it more widely available) should help reduce the mess that exists at that end.
The second step required is ensuring that once in prison that those who do want to rehabilitate are given the support required – drug and alcohol treatment, counselling to work through their childhood which led them to that situation in their life but it goes beyond that – there needs to be support one they’ve left prison to ensure that they don’t fall back into bad habits. Part of that might having to include a person who visits released prisons for a cup of coffee and deal with issues before they become too big and it is only know about when it actually hits the breaking point. Most guys tend to wait until the shit has hit the fan rather than coming forward sooner – deal with an issue before it gets out of hand.
The third step is dealing with drugs as a health issue rather than an issue of criminality whilst also utilising harm reduction for low risk drugs. For me, I guess I am a lot more radical than the mainstream position by the Green Party since I advocate the legalisation and regulation of ecstasy and weed with all other drugs decriminalised. It is important to keep in mind that decriminalisation does not mean legalisation – drugs will still be stopped at the border or seized by police via raids (and other usual means) and destroyed but rather than a criminal conviction a fine and/or community service will be handed out (those billion tree’s that Labour has talked about aren’t going to plant themselves). End of the day, those who want to take drugs are either already taking them or in the process of finding someone who sells them so the nonsense that is put out that somehow there will be a spike in drug use is assuming that the only thing restraining large sways of the population is the fact that said drugs are illegal – it just defies common sense. Keep also in mind that employers will still demand drug free work places, you still won’t be able to drive your car when intoxicated or impaired by drugs, the only difference is that being caught with drugs won’t destroy your chance of being able to turn your life around in the future and not have your past follow you forever.