Saturday, November 6, 2010

Harper’s prison escapade

I’m always interested in the (usually unintentional) juxtaposition of news stories and the opportunities they present for comment.

This morning, National Newswatch ( referenced these two stories, linking to the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen respectively.

Prisons - Harper

While I am not in any way comparing what happened in the Prison at Lonsky with the imageCanadian penal system, I can’t help but think that Harper would benefit from touring a prison or two in his home country instead of just as a tourist abroad. Perhaps then the Harpercons might begin to understand the implications of their blinkered tough-on-crime agenda and the very real negative impact it has and will have on Canadian society as a whole.

C’mon Steve, visit a Canadian prison. Talk to the inmates. Learn something.


kirbycairo said...

Far from being a problematic comparison, I think it is a very cogent one. Surely a society is to be judged by how it treats those in its care, those who are most vulnerable, or those who have been deemed to be anti-social or criminal in their behavior. It is easy in our so-called democratic society to disregard the treatment of those who are incarcerated. However, history surely demonstrates that such conditions are so ripe with potential abuse that a civilized society must be constantly vigilant concerning the treatment of criminals. The Conservative instinct to increase the sizes of prisons while concurrently reducing rehabilitation programs is the very same instinct that drives states such as China in their abusive actions on a grand scale.

Gary Pickering said...

Prison based Rehabilitation programs do not work! Successful rehabilitation happens when the offender finally decides on his/her own to go straight and not before. The last place you want to send someone to get rehabilitated is a jail or prison. Inmate subculture is not conducive to rehabilitation at all. I base my assertion on a career spanning 28 years in Ontario Corrections having worked as a Correctional Officer up to Superintendent. Prison rehabilitation programs do not help the prisoners. They only help the economy by employing professionals like psychologists, psychiatrists, psychometrists, and social workers. Rehabilitation results are dismal. Money would be better spent keeping them out of prison. Start when they're kids and restore family values to what they were when I was a kid.

Dennis Buchanan said...

In law school I had the opportunity to examine the data underlying the 'tough on crime' approach. There have been a massive number of studies done to determine whether or not increasing sentence severity has an increased deterrent effect on serious crime. The overwhelming majority of these studies resulted in a conclusion that there was no observable increase. A very small minority (i.e. 3 out of hundreds) reached an affirmative conclusion that increased sentence severity does deter serious crime. The current government's 'tough on crime' agenda often cites one of these, a 1999 paper by Steven Levitt and Daniel Kessler which studied the impact of Proposition 8 in California (see, for example, Mr. Kamp's remarks at 10:45 from this debate in 2006).

In 2005, however, three criminologists (Cheryl Webster of the University of Ottawa, Tony Doob of the University of Toronto, and Franklin Zimring of Berkeley Law) published a critique questioning the findings of Kessler and Levitt.

Put briefly, Kessler and Levitt used source data which was published annually, but they used only odd-year data to reach their findings, which is rather anomalous. This data did paint a rather compelling prima facie picture of causation (i.e. there was a significant drop in crime rates immediately following Proposition 8) but Webster, Doob, and Zimring decided to see what happens if you insert the even-year data...and it becomes clear that the peak in the crime rate occurred approximately 2 years before the implementation of Proposition 8, and the steep decline had already begun prior to the time of its implementation.

The compelling prima facie impression of causation dissolves when you insert the data omitted by Kessler and Levitt.

Levitt's response was that their conclusions didn't rely on the actual drop, and that it was based on what he called a "triple-difference" approach, which Canadian statisticians, when asked for comments, were unable to make sense of. (For someone famed for making economic principles accessible and user-friendly, it's odd to see him retreat behind dense jargon when the user-friendly side of his pitch - really the strength of the original paper - falls to pieces.)