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Shocking statistics regarding Canada’s prisons raise questions

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Although most people in Etobicoke are well aware that their American neighbors are known for jailing a large number of people, they may not realize that Canada’s prison population is also swelling. The numbers are frightening: the prison population is 3,000 more than it was just 10 years ago and the number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons is up 75 percent. With such shocking statistics, however, come some very serious questions about what can be done.

Prison is supposed to be a last resort punishment according to Canadian law, yet it is not uncommon for drug charges to land someone in prison. If someone is stopped by police with just enough drugs in his or her pocket for personal use, should he or she go to prison? What about if the individual sold drugs but was nonviolent? At what point should the criminal justice system abandon treatment, rehabilitation and other alternative sentences and send the offender to prison?

The Correctional Investigator of Canada even realizes that something is the matter. In his recent report for Parliament, he noted that it was quite clear that increased rates of incarceration did not mean increased security; he pointed to the United States’ high rates of crime and high rates of incarceration as proof. Moreover, the Investigator also found that the increase in spending on the Canadian criminal justice system mirrored the decrease in crime (23 percent for both).

The increasing number of Canadians in prison is frightening, especially when we consider exactly which kinds of Canadians are likely to find their way into a cell. With growing prison populations, there are also concerns about conditions within prisons. Even with an increase in the number of cells, more than 20 percent of inmates are forced to share single-occupancy cells.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Canada’s Prison Population At All-Time High,” 25 Nov. 2013

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