- Who are you and what do you do?
- Are you a registered charity?
- Who was John Howard?
- Why should I care? Some prisoners have done pretty terrible things, and committed heinous crimes.
- Why shouldn’t we punish people who commit crimes?
- What about capital punishment: why shouldn’t we execute people who kill other people?
- How come prisoners get it so good – free food, free dental care, etc.?
- What about dangerous offenders and pedophiles? I don’t want these people in my neighbourhood.
- Isn’t crime going up. Shouldn’t we be putting more people in prison?
- Do we, in Canada, put a lot of people in prison?
- What does one mean when they speak of “fear of crime”?
- I hear about prisoners getting an education, even university degrees, while in prison. What’s that about?
- I want to know more about the Society. How can I be part of what you do?
Who are you and what do you do?
The John Howard Society of Manitoba is part of the national coalition of John Howard Societies across Canada. We provide education and supports to men both in the institutions and in the community. Please see our Services page for more details about our many programs and services. The John Howard Society of Manitoba has been serving the community for over fifty years.
Are you a registered charity?
Yes, we are a not-for-profit charity governed by a volunteer board of directors to whom the Executive Director is accountable. Our money flows from various government agencies and charitable organizations and foundations and we fundraise to finance special projects and programs.
Who was John Howard?
John Howard was an English prison reformer who lived from 1726-1790. John Howard’s book, for which he became a national celebrity, The State of Prisons in England and Wales, with an Account of some Foreign Prisons (1777) detailed the appalling, cruel, filthy and inhumane conditions he observed in his travels across England, Scotland, Wales and continental Europe.
Why should I care? Some prisoners have done pretty terrible things, and committed heinous crimes.
Given that 80% of those we currently have incarcerated in Canada grew up in poverty, unemployment and lack a grade 12 education, we should all care that our social safety net is not meeting society’s needs to adequately counter this imbalance. Another reason is that, with few exceptions, almost all get out. And if we know one thing about incarceration it’s this: few people are improved by the experience. On the contrary, some are made worse by their time in prison, unless we can do a better job at rehabilitation.
Why shouldn’t we punish people who commit crimes?
We do. We lock them away and deprive them of their mobility. In Canada, we lock people up as punishment not for punishment. However, punishment alone does not work. It neither teaches important life skills so once released better choices can be made and it does not deter crime. There is no evidence that fear of incarceration keeps people from committing crimes. If they have no other alternative, they will risk getting caught.
What about capital punishment: why shouldn’t we execute people who kill other people?
We do not support capital punishment for three reasons:
Firstly, because all violence is wrong and the state’s use of violence – particularly the taking of a life – is the most wrong of all. John Howard believed, and we think he was right, that all people are capable of correction and improvement if the circumstances are conducive and the will is present.
Secondly, because we might kill the wrong people; like Steven Truscott, Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard and Thomas Sophonow, just to draw on recent Canadian history. Capital punishment sentences have even been suspended in a number states in the U.S. because there were too many instances of inadequate trials.
Thirdly, it will not reduce crime as capital punishment does not deter. Most U.S. states still have the death penalty and it has had no affect on violent crime and the murder rate.
How come prisoners get it so good – free food, free dental care, etc.?
Once they’re in prison, they’re in the care and custody of the government of Canada. And morality, buttressed by law, requires that they be taken care of at least as well as they would be able to take care of themselves on the outside.
Another of John Howard’s insights was that if prisons were allowed to become hothouses of disease, which they were in his time, it would not be possible to contain those diseases to the prisons. So, as a consequence of his reforms, we now take measures to ensure that the public health on the outside is not endangered by the health and living conditions on the inside.
Additionally, we know from long experience that brutal conditions breed brutality in incarcerated people. We take the view that prisons ought not to brutalize people and that doing so is inhumane and contrary to good public policy which is to model humane behaviour by example. Dental care is provided on an emergency basis, i.e., the removal of teeth. Bridges or dentures are only provided if they are health requirements otherwise a tooth is removed and nothing is replaced. Dental cleaning and preventative care is not completed on essential work. Food meets the requirement of the Canada Food Guide and has been described as “hospital food.”
It’s not cushy. It can be years upon years, in the case of a life sentence, of boredom and idleness coupled to fear and even terror for personal safety. A prison is not a place where prisoners, by and large, feel safe or relaxed. It’s an unnatural, frightening environment that language cannot adequately capture.
What about dangerous offenders and pedophiles? I don’t want these people in my neighbourhood.
The release process for those who have committed violent acts is long and slow. It is a graduated process and ex-offenders have to prove they can remain safely in the community. Any breach of conditions and their parole officer will have them taken back into custody. While there is a great deal of public concern and media coverage given to those who harm children, there is good news, because there’s now evidence that pedophiles are much more treatable than previously thought. This is a very complex disorder and a great deal of research has been done on it.
If you would like to research on your own, please have a look at Statistics Canada or Juristat or the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Their reports have been checked and validated in numerous ways.
John Howard believed that even people who had done the worst things to others could come to see the error of their ways and turn their lives around – and we share that conviction. So the John Howard workers put their energy into:
Providing programs and services to facilitate the re-integration of ex-offenders, which reduces the incidence of re-offending.
Educating the public on the distinction between the “reality of crime” and the “fear of crime,” about which more below.
Applying the best evidence of what works to smooth the reintegration of offenders into their communities as participating citizens with a meaningful stake in its well-being.
Isn’t crime going up. Shouldn’t we be putting more people in prison?
Actually, crime is trending downward and has been for decades.
Experts disagree on why, but crime is in decline all over the advanced industrial world.
Do we, in Canada, put a lot of people in prison?
This figure changes every year, but not by a lot. Furthermore, there may be many people, here in Manitoba about 70%, in provincial detention centres on remand (awaiting trial) on any given day. The rate of incarceration per 100,000 people has not changed significantly for many years. Canada incarcerates more people than most European countries (approx. 131 per 100,000) but far fewer than the leader, the United States (approx. 698 per 100,000, source). If incarceration worked, the United States would be the safest country in the world. It is not.
What does one mean when they speak of “fear of crime”?
Just that the fear of crime — anxiety about being the victim of crime or target of a criminal act — is often different from the reality of crime. The two are often not connected: fear of crime may be going up while actual incidents of crime are declining.
Most people don’t realize, for example, that the most dangerous thing any person does in a given day is get into or out of the shower/bathtub or that it’s more dangerous to drive to the next town than to fly around the planet in an Airbus. Did you know that, on a balance of probabilities, you are in more danger from someone you know (wife, husband, sibling, cousin, priest) than from someone you don’t know? That most crimes of violence are committed between people who know each other? – and that most crimes of violence between people who know each other are never reported?
So this too is complex. We know that people who watch a lot of local or dinnertime television news tend to think the world is a more dangerous place than people who read national newspapers (like the Globe and Mail or National Post).
I hear about prisoners getting an education, even university degrees, while in prison. What’s that about?
That’s about getting them to use their idle time in a productive way. An evaluation of Adult Basic Education (ABE) in the prison system concluded that “taken together, the results of [these studies] lend new support to the notion that gaining literacy and numeracy skills may be important factors in successful community reintegration.”
One of the worst things about being in prison is having nothing productive to do. And a good number of inmates never completed high school, so encouraging them to finish their high school education serves the interests of public safety because it lowers their likelihood of re-offending upon release. That’s good for all of us. If they continue with university courses, so much the better (from a public safety standpoint). We can’t lock them away forever so the better equipped they are to survive and thrive once released, the better for all of us.
I want to know more about the Society. How can I be part of what you do?
Our Board of Directors is made up of volunteers and often board members chair a number of committees that require support. We try to have victims of crime and ex-offenders along with educators, lawyers, correctional service people and community members etc… represented on our Board. There is also the potential of volunteering with our literacy department or on special events. If you contact us, we will be to link you with someone who can answer your questions.
And if you have any other questions not addressed – or addressable – in this FAQ, direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
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