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A Punishing Regime

Criminal Justice In Canada

Canadian PoliticsSocial Movements

Governments in all parts of Canada are expanding prisons and deploying more police despite resounding evidence that these strategies don’t reduce crime, and despite the fact that crime rates are falling anyway. The expansion of the criminal justice system has become a central part of political and economic restructuring in Canada and it demands attention. This special issue of Canadian Dimension contributes to the documentation of what this shift looks like and ways people are resisting it.

A central part of this project is to illustrate why an expanded criminal justice presence is not making people safer. People who live and work in criminalised communities have a lot to tell us about the ways in which more police and bigger prisons are actually endangering and destabilizing their communities.

What about so-called ‘hardened criminals’ who are beyond rehabilitation? These cases are extremely rare, and focusing only on them distracts from the vast majority of prisoners who are there because they are young, poor, indigenous, immigrants, or have mental health or substance abuse problems. Being locked up is harmful and counterproductive both for them, and for communities who struggle with ways to support them once they are released. Denouncing criminal justice responses is not meant to downplay the seriousness of violence and victimization. Instead, it takes seriously the proposition that policing and prisons fuel cycles of violence rather than end them.

This need not leave us hopeless. How to reduce violence and crime is not a mystery. People who live, work and organize with criminalised people are full of knowledge and experience about what works and what doesn’t. Putting it into practice is a matter of resources, power, and political will. To this end, we need to step up, stop accepting criminal justice responses, and continue to notice and pursue alternatives.

This article appeared in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canada’s Criminal (Justice) System).


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