Comparing Canada's Corrections to Europe, the United States and Aboriginal Communities.

AuthorDavison, Charles

How a society responds to and deals with its members who break or fail to follow its most basic rules is often rooted in its history and cultural values. Canada's background is intimately tied to British traditions and practices in light of our history as a colony from the 1760's up to the 20th century. In English history, crimes were thought of as serious acts committed against the King (or, on the rare occasion of having a female monarch, the Queen) and his efforts to keep peace among his peoples. As a result, criminals were punished severely in order to spread the word that such misconduct would not be tolerated. For centuries, minor crimes such as theft, poaching, and counterfeiting and forgery were punishable by death. (In 1805, a man was hanged for using a forged ace of spades in a card game). Other crimes brought gruesome public punishments such as drawing and quartering. Even when officials began restricting death and torture to the most serious offences, those punishments were often replaced by "transportation"--forcibly removing the convicted person to Australia or other British colonies. All of this was in the hope of ensuring that anyone tempted to engage in criminal behaviour would be persuaded not to do so.

While some of the more extreme punishments had been abolished by the time the British were colonizing North America, the theme of harsh responses to any form of criminal misconduct continued (and, I suggest, even now continues). This provides the foundation for our response to criminal misconduct. To this day, "deterrence" remains a recognized goal of the sentencing process in Canada. Deterrence is the idea that by making punishments sufficiently harsh, persons tempted to engage in criminal behaviour will resist that urge, knowing they will suffer otherwise.

The United States and Europe

As is often the case, Canada now finds itself situated on a spectrum somewhere between the United States and Europe in the area of criminal sanctions and punishment.

The United States is infamous for prioritizing punishment of criminals. In many states the death penalty is still permitted and accepted. Imprisonment is often imposed on the basis that the convicted person will never be allowed out of a jail again while they are alive. This could be a sentence of "life without parole" or "consecutive life sentences". Or it could be a parole date set so far into the future (sometimes over 100 years) that the prisoner will be dead long before...

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