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This article was published 3/2/2011 (3721 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA - Canada should take a lesson from the American right wing on crime prevention and stop trying to jail an entire generation of Canadians, the federal NDP challenged this morning.
NDP Public Safety Critic Don Davies and Manitoba MP Pat Martin called on the Conservative government to study the proposals by U.S. right wing politicians calling for prison reform focusing on rehabilitation of prisoners and investments in community services.
Among the backers of the Right on Crime plan is former Republic U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post published Jan. 7 saying U.S. prison policies are too expensive and don't lead to effective rehabilitation of criminals.
The piece notes it cost $68 billion to run U.S. prisons in 2010 and that the prison population is growing 13 times faster than the population of the U.S. as a whole. Yet half of prisoners released will commit another crime within three years.
They advocate initiatives such as drug courts, investments in mental illness treatment and drug treatment clinics, and keeping prisons for dangerous offenders and putting low-risk offenders into community supervision.
In Texas, redirecting funding into mental-health care and drug treatment is set to save the state $2 billion in prison costs over five years and since the reforms were initiated the crime rate in the state has dropped to its lowest level since 1973.
Martin said the Americans have realized locking up people in high numbers has done nothing to reduce crime yet the federal government in Canada is still going down that road.
"The Conservative right wing ideology of trying to lock up a whole generation of aboriginal youth is outdated," said Martin. "They're even out of step with their own ideological colleagues in the U.S."
Davies and Martin focused on the U.S. proposals as they urged the government to immediately commit to funding community anti-gang programs which are set to run out of money at the end of March. Four of the programs funded are in Winnipeg and help keep aboriginal youth and refugees out of gangs with recreation programs, job training and basic food and shelter.
They were funded under the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, a $32 million, five-year program.
The fund expires March 31. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not committed to renewing the funding and the programs all received letters warning them to begin closing up since their funds will run out in two months.
Davies said when the government is planning to spend over $2 billion on new prisons, spending just over $6 million a year to help get kids out of gangs is peanuts.
"You can spend a few dollars to keep them out of prisons or you can spend a lot to put them in prison," Davies said.