According to Mary Campbell, the retired director-general of the corrections and criminal justice directorate in the Public Safety Department, the mandate of Canada’s prison system is to rehabilitate offenders.
That might come as news to many Canadians who thought the point of jail was to punish offenders for their crimes.
Campbell was commenting on the recent move of serial killer Paul Bernardo from a maximum-security penitentiary to a medium-security prison. She said the criteria for transferring an inmate to another penitentiary "is not based on revenge."
"We, as a country, gave up torture quite a while ago," she told the Canadian Press.
Who said jail was about revenge or torture? Nobody.
But while we're on the subject, Bernardo tortured and raped two teenage girls to death. For that crime, he is a dangerous offender and will never be released from prison, a punishment both appropriate and humane. With that in mind, what is the point of his rehabilitation? And even if he could be rehabilitated (or people believed he had been), does that qualify him for release?
For offenders of less serious crimes, rehabilitation is a righteous cause worthy of significant time and effort. Yet what incentive is there for any criminal to work towards rehabilitation (the carrot) without the punishment of jail, probation, and other restrictions on personal freedom (the stick)?
Successful parenting is impossible without punishment. Punishing a child is about teaching what is unacceptable behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. Isn’t criminal rehabilitation a form of parenting for adults, with the justice system serving as the parent, working with adults to change antisocial behaviour for the benefit of everyone?
Punishment --- as well as accountability, its more politically correct name –still runs through large segments of society, from elite sports and financial markets to health care and education. Once investigations into steroid use, insider trading, patient negligence and teacher impropriety have been completed, individuals are punished by their governing bodies for their misconduct. Rehabilitation may or may not factor into the equation, because it is a secondary concern to maintaining the integrity of the institution and the confidence of the public.
Based on numerous opinion polls, the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of the criminal justice system is already low and continuing to fall. That’s because there is no such thing as justice without just punishment.
Neil Godbout is the editor-in-chief of the Prince George Citizen