An article in the Economist entitled, “Too many prisons make bad people worse. There is a better way,” illustrated in beautiful detail how, as the title suggested, prisons are hardening the common criminal and making them more susceptible to reoffend. But at what point is a person too “evil,” or too hardened of a criminal to be reformed, or given the opportunity to “reoffend.”
“There are at least 10.3m people behind bars worldwide, according to Roy Walmsley of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, a think-tank."(Economist, “Too many prisons make bad people worse. There is a better way,” 2017) The article suggests that Norway has an excellent prison system, that essentially aims to reform the prisoners by allowing them to be self-sufficient and maintain their own conditions as well as their neighbours in the prison. Evidence supports the concept that this leads to a lesser amount of individuals reoffending. The concept is similar to “healing lodges” in Canada.
“Healing lodges have operated in Canada since 1995, and they were developed in response to Indigenous incarceration rates that showed them over-represented among correctional populations." (Global news) They are designed to facilitate the indigenous concepts and ceremonies, allowing inmates to connect with nature, each other, and begin to deal with the emotional issues that caused them to commit the crime(s).
Recently, the co-murderer of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, Terri-Lynne McClintic was transferred from a convention prison to a Healing Lodge, after being given a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years in 2009. To get a better picture of this, a woman who kidnapped, and aided in the rape and brutal murder of an eight year old girl, has been transferred to a reformative prison after being labelled as a dangerous individual. This begs the question at what point do we deem people being genuinely evil, and beyond the point of reconciliation or reform. McClintic does not need to be reformed, and given the opportunity for repentance as her sentence was for life, there is very little opportunity for her to reoffend. Moreover, someone who is genuinely evil enough to participate in this disgusting crime, without having any sort of mental health issue influencing the decision making process, such as what occurred with Vince Li, in 2008.
While the political-right in Canada has been making a lot of noise about this, claiming the Liberals are soft on crime, and while I do not intend to reiterate the same rhetoric, there is something to be said about the government attempting to remain ignorant and pass off the issue as “ambulance chasing. (Ipolitics)” As of October 6th, the Minister of Public Safety called on Corrections Services Canada to review the transfer, but it will likely be some time until the decision is upheld or reversed (Hansard).
Without getting political, this individual has a demonstrated track record of not being open to reintegration or reform, as in 2012 she was back in court for assaulting another prison inmate, at which time she showed absolutely no remorse (City News Toronto). If her behaviour has not been good, or worthy of a healing lodge why is she there? If she is not Indigenous, or has not adhered to Indigenous practices throughout her life why is she taking a space that could be used for someone whom the practices, and restorative style of justice may actually positively impact?
These are questions that unfortunately have not been answered, and the issue is what kind of precedent does this set for future offenders. At what point do we say someone is too intense of an offender to be given the opportunity to go on walks in an unfenced community with children, perhaps someone who kidnapped, raped, and murdered an eight-year-old would be a start.
In fact, Corrections Canada admits that the research regarding restorative justice programs in Canada, “The extension of these practices upon release can help facilitate their successful reintegration and development of community ties. However, as noted, more research is necessary to address some of the gaps in knowledge about the use of restorative justice in the correctional system."(Corrections Canada)
The system itself is still being researched, and while research is promising it is on the basis of reintegration in the community. Should a child murderer be released into the community, or serving a sentence in an area surrounded by a community with children?
It is evident in some sense that restorative justice is working for people who have committed crimes, drug trafficking, violence, abuse, etc. However, first degree murder of a child, and the aiding of her kidnapping and brutal rape is not anywhere close to a crime such as drug trafficking. At what point does the government or correctional system need to create a clear guideline or rule prohibiting or enabling certain offenders to be transferred to a Healing Lodge. It is clear that something needs to be done in this area.
According to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, section 3.1, “The protection of society is the paramount consideration for the Service in the corrections process.” A murderer being transferred to a Healing Lodge with children around seems contradictory to this. Section 81 (1) states that “The Minister, or a person authorized by the Minister, may enter into an agreement with an aboriginal community for the provision of correctional services to aboriginal offenders and for payment by the Minister, or by a person authorized by the Minister, in respect of the provision of those services.” This calls into the question the government’s decision not to get involved other than call for a review. It appears there are no set standards besides the acceptance of the offender into the community, once being approved by the Minister. Would it not be prudent for the government to disprove of this transfer, and perhaps develop stronger guidelines under regulations of transfer for the future?
More questions than answers really. There is definite merit to reformative, and restorative justice. It has been proven to work in several aspects. But as a society, at what point do we say enough is enough, a person is definitely “evil,” if they do “a, b, or c.” And at what point does a government say, no this person should not be in a healing lodge based on “x,y, and z.” These are not necessarily questions that can be answered by a first year law student, but it does beg the question, in the case of Tori Stafford’s brutal murderer; a healing lodge, really?