Do we, in Canada, put a lot of people in prison?

This figure changes every year, but not by a lot. Furthermore, there may be many people in provincial detention centres on remand (awaiting trial) on any given day. The rate of incarceration per 100,000 people has not changed significantly for many years. Canada incarcerates more people than most European countries (approx 107 per 100,000) and far fewer than the United States (approx 738 per 100,000) which is a huge change in the past 30 years.

White-collar crime is going up? What is white-collar crime?

Good question. When a chemical plant dumps poison into a river at night so that it’s washed downstream and diluted in the morning, but the banks of the river are lined with dead fish, is that a crime? For decades the answer was no. Today that kind of activity is called corporate crime, and if it’s part of a pattern of behaviour the plant owners are prosecuted unless they have good friends in government to dismiss the charges.

Is it a crime to dismiss charges against plant owners who dump poisons into rivers and kill fish?

What do you mean "fear of crime"?

Just that the fear of crime — anxiety about being the victim of crime or target of a criminal act — is often different from the reality of crime. The two are often not connected: fear of crime may be going up while actual incidents of crime are declining. Here’s an excellent essay by The John Howard Society of Alberta and if you want to know more, read the references at the end of the essay.

Here’s a lecture by, Richard Spark, a prominent British academic on the fear of crime. Stick out the introduction. The lecture is worth it.

Most people don’t realize, for example, that THE MOST DANGEROUS thing any person does in a given day is get into or out of the shower/bathtub or that it’s more dangerous to drive to the next town than to fly around the planet in an Airbus. Did you know that, on a balance of probabilities, you are in more danger from someone you know (wife, husband, sibling, cousin, priest) than from someone you don’t know? That most crimes of violence are committed between people who know each other? – and that most crimes of violence between people who know each other are never reported?

So this too is complex. We know that people who watch a lot of local or dinnertime television news tend to think the world is a more dangerous place than people who read national newspapers (like the Globe and Mail or National Post).

I hear about prisoners getting an education, even university degrees, while in prison. What's that about?

That’s about getting them to use their idle time in a productive way. An evaluation of Adult Basic Education (ABE) in the prison system concluded that “taken together, the results of [these studies] lend new support to the notion that gaining literacy and numeracy skills may be important factors in successful community reintegration.”

One of the worst things about being in prison is having nothing productive to do. And a good number of inmates never completed high school, so encouraging them to finish their high school education serves the interests of public safety because it lowers their likelihood of re-offending upon release. That’s good for all of us. If they continue with university courses, so much the better (from a public safety standpoint). We can’t lock them away forever so the better equipped they are to survive and thrive once released, the better for all of us.

I want to know more about the Society. How can I volunteer?

Google up your local office, phone the Executive Director and ask about volunteering opportunities. If you have special skills, you might be an excellent candidate for a board member position. We’re always looking to carry our message to more people because we don’t think we have to choose between our values and the evidence of what works: our values accord with the evidence of what works.