Monday, January 31, 2011

Carrots for Prisoners

No this is not a post about what we are feeding prisoners because frankly, I do not care what they are fed. Instead, this is a new perspective on the "Faint Hope" clause, which is under debate, well, everywhere and always. 

I have always believed that if you murder someone, serve your damn time. If a court convicts you and you are put into jail for eleventy billion years, sucks to be you. (I am not even going to touch on the notion of false conviction here because I have neither the time nor the patience, and the whole issue stinks on ice) and so the Faint Hope clause seemed like a slap in the face. It seemed like the government would bank on the population forgetting the impact of the crime, and would eventually open its arms to the convicts, helping proper rehabilitation.

After a while, however, I was thinking; as Halifax NDP Megan Leslie pointed out if a convict is in prison for 25 years, why should they cooperate with guards or act properly in any way? The clause coerces good behavior from convicts, it offers an incentive for good behavior. A very simplistic approach to classical conditioning,  since convicts are already familiar with the bad behavior = punishment dynamic, this offers another avenue, good behavior leads to benefits. It helps ease the prisoner into the notion of actions having consequences and that we can control our actions and thus the resulting consequences, which is essential for proper behavior in society.

I felt pretty good about this for a few minutes until the cranky part of my brain kicked in; Why the hell should we be pandering? Why the hell should we put up with a system that can be easily exploited by criminals? Where did we go so wrong with our justice system that we have to appeal to criminals because they have the upper hand? Which is what they have; we must cajole and entreat them to behave within our lines. Within this system, they have the power and the freedom, and we must react to their choices. In my opinion, they already make the choices that they feel are the best. It seems ridiculous to believe that they do not understand the connection between their actions and the consequences (as I myself have previously  suggested); they obviously understand it too well, they simply value the outcome too much.

I have always hated the reactive justice system, and this is perhaps the best illustration of why there is a problem, and the fact that every option we can see from here is lousy only underlines how deep the philosophical issue runs. We are attempting to hang a humanist clause on a non-humanist process; we will always fail.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate the faint hope concept. My understanding is that it's key effect is the pacification of prisoners by creating a reason for good behavior. My understanding is also that this in not for the benefit of prisoners, but for the benefit of guards and prison staff by making the prisoners easy to manage.

Our 'justice' system has not changed in thousands of years. It is still large, burly/armed folks enforcing their will on the rest of us. The oracle deciding guilt and innocence is now called 'forensics' (which can't even get fingerprinting right 80% of the time !). It is what we have, not what we need.