Remember the AHS experiment: Amalgamation isn’t always the solution

“In addition to the imminent closure of the Calgary Young Offenders Centre, the Calgary office of the Maintenance Enforcement Program will also close its doors, prompting outrage from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which claimed it was blindsided by the decision on the eve of Thursday’s provincial budget.

Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis said the decision to close the Calgary offices was made due to declining demand.

‘Our government has a responsibility to the Alberta taxpayer to ensure operations are efficient and resources are being used wisely,’ he said in a statement”

  • Impending closure of Calgary Young Offenders Centre will force city’s convicted youth to serve time in Edmonton, By Shawn Logan, Calgary Sun.ca, First posted: March 26, 2015 12:55 AM MDT, Updated: March 26, 2015 01:03 AM MDT

When I heard about the closure of the Calgary Young Offenders Centre, I remembered that a previous Progressive Conservative Government tried to save money by amalgamating all provincial Health Regions and various health agencies. It became the “SuperBoard”: the Alberta Health Service. Well, the truth is that the amalgamation has not been a raging success because the Prentice Administration – the present incarceration of the Progressive Conservative Government – is reversing this amalgamation. For “AHS will once again be restructured into several different districts as the province moves back to having health decisions made at the local level following years of centralization.” (Alberta Health Services to be restructured into districts, By Matt Dykstra, Edmonton Sun, First posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 01:27 PM MDT | Updated: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 04:00 PM MDT)

In fact, Health Minister Stephen Mandel said “We hope that this will push decision making down to the local level, which is what the goal is, and will allow each of the particular districts and each of their facilities to deal with budgetary constraints”. Or put differently, the cost savings and the efficiencies that were expected by the Stelmach Administration likely didn’t come to pass. Accordingly, the closure of detention functions of the Calgary Young Offenders Centre has me troubled.

I am not concerned about the 35 front-line union positions being eliminated. I am not concerned about the Young Offenders. I am actually concerned about my little girl and my wife. My child is three and not a young offender and I hope she doesn’t become one. However, the truth is that these young offenders will likely be around for the next thirty to sixty years. Or put differently, as my daughter passes he twentieth, thirtieth and fortieth birthdays, she might meet a young offender. As my daughter, hopefully, has children and grandchildren, these Young Offenders will be part of society. Consequently, I want Young Offenders to be reformed.

I want Young Offenders re-entry into society to go off without a hitch and I want them to become successful and prosperous individuals because if that is the case then there will be less crime within society and less of a chance that my daughter and my wife will be harmed. It is a selfish proposition but it is also a true one.

Over the last 100 years, we have found that Rehabilitation and Restorative justice is just cheaper than Retributive solutions. Since the introduction of Parole – a public policy which was first started in the 1890s in Canada – Canada has seen a reduction in incarceration rates, the cost of prisons and dramatically reduction in the amount of crime that happens in our cities. Unlike the States, because we have had less incarceration, our jails have not become training grounds for criminals or recruitment grounds for organized criminal entities like the Mafia, Triads or Biker Bangs. Proof of this can be seen in recidivism rates. Or put differently, carrier criminals go to jail more often. In 2006, while 110 persons per 100,000 persons who are in prison in Canada will relapse or revert to committing a crime, the Americans find that 738 per 100,000 do the same. (Canada’s prison statistics are sobering, By North Shore News, Canada.com, May 28, 2008)

However, this might change. The closure of the Calgary Young Offenders Centre seems to indicate a move to a “warehousing” philosophy. Or put differently, we are likely to get Youth Offenders staying in jail for prolonged period of time. The simple question I have is this: “what are we going to get on the other sides”? American jails have shown us – even in the Youth Justice System – that to survive a prolonged jail experience, criminals often join gangs; because, those are the only “social groups” in a detention facility which can provide prolonged security.

Now for those who think this is supposition, I would ask them to look at Rand Paul. He is one of the leading conservative Republican voices in the United States. He is running for President and most pundits feel that he has a good chance of being the Republican candidate. What has been interesting is that he has followed the growing trend on the American Right towards less warehousing of criminals. He has been pushing for less punitive sentences and more objectivity in laws around sentencing. For, the Americans have simply found that warehousing every criminal is too expensive and not effective.

Given that families – even dysfunctional ones – are essential to healing a Young Offender, one has to ask a simple question, why are we trying to warehouse youth criminals? For that is all that the Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis is proposing. He is proposing that we ship all Youth Offenders off to a place in Edmonton, three to four hours’ drive from their families.

Since coming to Calgary, I have had the privilege of developing friendships with residents with a number of Albertans. What I have found is that the further away they are the less, I see them. When a friend of mine moved from Vulcan to Medicine Hat, I saw her less. When friends of mine have moved from Calgary to Edmonton, I have seen them less. So imagine what will have to a troubled youth from Calgary, Lethbridge or Medicine Hat, who will now find themselves in a detention facility in Edmonton. If their families have a three to six additional hours, how can we expect these Young Offenders to heal or be rehabilitated?

As I said earlier, I want Young Offenders to heal or be rehabilitated because I worry about the safety of my wife and daughter. I want those Young Offenders to be reintegrated into society without have to worry about their past. If they obtained a Ph.D., became a millionaire or billionaire, I would not care; as long as I got to see my daughter get married. As insurance against worrying about my wife’s safety, I would pay additional PST of 2 to 4% to ensure that the Calgary Young Offenders Centre was not closed. For it is in my self-interest to ensure that others around me are looked after. It is in my self-interest to pay a small amount today to ensure that crime is reduced in the future. It was once said that government should try to act in the best interest of the majority because that would provide the most benefit to society. In this case, it is in the best interest of society to look after the few who might fall between the cracks and help them up. For helping them now means that we stop them from a more dangerous path in the future. I just wish the Prentice Government understood this simple truth.

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