A Response to Sheriff Joe's Article, Kevin Wahl ACEA President
A recent article in the Calgary Sun highlighted a "tent" prison in Arizona. This prison was described as being a ring of tents in the Arizona desert. The warden is called Sheriff Joe and he has developed quite a reputation for how much money he is saving the state by using tents, outhouses, cold garbage food, no coffee. Sheriff Joe spends more money per day feeding his guard dogs than he does on inmate food; plus he charges the inmates to eat. He also started the first ever female chain gang and humiliates the inmates by forcing them to wear pink underwear and broad striped uniforms (like prisoners of the old). Staff writers at the Sun were suggesting that Calgary and Alberta needed prisons like this and that we should be adopting a get tough on crime stance like Sheriff Joe. What do you think?
Kevin wrote the following article to the Calgary Sun as a response, but it was not published.
In response to the two-part article on the "Toughest Sheriff in America," the implication that Canada needs to adopt a harder approach in dealing with criminal offenders and become more like Sheriff Joe is offensive. It was particularly disturbing to read that Joe's prison is intended for minor rule breakers, for parking ticket offenses, and for those who couldn't pay fines. Sheriff Joe has earned a reputation of being the toughest sheriff through revenge, humiliation and injustice to the human dignity of individuals who would be your family, friends, sons, daughters, co-workers and neighbors. It is understood that prisons are a place of incarceration, a place where society incapacitates offenders, preventing them from doing further harm. But what kind of society would allow minor infractions to carry a prison term of that magnitude, with the negative potential to habilitate the imprisoned individual to anger, revenge and unrepentance, (as indicated by the prisoners responses).
Yes, there exists an outcry from some public and some decision-makers to toughen up prisons, to punish the offender, to exact revenge for the crime. While all of this sounds reasonable and even justified, what does it do? No amount of punishment, revenge, incarceration, privileges or freedoms will "fix" an individual. A desire to change is necessary, and the Alberta Correctional Education Association (ACEA) believes every person has that potential, and to then become a more responsible individual in our society.
ACEA is a professional organization of educators, administrators and decision-makers who have developed the skills necessary to provide education in a demanding prison subculture that is security orientated high risk and controlled. One of our core beliefs is that prison education has a responsibility to challenge offenders' understanding of themselves, their abilities, values and aspiration. Education must contribute to the growth and development of the offender, providing opportunity to make alternate, prosocial and ethical decisions.
Education in prison is much more than a way to baby-sit inmates, or coddle them. While we teach basic academic skills, job related vocational skills, or life management skills, we also provide an opportunity for change. If we can challenge the offender's belief structure and promote self-discipline, values and morals, we can encourage and provide a way for that individual to become a more responsible person in society; we will have individuals who contribute to society. When this happens, we reduce public expenditures necessary to apprehend re-offenders, bring them to trial, re-incarcerate and keep them. Ultimately, it will reduce the number of victims impacted by crime. We do not need to strip people of their human dignity, feed them garbage and humiliate them to enact positive change. Research and recidivism studies indicate the opposite. As members of society we know the truth without looking up numbers - we do not need to lower ourselves to the lowest common denominator. Although prisons must be a place of incarceration and punishment, they must be much more.
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