PCP Against: Should Prison Funding Be Redirected Towards Social Rehabilitation Programs?

Caitlin McLaren - 3T Chemical
Posted on: June 19, 2016

Everybody knows that prisoners who are treated harshly are likely to re-offend. As such, many suggest that funding for prisons should be cut in favour of rehabilitation programs. While rehabilitation programs are good and necessary, cutting funding for prisons is not the right way to fund rehabilitation. Prisons are, after all, meant to keep society safe; they are not a program which should be de-funded lightly. There are many serious problems with the prison system today that require more funding to correct, and failing to solve these issues will make prisoners more difficult to rehabilitate.

Prisons are often tightly stretched for funds, and many of the resulting issues have an effect on prisoners’ ability to successfully reintegrate into society after release. It would be useless to spend money on rehabilitation programs while prisoners still do not have basic safety or comforts, and without a good prison system those programs would fail to produce results. Many of the negative aspects of prison that rehabilitation programs seek to mitigate are in fact aggravated by a lack of prison funding, and thus the redirected money would be largely wasted.

For one thing, many prisons are overcrowded. This has a negative effect on prisoners’ mental health and physical safety, leading to inter-prisoner violence and the spread of disease. It is an urgent and expensive issue that needs to be fixed, and this can only be accomplished by building more prisons and expanding current ones. Reducing the incarcerated population is desirable, but the reality is that currently the incarceration rate is growing, and that is a trend that will take a long time to reverse. Meanwhile, it is important that current prisoners be kept in humane conditions. Construction projects are costly and cutting funding for prisons will prevent new ones from being built, and the problem of overcrowding will not be solved. When prisons are even being closed due to budget cuts, leading to further overcrowding, cutting more funds could be disastrous.

Another issue is the one of staffing. Many prisons are understaffed, making it very difficult for corrections officers to keep order. Furthermore, staffing difficulties often lead to the hiring of people without proper background checks, and the officers often to not have proper oversight. This can lead to abuse of the prisoners, which is not only a serious human rights issue but is a major factor in recidivism. There have been many cases in recent years of prisoners who were injured, abused, or neglected, and this is a positive disgrace. In many cases, it appears that there are serious problems with the hiring system, not to mention poor supervision. These people have an important job – keeping both the prisoners and the outside world safe – and it is vital to make sure that they are doing it correctly, even if that does cost taxpayers more money. That is what taxpayer money is for.

Moreover, prisoners’ access to health care is often poor, especially mental health care. A large number of prisoners suffer from mental health issues, and these issues are often worsened by a prison environment. Mental health problems are a huge barrier to successful reintegration into society, and often lead to former prisoners committing more crimes and being re-arrested in the future. The point of prisons is to make society safer; how does removing an unstable or disturbed person from society only to release them in much worse condition in a few years make society safer? That is aside from even basic medical care; prisoners often do not even receive basic treatment in a timely manner. Our basic humanity demands that prisoners be treated reasonably well. These people are human beings, who have families who care about them. Most are not even violent offenders. How can Canadians boast about our universal health care, if it is denied in its fullness to one of the most vulnerable populations?

While rehabilitation programs are admirable and should certainly be funded, cutting prison budgets is not the way to fund them. Rehabilitation is much more difficult when conditions in a prison are terrible. When prisons have serious issues with their basic functioning, and those issues have a highly negative impact on the prisoners’ quality of life, prison funding is a priority. Funding prisons and rehabilitation programs are not mutually exclusive, and failing to fund prisons sufficiently works against rehabilitation efforts. There is no point in renovating a house when the foundation is cracking.