By BJ Bjornson
I always knew that electing a Conservative majority under Harper was going to cause more than its fair share of embarrassment for Canada over the next four or five years, but this is just plain painful.
Conservatives in the United States' toughest crime-fighting jurisdiction � Texas � say the Harper government's crime strategy won't work.
. . .
On a recent trip to Texas, an array of conservative voices told CBC News that Texas tried what Canada plans to do � and it failed.
As recently as 2004, Texas had the highest incarceration rate in the world, with fully one in 20 of its adult residents behind bars, on parole or on probation. The Lone Star state still has the death penalty, with more than 300 prisoners on death row today. But for three decades, as crime rates fell all over the U.S., the rate in Texas fell at only half the national average.
That didn't change the policy � but its cost did.
Faced with a budget crisis in 2005, the Texas statehouse was handed an estimate of $2 billion to build new prisons for a predicted influx of new prisoners. They told Madden to find a way out. He and his committee dug into the facts. Did all those new prisoners really need to go to jail? And did all of those already behind bars really need to be there?
Madden's answer was, no. He found that Texas had diverted money from treatment and probation services to building prisons. But sending people to prison was costing 10 times as much as putting them on probation, on parole, or in treatment.
"It was kinda silly, what we were doing," says Madden. Then, he discovered that drug treatment wasn't just cheaper � it cut crime much more effectively than prison.
That was the moment, he says, when he knew: "My colleagues are gonna understand this. The public is gonna understand this.�The public will be safer and we will spend less money!"
His colleagues agreed. Texas just said no to the new prisons.
Instead, over the next few years, it spent a fraction of the $2 billion those prisons would have cost � about $300 million � to beef up drug treatment programs, mental health centres, probation services and community supervision for prisoners out on parole.
It worked. Costs fell and crime fell, too. Now, word of the Canadian government's crime plan is filtering down to Texas and it's getting bad reviews.
Admittedly, I approached this story with some skepticism. After all, Republicans shifting from their ideological preferences due to empirical evidence? I forgot that was even possible anymore. And given the that Rick Perry was governor during this period, I�m wondering how long it will be before his primary opponents start attacking him over it.
Snark aside, it would be really nice if Canada�s Conservatives would be wise enough to learn from their southern brethren�s example. Instead, we�ve seen our corrections budget double in the last five or six years, plans for building numerous new prisons despite a continually dropping crime rate, and their working to shut down a safe injection site in Vancouver that even the Supreme Court ruled would cause disproportionate suffering and refused to allow. It's going to be a long four years.