Our criminal justice system is currently undergoing a radical rethink. Where will it lead? Will the crime rate continue to fall as our prison population increases? What is being done to prepare prisoners for life after jail? These are some of the issues under consideration in an incisive new documentary that looks at where our criminal justice system is headed.
As Canada builds 2700 new federal prison cells — and strengthens laws that will keep those new cells full – is our government making us safer? Or is this simply a political move—one that ignores research and statistics?
“Based on what we hear from the government, it sounds like crime is the most dire issue facing Canadians,” explains State of Incarceration filmmaker Andrew Gregg. “It’s striking to realize that the crime rate is as low as it is, yet we’re undergoing the largest prison expansion since the 1930s. I wanted to find out why.”
Gregg travelled to Texas, one of the most relentless “tough on crime” states in the US, to discover that they are actually closing prisons and investing heavily in programs to get convicts released. The crew then went to California, to see how their “three strikes” mandatory minimum sentence law virtually bankrupted the state and paralyzed the prison system by increasing prison capacity to a shocking 200%. “It made sense to us to go and look at what happened in the US because we are implementing ideas here that they have already tried there. Canadians essentially live just north of the world’s largest incarceration experiment. We wanted to see if we’ve learned anything from their experience.”
The film also tells the story of Lifeline, a federally funded program based in Windsor, Ontario, designed to help long-term convicts prepare for life on the outside. Lifeline won awards and was studied and copied by justice officials in other countries. It was even hailed as a success on The Department of Justice Canada’s own website, before its budget was abruptly cut. Lifeline is an example of what gets funded and what doesn’t in this time of flux for Canadian criminal justice.
The film features an exclusive interview with Justice Minister Peter Mackay “It’s a very complex subject with new studies being released constantly. I was surprised to learn that adding more prisons doesn’t affect the crime rate,” says Gregg. “I wanted to make sure we had a large cross-section of voices on these issues so viewers hear from criminologists, wardens, community activists, academics, and government appointees like Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Howard Sapers the Correctional Investigator of Canada and Justice Minister Peter Mackay.
“We also talk to ex-cons and current prisoners, including a convicted multiple murderer who has spent 37 years in both US and Canadian prisons and has a lot to say about the view from inside.”
State of Incarceration, directed by Andrew Gregg for 90th Parallel Productions in association with CBC, is a searing, thought-provoking look at a highly contentious issue as our criminal justice system undergoes a major refit that may not be either effective or affordable, and might even be taking us backwards. It airs tonight, Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 9 PM Eastern on CBC-TV.