27 January 2015

Ontario Inmates To Be Housed According To Gender Identity

I'm no expert on criminal justice, so take what I'm about to say for what it's worth.

Here goes:  I think that any society that imprisons people has to decide what the purpose of incarceration is.

In the US, as in many other countries, we call our system "corrections".  From what I understand of psychology, such a term implies that the system is behavioristic in its approach:  The behavior of the person arrested is to be corrected.  Or, more ideally, some underlying condition or issue that led to the behavior will be corrected.

Those familiar with the system--inmates as well as wardens and guards--say that it almost never happens.  Somehow that doesn't surprise me, but that's a discussion for another blog (or book or class!) led by someone more knowledgeable than I am.  

Anyway, in other places and times, imprisonment was more frankly a means of vengeance.  In the 18th and 19th Centuries, prisons were called "penitentiaries", or places of penance--in other words, a kind of purgatory where the inmate worked off his or her sins.

So why am I talking about these things on this blog?  Well, it matters greatly to transgender inmates, most of whom are arrested for doing sex work or other relatively minor crimes.  If the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate or reform someone, the inmate's humanity must be respected.  Just as a doctors who don't respect their patients have no hope of helping them heal, any system that dehumanizes the people who enter it cannot make those people better than they were when they were brought into it.

Yasir Naqvi understands this.  He is the Correction Services Minister in the Canadian province of Ontario.  Yesterday, he announced that inmates will be placed in Ontario prisons according to the gender by which they identify themselves rather than their physical sex characteristics.  So, for example, someone identified as male on her birth certificate will be incarcerated in a women's prison if she identifies herself as such.

I know that some believe that prisoners are not human beings and will howl that such treatment is "coddling".  But they should think about how their tax money is being spent.  If something might help prevent recidivism, why not try it--especially if it doesn't cost any more money than doing something that doesn't work.

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