How to Save Money and Make Our Country Safer

Photo courtesy Jill Wellington at

How Christmas Shopping Can Help!

It’s a gorgeous time of year, isn’t it? Freshly fallen snow (in Canada, anyway!), lights everywhere. I just finished my Christmas shopping and I feel a million pounds lighter (or maybe that’s just my wallet).

Agreed. The winter holidays are a magical time of year.

It should definitely be a time for joy and laughter. But not everybody is having a good time right now. Some people are in prison.

What the heck?

Bet you didn’t think I was going to go there right now.

Nope. I thought this was going to be about Christmas shopping.

WAIT! Don’t click away yet! I promise there is good stuff coming, and we’ll get back to Christmas shopping. Just give me a second.

Okay, I’m listening. What’s this about prison?

As it turns out, our prison system is entirely broken. It treats human beings terribly, it is massively expensive and it doesn’t even work.

What do you mean it doesn’t work? Criminals go to jail and everybody is safer, right?

If you want to make the country a safer place, the prison system definitely is not the answer. A study by the Government of Canada actually showed that going to prison makes a person MORE likely to reoffend, not less. More people in prison = more crime.

Huh, that’s hardly ideal. But people in jail belong there.

In fact, more than 50% of prisoners in provincial and territorial jails haven’t been convicted or sentenced yet. They are being held in remand, awaiting trial. Thanks to court delays and a massive backlog of cases (covid hasn’t helped), people can be held in jail for months without ever being convicted.

So much for the whole “innocent until proven guilty” theory.

It’s especially terrible since if those awaiting trial were able to wait outside the jail system, then they could still contribute to society. Think: Take care of their kids, work, support their families. Receive support from their community. It’s healthy for everyone when those involved with the justice system can continue to participate within their community.

Okay, maybe people who haven’t been convicted yet don’t belong in prison. But what about people who have been? If you break the law, you deserve jail time, no matter what.

That is one way to look at it. But keep in mind that a vast majority of prisoners in Canada suffer from mental illness and addictions. In fact, the justice system has been compared to a warehouse for those in need – a place where they can be locked up out of sight and we don’t have to deal with the actual problems.

It makes me think of Victorian lunatic asylums.

Well, yes, actually that’s a really fair comparison, unfortunately. Poverty is also a huge contributor to criminal activity. Not to mention the fact that the justice system is systematically racist against people of colour and indigenous peoples. I actually wrote a blog post about it – you can read it here!

But surely there need to be prisons! You can’t just let serial killers run around all over the place.

I agree entirely. There is a time and place for prisons, in the cases of people who pose an actual danger to others. Canada has roughly 800 people designated as dangerous offenders. But there are more than 37,000 people in prison.

Those numbers do not add up.


Okay, if I’m going to be real with you, even if I do agree that the prison system isn’t working, what does it have to do with me?

Tons, actually. Setting aside the fact that our communities are less safe, the prison system is HORRIFICALLY expensive. (Yes, I thought that deserved an all-caps.) The Canadian government spends $20 billion on the justice system every year. That’s actually an older number, it’s probably more now. It is the third-highest area of federal spending, after statutory benefits and debt payments. Health spending is only $3 billion!

$5 billion of that money is earmarked for jails and prisons. Keep in mind all that money comes from you, the taxpayer.

Why on earth is it so expensive?

Very good question. It’s certainly not due to the conditions, which have been called torturous and dangerous. It’s hard to imagine why a federal prison would need $250,000 a year for each female inmate held in isolation. Especially when the average cost of living in society is $47,000.

That’s actually shocking. Basically, we are spending a fortune every year to make society worse?


Brutal. … You said something about the good stuff? Because this is all very depressing.

You bet! There’s lots of good stuff that’s being done. Some organizations like the John Howard Society are helping keep people awaiting trial out of jail, so they can continue to contribute to society. This saves a lot of money. Others like the Elizabeth Fry Society offer a hand up to ex-prisoners so that they are less likely to reoffend, and can become contributing members of society.

That sounds good!

The government seems to have realized how necessary prison reform is as well. Minister of Justice Larametti appears to want to make changes, and that’s a good thing. Courts have different options in sentencing those convicted, including alternative measures. Instead of jail time, an offender might receive probation, a fine, community service or restorative justice. And, super important, the treatment of their needs, like counselling and treatment for mental illness and addictions.

Is there anything I can do to help?

Just keeping an open mind about prison reform is huge! Letting your MP know how outrageous the system is will help as well. We all want to be safer and stop throwing money down the drain, right?

Beyond that, supporting the organizations that are already in place to support those caught up in the justice system is great, like the John Howard Society or the Elizabeth Fry Society.

Sounds good. What can be done right now, during the holidays?

Let’s bring this back around to Christmas shopping. (Told you I would.) EFry Calgary is holding its annual silent Christmas auction right now. It runs until Dec 17, 2021, and there are some amazing prizes to bid on, like hotel stays and vacations, not to mention tons of smaller, locally made products that would be the perfect stocking stuffer you’re looking for. Please check it out and get those last-minute gifts while supporting a truly important cause! EFry Calgary was recognized by Charity Intelligence as the Top 10 Impact Charities in Calgary 2020 and 2021, and right now its funding has been negatively affected by the pandemic. There is so much you are able to do to make this season a better one for everybody, including the children who could really use their parents at home with them.

Photo by cottonbro on

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