Prison/Its Alternatives

Prison and Its Alternatives

In 1993 on Ideas, I presented a three hour profile of Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie called “Crime Control as Industry.”  (You can find it on this site under his name or the series title.)  The days I spent in Oslo doing the interviews for this series marked the beginning of a long friendship, but one that initially presented quite a challenge.  Two years after we first met, in 1995,  Nils called from Oslo.  Could I come to a conference he was organizing on the crisis of rapidly rising rates of imprisonment?  He needed my help, he said, to make the public aware of the grave political emergency this increase represented.    At the time, I had just cleared a big backlog of work and was eager to get started on some new projects I had in mind.  The prison crisis, serious as I knew it was, was not on my agenda.  However a little reflection made me realize that my whole career as a broadcaster had been built on people saying yes to me when I called out of the blue.  Now the shoe was on the other foot.  Could I say no?   I said yes and never regretted the decision.  Using the conference in Oslo as a starting point, I began building up a series of programmes that eventually grew, in size and scope, beyond anything I had yet done for Ideas.  The ten-hour series called “Prison and Its Alternatives” was broadcast in 1996.  At the time, Canada was facing a decision about whether to expand our prison capacity to accommodate a gradually but steadily rising number of prisoners.   Happily, the government refused this option, and Canada’s prison rate trended slightly down through the later 90’s and into the early 2,000’s until the Harper government began to force it up again.  The responses I received during and after the broadcast of  “Prison and Its Alternatives” made me believe that the series played its small part in creating the climate of opinion in which the government could make this decision.   The broadcast was also consequential for me personally and led to several sequels, notably a further investigation of  the pro’s and con’s of restorative justice called “To Hurt or To Heal” (I'll post it here soon), a book entitled The Expanding Prison: The Crisis in Crime and Punishment and the Search for Alternatives (House of Anansi, 1999, still in print), and a brief career as a lecturer on these themes.  

Nils Christie, without whom none of this would have happened, died in Oslo on May 27th  at the age of 87.   (I’ve posted an essay in memoriam in the blog section of the site.)  I’m bringing back "Prison and Its Alternatives" here in his honour.   Many statistics will be out of date.  The ideas, I think, remain pertinent.  Here’s an outline in which I’ve described the participants by the positions they occupied at the time of the broadcast:   

Programme One – the prison boom - Nils Christie, University of Oslo; Marc Mauer, the Sentencing Project; Jerry Miller, National Center on Institutions and Alternatives; Al Bronstein, American Civil Liberties Union

Programme Two – the relationship between crime and imprisonment - Johannes Feest, University of Bremen; Nils Christie, University of Oslo; Andrew Rutherford, University of Southampton; Thomas Mathiesen, University of Oslo; Zygmunt Bauman, University of Leeds

Programme Three – prison reform - Maeve McMahon, Carleton University, K. J. Lång, Director General of Prisons, Finland; John Edwards, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada

Programme Four – why prison rates vary -  Vivien Stern, Prison Reform International, Julita Lemgruber, former director of prisons in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nils Christie, University of Oslo; Thomas Mathiesen, University of Oslo; Jerry Miller, National Center on Institutions and Alternatives; Judge Heino Lilles, Yukon Territorial Court, Canada

Programme Five –  historical and cultural roots of contemporary attitudes to imprisonment - Louk Hulsman. Erasmus University, Rotterdam; John Haley, Asian Law Program, University of Seattle; Ivan Illich, independent scholar

Programme Six – life in prison - Jim Cavanaugh, Prison Fellowship Canada, former prisoner; Monty Lewis, Cons for Christ Prison Ministry, former prisoner; Jeff Doucette, correctional officer, former head of the Emergency Response Team at Millhaven Institution in Eastern Ontario

Programme Seven – restorative justice initiatives - Dave Worth, Director, Mennonite Central Committee, Ontario;  Dave Gustafson, Director, Community Justice Initiatives, Langley, B.C.; Matt Hakiaha, Youth Justice Coordinator, New Zealand; Howard Zehr, author, Changing Lenses

Programme Eight - more restorative justice initiatives - Doug Call, attorney, Genesee County, New York; Dennis Wittman, Director, Community Service and Victim Assistance Office, Genesee County; John Strange, young offender on diversion, Genesee County; Glen Morton, Genesee County Judge; Robert Noonan, Genesee County District Attorney; Glen Purdy, defence lawyer, Sparwoood, B.C.; Jake Bouwman, Commander, Sparwood RCMP Detachment; Joanne Barnaby, Dene Cultural Institute; Joan Ryan, University of Calgary

Programme Nine – aboriginal justice initiatives in Canada - Harold Gatensby, former prisoner, proponent of circle sentencing, Carcross, Yukon; Barry Stuart, Judge, Yukon Territorial Court; Rupert Ross, assistant Crown Attorney, author, Dancing With a Ghost; Burma Bushie, Manitoba Department of Child and Family Service, Hollow Water, Manitoba; Mary Crnkovich, Ottawa lawyer, consultant to Pauktuutit, Innuit Women’s Association; Cunliffe Barnett, British Columbia Judge

Programme Ten – Christianity and crime - Harry Nigh, Mennonite pastor, Hamilton; Sally Boyles, rector, Holy Trinity Church, Toronto, former prison chaplain; Pierre Allard, Director of Chaplaincy, Correctional Service of Canada; Hugh Kierkegaard, community chaplain, Correctional Service of Canada; Stella Woock, retired nurse, Hamilton