The Sunday Magazine

Canada's prison system should be radically reduced

Lawyer Paula Mallea has defended inmates in nine Canadian penitentiaries. Her experience has led her to the conclusion that punishment and incarceration are regressive, harmful measures for everybody involved. In her book, Beyond Incarceration; Safety and True Criminal Justice, she argues for a system where prison is no longer the default, other than for those who pose a danger to society.
Ontario correctional officer Chris Jackel posted this photo to Twitter in May 2017 with the words, "Acceptable living standards?" The cell is one where a mentally ill inmate lived for two weeks, he said, with management refusing to remove him. (Chris Jackel/Twitter)

As a criminal lawyer, Paula Mallea spent years working in some of the most violent prisons in Canada. As far as she's concerned, we should dismantle the entire prison system and start over.

Mandatory minimum sentences, long periods in segregation and poor delivery of mental health services put everyone - inmates, guards and the community - at risk, she believes.

"Prison is what we know. We cling to punishment and retribution as if they were positive and enlightened outcomes, when in fact they are regressive, medieval, and harmful," she argues.

Paula Mallea is the author of Beyond Incarceration (Dundurn Press)

Ms Mallea is highly critical of the approach of the government under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "It's hard to believe how much negative was done in ten short years," she says. "They hit the ground running with a report that was a joke and that told them to go ahead and be "tough on crime", because it would be good for victims and good for public safety - neither of which can be demonstrated."

Paula Mallea outlines her argument for incarcerating fewer people in her book, Beyond Incarceration; Safety and True Criminal Justice.