Canada’s Conservative government figures building more prisons and slapping more people into them will reduce the crime rate. Since crime is at its lowest in over thirty years, that’s a pretty peculiar priority.
On the other hand, Labrador’s Happy Valley-Goose Bay Correctional Centre has a more progressive idea. Inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentences can volunteer for community projects.
That has been particularly helpful for Rona Rea. She and her husband lost their younger daughter in a house fire in February 2010. Two years later, she has a new home, thanks to volunteers who raised funds, made donations, and spent countless hours building it for her.
Some of those volunteers were inmates. CBC interviewed Chris Nippard, who is a roofer by trade. He was doing strapping and installing insulation when Colleen Connors talked with him. “It feels awesome,” he said. “I’ve always been someone to lend a hand. I’ve never been afraid of a bit of work.”
For four or five hours a day, low-risk prisoners who spend time working on projects like the Rea house are just ordinary community volunteers, lending a hand to help someone in need. That allows prisoners the two things Kurt Gray says are essential if any of us are to do good in the world: self-fulfilling prophecies (in this case, expecting the inmates to work with skill and diligence) and embodiment (the physical effects of seeing themselves as competent, contributing human beings). [See #250: Kindness has benefits.]
Aging, overcrowded facilities, a rough atmosphere, and loss of freedom punish but do little to restore a sense of dignity or self-worth. Sending people back out into society more bruised and dangerous than they went in serves no one.
On the other hand, giving them a chance to help out just might offer them a vision of a better future. And the people they work with on the outside just might see them as people who are atoning for their mistakes instead of as irredeemable.