Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Oct. 24, 2005)

BC’S Criminals Keep on Laughing

  By John Martin

A just released report titled Beyond the revolving door: A new response to chronic offenders confirms street crime is out of control.  The 134 page report, put together by a panel of judges, police, lawyers, and social workers, concedes that the revolving door justice system has been a horrific failure in attempting to address repeat offenders and property crime.  There's really nothing new in the report; other than a refreshing honesty that what we're doing isn't working.  Maintaining the current system of cycling and recycling offenders in and out of the system does nothing to deter or reform offenders, and has only served to diminish the quality of life for the city's law-abiding citizens.  Simply put, the catch and release approach to crime control is a flop.

Sadly though, many stakeholders are resigned to the current system and are all too willing to accept it as an inevitable regularity of urban life.

Offenders routinely joke about their brief periods of incarceration and have little incentive to change their ways.  Why should they?  Doing time in this country is hardly an experience likely to discourage further criminality.  In between getting stoned and flipping through porn magazines, inmates can enjoy tennis courts, barbeques, and pitch and putt golf courses.  They play racquetball, watch football, hang out in the gym and send out for pizza.  Administrators have even defended slumber parties and closed circuit pornography. How is any of this supposed to deter?

It's not this way everywhere.

Chronic, repeat offenders who rotate in and out of short periods of custody are not a problem in at least one jurisdiction south of the border.  Consider the situation in Maricopa Country, Arizona where Joe Arpaio, tagged by CNN as “America’s toughest sheriff,” runs things.

Joe has this strange idea that jail should be an unpleasant place you don’t want to visit a second time.  So he houses inmates in a tent city and makes them wear pink underwear while they’re working on an old fashioned chain gang.  To show he’s a fair guy, he even has a women’s chain gang.   Joe believes in equal opportunity.

The courts ruled that inmates have a right to cable TV so Joe permanently set all the televisions to the Disney and weather stations.  The only reading materials are Reader’s Digest and The Bible, and there are none of those filet mignon feasts that Canadian inmates gorge themselves on.  More often than not, inmates are served bologna sandwiches.  One inmate refused to eat the allegedly green bologna.  Joe just shrugged his shoulders and growled, “If he doesn’t eat, that’s okay…It saves me 40 cents a day.” 

Joe likes to remind people that jails should not be country clubs and has even banned smoking and coffee.  Obviously not everyone likes Joe.  He’s lost track of the number of death threats and lawsuits he’s faced over the years.  The American Civil Liberties Association has been trying to shut him down for more than a decade, but apparently the voters aren’t listening.  They’ve re-elected the no nonsense lawman four times.  One lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment was actually premised on the absurd notion that because inmates rarely return for a repeat stint in Joe's place, conditions should be considered inhumane.

Inmates recently complained about having to live in tents during a particularly nasty Arizona heat wave.

Never at a loss, Joe barked back "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and they have to wear full battle gear, but they didn't commit any crimes . . . so shut your %&#@$* mouths."

Needless to say, revolving door justice is not a problem in Maricopa County.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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