April Fool!

April 1, 2021

(Ed note:  For this edition your editor thought that some reflection material may be more helpful than simply news stories about crime and punishment and the utter failure of prison.  The point is to look in a focused fashion at the causes rather than the incidents.  The focus, and what realizations may come, may be appropriate all the more for April Fool’s Day.  Back after Easter.)
The Atlantic – Daryl Austin
What You’re Saying When You Give Someone the Silent Treatment – Social ostracism has been a common punishment for millennia. But freezing someone out harms both the victim and the perpetrator.


This researcher thinks that two out of every three persons have used the silent treatment against someone at some point.  The link is an effort to explain the human dynamics in relationships that allows, encourages and supports the use of the silent treatment.  But, says the author, Daryl Austin, the truth is that the silent treatment hurts both the one choosing to impose the silence and one who is the target of the silencing.  How does silence rule our lives, our legal system, our relationships, our restorative justice beliefs and practices?    How does imposing the silent treatment change the one who imposes it?


A Temporary Solution: Scapegoating and the Cross – Richard Rohr


Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest who directs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He has a daily blog.  Christians have long accepted popularly that Jesus “bought back” the sinner’s redemption by the suffering and death on the cross.  Rohr looks at the very human process of ‘scapegoating,’ and suggests that “Jesus became the scapegoat to reveal the universal lie of scapegoating.”  Rohr’s blogging continues the scapegoating theme through the Christian Holy Week preparation.  The notion is kin to the silence dilemma.    If the notion appeals, you can find in René Girard, a source for some of the original thinking around the issue.  (cf Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, René Girard, Translated by Stephen Bann and Michael Metter, Stanford University Press, 1978;  Violence Renounced: René Girard, Bible Studies and Peacemaking,  William M Swartley, Editor, Pandora’s Press, 2000; Violence and the Sacred, René Girard, Continuum Press, 2005).   What is our path to personal and collective redemption?

Washington Post – Matt Bai
Opinion: The Birx dilemma is a lesson for the ages


The article raises the issue of what a public servant, a public service member, a supervisor, must do to fight against deliberate and blatant organizational wrong doing.  As a society have so many lines we fear to cross when public interest demands we act.  The legal system is replete with such incidents; political life seems almost to require such incidents.  The most powerful incidents seem to involve whistle-blowers where the very process to catch such incidents is compromised.  Bai makes a final judgment but his discourse ignores the damage that comes from being forced to denounce an insider’s behaviour, especially if the insider is the boss.  How can we better protect the integrity of our legal system?

CBC News – Shanifa Nasser
No criminal charges for officers in death of Black man with mental illness Tasered in own backyard


This issue goes directly to the prompts for police defunding since the defunding push endlessly speaks to accountability by people authorized to use deadly force, seemingly without effective measures to require any legal accountability.  It is probably one of the last bastions where the accused investigate themselves (e.g. RCMP investigating racial discrimination in the Boushie case or here where Special Investigation Unit is made up of former cops).  The issue needs to be extended to include people dying in custody while incarcerated, two already this week in London, and the whole process by which the investigation and reporting to public and loved ones takes place.  Why is killing a repeated, and therefore somewhat acceptable, part of a  minority outcome in encounters with police and behaviour of prison guards?

CBS News – Cassidy McDonald
NY State Supreme Court has ORDERED the Cuomo Administration to offer ALL incarcerated New Yorkers access to the COVID-19 vaccine.


The pre-occupation with Covid-19 has a special concern around incarcerated persons since they ultimately are a congregated population with no recourse for self-protection or for any means – even personal protective items unless the correctional authorities distribute the articles.  The controversy around the administration of the vaccine to incarcerated persons illustrates a larger concern – human rights and the equality of persons for health and protection in our countries.  Another extreme in the conflict with human rights is the current US movement to deny votes rights and to deny health care and even educational rights for trans-sexual persons.  In Canada, pretty well all Indigenous issues revolve around human rights as does right to die legislation, and among others, basic income issues.  Human rights is clearly becoming a yardstick against which we can measure our failures in the treatment of persons discriminated against, minorities and excluded persons.  In the report cited there is both a conflict with human rights and an entrenchment of popular denial of rights that allows the state to ignore the human rights demands to the point of needing a Supreme Court order.  We may find ourselves equally resistant to recognizing the human rights component if these sorts of tensions.  What weight as a referent do human right norms have on our conduct, our politics, and our law?

Toronto Star – Robin Sears
Should the Supreme Court of Canada make political decisions? 


Sears, a former NDP strategist, examines the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the carbon tax through the eyes of previous giants from his party.  But his issue remains: are politicians shirking their jobs by deferring to the Courts as authorities for political or social decisions.  What is the role of law in our lives?  The shortcomings of law to provide resolution to social tensions or even to actually solve the issue that prompts appeal to a law court or the apparatus of justice is frequently illustrated in the daily news.  We now appeal to law almost by default, perhaps for the ability of the law to grind on to some sort of conclusion, even unsatisfying ones, even in the shadow of admitting that police and law do not and cannot protect us from each other.  What alternatives are there to mending human relationships by other means?  How can law be more normative rather than prescriptive?  More helpful in advance than poorly reactive in the aftermath?

National Public Radio (US) – Ayesha Rascoe
It’s been a minute (A thirty minute audio)


NBC News –
Former prisoners struggle to re-enter society. What happens when society moves online?


Lots of attention in Canada and the US around prison reform, a collective name for all the events from the initial encounter with police to the eventual prison term.  The cash bail and the remand is under question, given that the prison system at any point is housing two thirds population not yet convicted of anything but simply denied bail.  The hard-on-crime approach to longer and longer sentences in spite of common agreement that long sentences do not effective deter others or even the one sentenced.  Still, the long sentences for all crime but especially non-violent drug related crime contribute significantly to mass incarceration.  The links offer a powerful picture of what justice looks like when long sentences are invoked and secondly what re-entry requires after a long sentence.  What would effective re-entry look like for older prisoners?  Sick prisoners?  Prisoners without families on the outside?  How should the purpose of rehab and integration shift the current re-entry practices?

Toronto Star – Murray Fallis
The ‘torture’ of Canadian prisoners in solitary confinement must stop immediately


The struggle over the use of solitary confinement as either a punishment or as a defence against the Covid-10 virus has brought us to some sort of neutrality over its acceptable use.  The courts in Canada have ruled it offensive to human rights and advocates for prison population has voiced strenuously that Canada still does not comply with the ban.  The damage from solitary has been amply illustrated in all sorts of studies and reports but it continues – also well documented.  Government now calls the practice Structured Intervention Units (SIU) but a rose by any other name… The first allocation of $300 million to implement the SIU now gets a further $135 million.  When will this stop?

Maytree Foundation – Lesa Francis, Avvy Go, Samya Hasan, Shalini Konanur
Five Good Ideas for racial justice change-making –


Perhaps the most consistent and powerful overtone of both justice and our lives together is racism, commonly acknowledged by all minorities in Canada.  Canadians sometimes look at overt racism in the US and take some pride that it is not like that in Canada.  But in fact, racism does not need the population or frequency of incidents to sustain itself just as well in Canada. This link offers a way to overcome our racism and will surely have the impact of identifying our soft underbelly as well.  Besides offering commentary, Maytree offers a plan to confront racism and offers resources to do so.  Canada’s motto is Excelsior!

Vox.com (US) – Katelyn Burns
The massive Republican push to ban trans athletes, explained – About 30 states have introduced bills to prevent trans kids and women from playing sports. It’s the GOP’s latest attempt to force trans people into hiding.


Canada, like the rest of the world, is presently suffering from not knowing how to respond to the diversity of sexual expression and from discriminatory reaction to its presence.  To the average person, the initials for the various groups seeking inclusion is confusing and perhaps intimidating.  This link, somewhat dated, offers a series of questions and answers about trans-sexual issues, presently tearing the US public apart in efforts to legislatively ban these persons from health and education services, precisely on the basis of the sexual orientation.  How do we see diversity and inclusion in our neighbourhood?  Among our youth?

Cf also:  BC Tyee – Katie Hyslop
Canadian Universities Have a Racism Problem. We Went Deep into One – And what we found were myriad ways that people of colour struggle to find inclusion and justice. A special report.



The Diamondback (Baltimore, MD) – Maya Rosenberg
Baltimore’s approach to nonviolent crimes should be the gold standard


Here is a hope filled reflection.  Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has decided after a year in office watching the crime scene in America’s most deadly homicide city, that the reduction in crime, including homicide, comes from a decision not to prosecute minor offences like prostitution and drug possession.  The decision offends some who think it is not her decision to make and delights others who see the changes.  The decision flies in the face of the belief that prosecuting non-violent minor crimes keeps away major crimes – the broken window theory of policing and law enforcement.

 Forbes (US) – Juliana Bidadanure, faculty director of Stanford’s Basic Income Lab
What Is Universal Basic Income And How Is It Different From Welfare Programs? | Defined


Basic income has become more interesting as the government attempts to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.  There are a variety of approaches but the most challenging is the notion that the income is ‘undeserved’ or without strings.  As a replacement for welfare with all its strings attached – the most pernicious of which is the clawback that prevents any real gain in economic well-being, the process is often called universal basic income or universal basic income to establish that everybody should have what Bidadanure calls ‘an income floor.’  The link offers a 4 minute video with a succinct explanation of UAI.  The biggest question around UAB is likely the welfare administration jobs lost when UAB begins.  Who wins, who loses?