Although the future outcomes of our public policies are difficult to predict, their promised results are often quite different from their realities. Consequently, it is vital to evaluate all the potential impacts of proposed legislation as critically as possible. In her October article, The Lessons of Law and Order: What Canadians Can Learn From Failed US Crime Policy, Susan Searls Giroux identifies the issues inherent in Stephen Harper’s omnibus bill (Bill C-10)—the Safe Streets and Communities Act—by expanding the idea of ‘cost’ beyond financial considerations to show the real risks of harsh crime policies. While she details the financial expenses involved in these crime initiatives, she also importantly explores the Bill’s social, moral, and intellectual costs by tracing the effects of similar policies in the now financially exhausted and socially segregated United States. By linking the dismantling of the social support system to the growth of the prison system in the United States, Searls Giroux shows that these different costs interrelate and that the expansion of the carceral state in Canada is a hugely destructive project.
The current state of the US is in large part the result of the nation spending decades dismantling its welfare state through policies focused on cutting taxes and enabling privatization while simultaneously spending to exponentially expand its prison system. Funds that may have been allocated to education, health care, and other pillars necessary to build an equal society where crime prevention is fostered was—and is—instead directed into containing individuals whose criminalized actions more often than not result from the lack of support available to the public and the broadening of legislation that delineates a ‘criminal offense.’ This has led to a deeply problematic population structure in which poor people of colour (those most hard hit by these cuts) make up the highest proportion of inmates in the US. These incarcerated populations are stripped of their rights and viewed as so disposable that it seems attempts have stopped altogether to provide rehabilitation programs within prisons. Moreover, as money is shifted from education to incarceration, intellectuals are encouraged by the few funding options available to become complicit in legitimating these neoliberal projects rather than be critical of them, thus transforming the university from an institution focused on truth to a force that will legitimize the goals of the highest bidder.
At this frightening moment, the work of the public intellectual is vital in shaping a truly democratic society. For democracy to work, individuals must be capable of critical analysis, of seeing past ideologies and narrow popular vocabularies to expose the real processes operating within society. By turning to the injured spectre of the south as a predictor of what is to come if Canada continues to implement tough-on-crime agendas, Searls Giroux exposes the realities of a future shaped by this Bill—a future of heightened segregation, social death, oppressed academies, and economic instability where ‘correctional’ facilities—perhaps no longer aptly named—are places of warehousing and abandonment. By proposing alternative ideas of ‘cost’ to unveil the real expenses associated with expanding the prison system in Canada, Searls Giroux creates a new vocabulary that poses a critical challenge to the naturalized idea that prisons are the only way to safer streets. In doing so, she shows that intellectuals, through exposing the detrimental processes structuring their communities, can designate spaces for resistance and encourage critical thought—such necessary tasks in working to build a truly democratic and socially just world.