Retribution or rehabilitation. That’s the age-old debate about what corrections systems in Canada and around should see as their primary focus.
The debate resurfaced again at the House of Commons in recent weeks as Rodney Stafford pleaded for one of his daughter Tori’s killers to be returned to a higher security prison after she was transferred to an Aboriginal healing lodge just eight years after a first-degree murder conviction.
One can only imagine the difficult lives of guards and other prison officials who walk daily among those sent to them for committing horrible atrocities. On one hand, their purpose is to provide public safety and to show the inmates in their care there must be consequences for their actions that harmed society. On the other hand, it can be difficult to come to grips with seeing people — even those whose actions were so despicable no excuse can be offered — continue to waste their lives. It can’t be easy for anyone with a shred of humanity to experience, especially when almost every convicted criminal is a product of his or her environment and few were born wanting to do evil.
If there’s a method correctional employees can espouse that would improve a prisoner’s mental state and reduce the chances of that person reoffending either inside an institution or outside of it, that should be followed within reason. The adoption of some form of spirituality as a guiding force in life can be a very good thing. An inmate’s improved mental health and behaviour may also save taxpayers money in medical and legal costs.
That said, there still must be the realization that an inmate was proven by law to have done harm. Prison time should not be easy, nor glamourous. Retribution must come into play to some degree.
While humanity may dictate it’s worth trying to Terri-Lynne McClintic, the cold reality is there is no undoing her actions. Tori Stafford will never get the chance to choose a new path in life or to pick her acquaintances. No matter how McClintic’s life changes, she will forever have to deal with her choices to lure a young girl, lie to her, allow her to be raped and beaten, then ultimately killed with a hammer that she supplied. It may be gory, but it’s the truth.
Beyond McClintic, Stafford’s parents, family and friends, and a nation that watched in horror as police searched for her body, investigated the killing, and ultimately found the evidence required to prove McClintic and her accomplice Michael Rafferty guilty will forever live with those images.They’ll go through that horror over and over again, especially with news of McClintic’s transfer.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau has accused opponents of playing politics with their calls for a reversal of this transfer and he has asked that the horrendous accounts of murder be limited in official transcripts. That’s too much to ask. The crime took place and it must be discussed, both to condemn such events to ensure they aren’t repeated and to start a national dialogue on the appropriate balance between retribution and rehabilitation.
At the very least, victims should be given a right to weigh in on the suitability of a new assignment for a serious offender who wronged them. Government must also give due consideration to public safety and perception. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. The way McClintic was transferred doesn’t appear to address either goal. It — and the system that produced it — must be reviewed.