featured Inclusion

Judy Haiven: Naming and shaming former convicts

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – “Adam Mitchell Cox, 31, is expected to be released from the Dorchester Penitentiary on Monday. Nova Scotia RCMP have issued the following warning about a man described as a high-risk offender who has completed a sentence for several offences at the Dorchester Penitentiary.

Adam Mitchell Cox, 31, is expected to be released from the New Brunswick prison Monday.

“His criminal record dates back to 2005 and includes convictions for theft, mischief, breach of probation, sexual interference and sexual assault.”

“Nova Scotia RCMP said the warning is for all citizens, particularly those in the Beaver Bank area.”

This warning, complete with a large mug shot of Cox, was published in Halifax Today, an online news outlet of the Halifax radio station C95.

I emailed C95 to ask why they published this “warning” from the RCMP.  I asked what good would it do — for the public or for the ex-con? Today I got a call from a reporter at C95 to ask why I was against publishing the ex-con’s rap sheet and the warning to Beaverbank residents.

There’s a 2012 book everyone interested in civil liberties and ex-prisoners should read by American novelist Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin.  

In this fictional book, a young man who is convicted of a mild sex offence (and if you read the book you will see what I mean) is prohibited from being within a 100 metres of a school, a playground, a sports centre, or a park.  He is prohibited from working or volunteering any place children are present or expected to be present; he is forbidden to be employed where kids under age 16 could be and forbidden to use the internet.

Ultimately a whole community of men like him end up living under a bridge in south Florida because it was the only place to live which was beyond the 100 meters  from a school or park but close enough to walk to work, if they are lucky enough to find it. They have to walk everywhere because public transit is off limits as kids also travel on buses.  The young man had to quit his job as a restaurant dishwasher because families with kids ate there.

According to the RCMP’s press release, the same prohibitions have been placed on Cox who in fact has served his sentence.

If you consider for a minute — you probably live within a couple of hundred metres of a school, playground or park.  Imagine your life if you were forbidden from living or walking near a school or park, or prevented from using the internet.  Cox had these and other restrictions imposed on him — not for a couple of years– but for 25 years.

The C95 reporter insisted the public had the right to know that a dangerous ex-con had been released.  “Why?” I asked, “are we in favour of vigilante justice? What good does it do to know an ex-con lives in the neighbourhood? Doesn’t this just feed the old Harper agenda of law and order? ‘You did the crime so do the time’?” — except that Cox did do the time.

The reporter suggested I should go along with this because police are the authority and they’ve figured this matter out.  “Really?” I said, ” This is the same police* who have just been found to have stopped black people in Halifax SIX TIMES more often than they stop whites.  This is the same police force in which women officers have launched more than 1100 complaints of sexual harassmentby  male officers–  which one Member of Parliament describes as  “mind boggling.”

Let’s see if this goes anywhere.  Clearly the idea of rehabilitating the ex-con has gone out the window.  Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, says  “If the conditions of confinement aren’t conducive to rehabilitation and safe reintegration, then the $115,000 we spend per inmate is not a great outcome.”  Zinger said that the conditions in federal prisons (including Dorchester which incarcerated Cox) “serve no underlying correctional, rehabilitative or public safety purpose.”

And let’s not forget the racism in prisons and who exactly gets incarcerated.  Indigenous men represent 25.2% of all males in custody in federal prisons.  Only 5% of Canadians are Indigenous.  While 82.4% of Indigenous inmates serve their whole sentences, only 65% of non-Indigenous prisoners serve their whole sentence.  Ten percent  of the Canadian prison population is African-Canadian, though African-Canadians  represent only 3% of the Canadian population. For more on these outrages and what you can do, see prison activist, writer and academic El Jones’ blogs here and in the Halifax Examiner here .

I’m no expert in this matter of crime and punishment.  But it can’t be good to target, name and shame ex-cons in our midst.  After all, 95% of people in prison do get released. They have to walk and live among us.

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. 

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!