So many Conservative policies sound great if you don't think too hard. Who'd argue that convicted prisoners shouldn't give something back to their communities? And doesn't manual, menial labour seem like a great thing to give back?
There are a few problems to overcome, though. Two thirds of provincial prisoners are awaiting trial and sentencing. (I have to admit that figure shocked the hell out of me. Harper says we need more jails. Maybe we just need more courtrooms.) Anyway, that leaves a third eligible for a work gang. But you can't just create one and send it out into a neighbourhood park. In effect, chain gangs represent a whole new jail, one without walls but requiring guards. Granted, the cons are chained together and one guard per work unit is probably sufficient, but you can bet Joe and Jane Taxpayer won't feel safe in their home unless they see LOTS of guards. That's a nontrivial expense: Hudak's price tag of $20 million a year is...let's just say "optimistic".
Then again, just because they're criminals doesn't mean they're stupid. Escapes are inevitable. People escape from jails fairly often, but at least the jails they escape from aren't located a hundred yards from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Couldbeyou.
And what exactly do you have these chain gangs doing? Presumably work that someone else did until the chain gang arrived on the scene. Prison labour is slave labour: a business or government can't compete with it. That means more people out of work.
This whole chain gang debate is merely a symptom of the typical Conservative mindset. When it comes to law and order, most conservatives believe that criminals are to be punished, not rehabilitated. (The same goes for drug addicts, which is why Vancouver's InSite program is in grave danger despite reams of studies attesting to its saving lives.)
There is, of course, a voice from the hindbrain that cries for revenge in the wake of any crime. I'm subject to it myself: hell, I'm the guy who thinks we should do away with "attempted murder" charges. (If you meant to kill, and you tried to kill, why should it matter if you succeeded or not? Shutting that voice up means shutting people up for a long, long time in
criminal factories prisons.
Yes, I said criminal factories. That's really what jails are: you warehouse a bunch of criminals together in the same place and the smart ones will teach the stupid ones all they know. That goes double if you treat your prisoners like scum.
"It's like your life has been on pause. You just go on with all the bad habits you had before you went in."--"Nils", convicted smuggler and murderer
Check out Norway's approach. I'm thinking of calling this place up and asking if it's really necessary to commit a crime to be sent here. "Cushy" doesn't even begin to describe it: Hudak and others of his ilk would have a conniption. But this "prison" has the lowest recidivism rate in all of Europe.
I do believe that there are some Paul Bernardos and Clifford Olsens of the world that are beyond rehabilitation, and that individuals like them should never see the light of day. But the vast majority of criminals are not beyond help or hope, and should not be treated as if they are. Unless you just want to perpetuate criminality, of course.