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editorial

Stony Mountain Institution, just north of Winnipeg, is shown Aug. 8, 2011.JOHN WOODS/The Globe and Mail

Very few prison inmates will be in jail for the rest of their lives. The vast majority of them will be released. They are your fellow citizens and your future neighbours. If those behind bars are treated simply as the enemies of law-abiding citizens, they will be much more likely to act accordingly, with an enduring hostility toward society.

As The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday, federal prison buildings are depreciating, according to a Correctional Service Canada study last year. The CSC is struggling to keep up.

The Conservative government is not doing enough to find room for the prison population, which, thanks to the government's "tough-on-crime" reforms, is expected to keep growing, and staying inside longer.

The trend toward more "double-bunking" is no solution; that is a somewhat euphemistic term for placing two or more inmates in a cell designed for one. Overcrowding is a recipe for conflict, and for violence – hardly an environment conducive to rehabilitation.

Some may think that prison inmates deserve to live in structures that are, according to the CSC, in "poor or critical condition." But decaying real estate is not safe or healthy for anybody, including CSC employees. Nor is it efficient; the staff are increasingly faced with difficulties in doing their job.

The federal government needs to recognize that a point is being reached at which toughness on crime and fiscal austerity become incompatible. The government will have to make some hard choices. We can put more people in prison. But we may also have to spend more to make sure they're ready to re-enter society when they come out.