How do you know when you’re wrong?

Well there’s no definitive answer to this, but it’s a pretty safe bet you are if you’re considered too conservative for Texas:

Conservatives in the United States’ toughest crime-fighting jurisdiction — Texas — say the Harper government’s crime strategy won’t work. “You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up,” says Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. “And there will come a point in time where the public says, ‘Enough!’ And you’ll wind up letting them out.” Adds Representative Jerry Madden, a conservative Republican who heads the Texas House Committee on Corrections, “It’s a very expensive thing to build new prisons and, if you build ‘em, I guarantee you they will come. They’ll be filled, OK? Because people will send them there. “But, if you don’t build ‘em, they will come up with very creative things to do that keep the community safe and yet still do the incarceration necessary.”

I’ve spoken before about the terrible clusterfuck of ideas that is the incoming omnibus crime bill. It’s a mishmash of ideas, some of which are good, most of which are bad. Legal authorities, criminal law enforcement, opposition MPs, pretty much everyone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to crime, they’ve all said that it’s a bad idea. Then again, our mighty ruling party has demonstrated repeatedly that it is relatively indifferent to outside criticism.

Until, apparently, they went to Texas. It’s not a trivial issue – arguments that work in Texas work for the Republican North party’s base. If there was anywhere that this type of bill should receive a warm welcome, it’s in “common sense” Texas. The only criticism one would be likely to expect is that Canada’s crime bill, coming from the great socialist north, would be seen as a bit “soft on crime”.

The problem is that Texas has about a 10-year crystal ball look into the future to know that this kind of approach just doesn’t work:

Faced with a budget crisis in 2005, the Texas statehouse was handed an estimate of $2 billion to build new prisons for a predicted influx of new prisoners. They told Madden to find a way out. He and his committee dug into the facts. Did all those new prisoners really need to go to jail? And did all of those already behind bars really need to be there? Madden’s answer was, no. He found that Texas had diverted money from treatment and probation services to building prisons. But sending people to prison was costing 10 times as much as putting them on probation, on parole, or in treatment.

I’m really not sure where conservatives get their ideas about reducing crime (well, I am starting to develop a theory), but the fact is that jail, while it might seem like a good idea, doesn’t actually reduce crime. The evidence seems to suggest that quite the opposite happens, as a matter of fact. Texas had to figure this out the hard way – through massive debt and releasing prisoners. Crime actually increased in Texas while these measures were happening.

I bolded the sentence in the passage above for reasons that are both insouciant and cheeky. I did it because it reminded me of something a high-placed member of the Conservative cabinet said not too long ago. Maybe you read about it:

The Conservative government is opposed to the Insite operation, and when it came to power it dropped harm reduction from the national anti-drug strategy. [Health Minister Leona] Aglukkaq said Friday the government’s investments are targeted at prevention and treatment. “Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today, we will comply,” Aglukkaq said in question period. “We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts.”

It’s weird (except it isn’t weird at all) how an argument is valid when used in defense of something you like, but can be ignored when used in defense of something you don’t.

Nobody likes being wrong, least of all people who are placed in high public office or under constant scrutiny. I am not insensitive to the wish not to appear wrong, particularly when you’re in government. That being said, my level of empathy diminishes to near-zero when we’re talking about spending billions of dollars that my work (in a small way) produces being spent in a futile effort to roll back the tide. I would much rather have public officials say “in light of emerging evidence, we see that we have to adjust our policy approach” than insist on their own infallibility.

Stories like this make me wonder whether or not the political officials actually believe in their own measures, or if they’re simply more invested in appearing right than they are in doing what is best for the country. If it’s the first, then our politicians are deluded and blind, which scares me – if you’re the first lemming off the cliff, then life just handed you a shitty hand of cards. If you’re the 500th, I don’t want you in charge of a child’s bake sale, let alone the budget of a country. If it’s the second option, and the Republican North is simply too stubborn to reverse a dangerous course, then I’m even more frightened because it means they are playing kamikaze games with the liberty and economy of the Canadian people.

Like I said off the top – it’s not always easy to know when you’re wrong. Sometimes an unpopular opinion is exactly the one that is needed. Sometimes the facts are ambiguous, and the conclusions you draw from them depend on your perspective. Sometimes you get mixed messages, or there is no consensus among opinion leaders, and you are forced to innovate.

All that being said, if you’re too conservative for Texas, then you’re wrong.

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