Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pardon system works. What's the problem here?

Just thought I would pass along the latest from our old friend Craig Jones. If nothing else, it serves to entertain.

- Brodbeck

From a new book on sex offender laws:

“Policymakers choose to focus on the most heinous sex offenders while ignoring the most common sexual threats that people face. Policymakers are disproportionately influenced by isolated, high profile cases of sexual assault committed by strangers, to the neglect of the everyday sexual violence committed by known and familiar family, friends and acquaintances. This choice gives lawmakers simple and clear political benefits but overall has made the public less safe.”
~ Richard G. Wright, Ed., Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions (New York: Springer, 2009), p. 4.

You wrote: “Convicted child molester Graham James apparently got a pardon in 2007 quite easily and without the public knowing.”

Actually he got a pardon because he met the legal criteria. Ooops!

You wrote: “Which means unless he’s applying for a job where children or other vulnerable people are involved, his criminal past won’t show up on a criminal record check.”

Actually, that’s a provision Stockwell Day promised to change a couple of years ago. What’s up with those guys? Are they just grandstanding on the symbolism of “tough on crime”?

I note that your blog has taken a dignified turn of late: people are back to calling each other pedophiles.

Well done!
Craig Jones, Ph.D. | Executive Director
The John Howard Society of Canada
809 Blackburn Mews, Kingston, Ontario, K7P 2N6
email: cjones@johnhoward.ca
Tel: 613.384.6272 | Fax: 613.384.1847

There is an old legal saying that hard cases make bad law. Nowhere is that saying proven better than in the recent pardon of Graham James, a convicted child molester.
How is it that such a criminal received a pardon? Surely the system is skewed toward criminals and it is time to clamp down on pardons?
Actually, the system is not skewed and pardons are a valuable tool in preventing crime and rehabilitating criminals.
It is important to be clear what a pardon actually does. The term "pardon" suggests a wiping clean - almost like a religious remission of sin - in fact, the reality is quite different.
A pardon does not remove a criminal record. The record remains and any entry on a sex-offender registry is unaffected. Should someone with a pardon commit another crime the pardon can be revoked. Foreign travel is not made easier - the United States border authorities pay little attention to a pardon. The only thing a pardon does is allow someone legitimately to say they do not have a criminal conviction.
Being able to say "I have no criminal convictions" is important. Many jobs require a clean record and holding down a job is a significant step toward full rehabilitation.
Obtaining a pardon for a serious offence, while largely administrative, requires someone convicted to have stayed out of the criminal system for five full years following the completion of their sentence. The person seeking a pardon must show five years of "good conduct," which the Criminal Records Act defines as "behaviour that is consistent with and demonstrates a law-abiding lifestyle."
Five years is a long time and, broadly put, if someone stays out of trouble for that long they are very likely going to stay out of the system. Very few pardons are revoked because of new offences. Since 1970, more than 400,000 Canadians have received pardons. Of those, less than one in 20 has had a pardon revoked, indicating that the vast majority remain crime-free in the community. The pardon system works.
A pardon allows someone who has in fact turned his or her life around to get past their earlier offence and become a productive citizen. The prospect of a pardon is an incentive to persons convicted of a crime to stay out of trouble and is a useful tool for rehabilitation.
And rehabilitation is important. Perpetual incarceration is not an option for any but the most dangerous of offenders. People convicted of serious offences are going to be released back into society. Unless there are incentives for them to turn away from their past lives they will inevitably drift back to crime; this is especially so if they are always to be marked as criminals without hope of redemption.
Perhaps we could rename "pardon" to be something less evocative - say, "remission of conviction." Perhaps pardons could be made more difficult to get for sexually based offences. But the concept of an eventual pardon for good behaviour is appropriate and ought not to be eliminated.

COMPLETELY AGREE with this article! Good job on exposing the truth. The public's outraged reaction is not justified. 

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