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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why the government's "tough on crime" policies are not effective

                   You all are likely aware of the Conservatives' "tough on crime" policies and bills, with the hope that these measures will reduce crime rates and provide deterrence. However, there are many problems, with this model.

Firstly, a large majority of the public has the perception that crime rates are increasing. This is due to the media's distorted portrayal of crime rates which are not reflective of the actual crime rates. The media tends to report on the most violent and unusual crimes, such as murders, assaults, etc. The problem with this, is that the public get the perception of a "violent crime epidemic" which fortunately, does not exist. In reality, crime rates have been decreasing for the past 30 years in Canada, even violent crimes. The public also tends to think that violent crimes are the most prevalent in their community when in reality, property crimes account for 45% of all crimes in Canada and violent crime only accounts for 11%.

Now, moving on to mandatory minimum sentences. Canada has many mandatory minimum sentences, for offences such as murder, impaired driving, firearms related offences, and sexual offences involving children. On the surface, these provisions that the Conservative government introduced, may sound like they would be effective. Wrong! MMS (mandatory minimum sentences) have actually been proven to not reduce or deter crime in any way. With more MMS, come more "not guilty" pleas as offenders would rather go to trial than plead guilty to an offences where the MMS is imprisonment. This causes the courts to be even more clogged than they already are, meaning more trials and more expenses. MMS also lead to more prison overcrowding as more individuals are sent to prison as a result of MMS. This is a huge problem. With overcrowding, comes more hostility among inmates and more stress which leads to violence. Studies have shown that feelings of hostility can lead to increased re-offending when these individuals are released, which is not effective. 

Conditional Sentences. Conditional sentences have now been restricted by the Conservatives so they no longer apply to violent offences such as aggravated assault and manslaughter. There are problems with this. I think that our society is moving in the wrong direction with sentencing. I think that we need to focus more on rehabilitation, community programs for offenders and less on punishment and retribution (as prisons have been shown to actually cause increased criminal behaviour and re-offending after release). I think the bill to restrict conditional sentences is a big mistake. This limits judicial discretion even more! I believe the Judges should have the ultimate discretion in deciding upon a sentence. They should be able to consider all the mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding a particular case and offender and hand down a sentence which they feel is appropriate and proportionate to the offender's needs. They should not base their sentencing guidelines on public opinion. Here's an example: Say an individual who came from a background of poverty, gang influence and addictions, was negatively influenced by his peers to be involved in a murder. He aids in committing the murder, but does so under pressure and threats from the group. 

I would argue that an offender like this, would NOT be best served or helped through a sentence of imprisonment (which he would receive due to MMS). I argue that we as a society, need to do what is in OUR best interests, which would be to help this offender in the best way possible in order for him to have a better chance at becoming a productive citizen once again. I think we need to focus on addressing the underlying factors contributing to criminal behaviour, such as poverty, unemployment, addictions/substance abuse, child abuse/neglect, family violence, poor parenting, negative peer influences, etc. Prison is only a "quick fix" not a long term solution. If we send people who need help to prison and they don't receive help for their issues, they will be released back into the same social and economic conditions which contributed to their criminal behaviour in the first place. This will cause more re-offending. This is what is happening now, unfortunately. In the ex. I listed above, I would recommend a conditional sentence in the community so that this offender could receive counseling, treatment for his addictions, employment training and assistance and more education. Employment and Education especially, can significantly reduce recidivism rates in the long term.

I am Liberal for the main reason that they focus more on crime prevention and community based solutions and addressing the root causes of crime as opposed to the Conservatives who are mainly focused on getting tough on crime, increasing focus on punishment and tougher youth sentences. 

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